What Exactly Defines ‘Active Consent’ in Sexual Activity?

Active consent

Warning: This article contains discussions of sexual assault.

Healthy relationships start with feeling respected and safe which is why it is so important to understand how to go about seeking ‘active’ consent if you are about to engage in any kind of sexual activity. It is never okay for someone to do something to you without an enthusiastic and explicit ‘yes’.

If your decision-making powers are taken away and you are sexually assaulted it is important to know who to turn to and what to do next. Equally important is knowing that there is help out there to support survivors and their loved ones through these difficult times.

At ReachOut (where I work as CEO), we define sexual assault as any kind of sexual activity where you are forced, coerced or tricked into doing when you didn’t want to. It can be carried out by a romantic partner, by someone you know or by a total stranger and includes unwanted sexual behaviours such as forced, unwanted sex, sexual acts or touching, child sexual abuse or indecent assault.

It is a form of trauma that can show up in different ways including shock and denial, fear, silence, anxiety, depression or low self-esteem. If you think you may have been sexually assaulted, you might feel scared, overwhelmed and unsure where or who to turn to. There’s also a chance you might blame yourself for not recognising sooner that what happened to you was sexual assault. The most important thing to remember
is that if you have been sexually assaulted it is never your fault.

There are lots of support services available to support you through these difficult times, as well as a number of immediate steps you can take to help you feel physically and psychologically safe.

If you’ve been sexually assaulted recently, the first step you may want to take in order to feel safe is to call 000 to ask for the police or for an ambulance if you are injured. It can also be a good idea to talk to a trusted friend, family member or colleague or think about calling a confidential 24-hour helpline such as 1800 RESPECT.

Most towns have a free sexual assault clinic or service with trained professionals, like doctors, nurses or counsellors, who can help you with what to do next. They can guide you through your options and answer any questions about things like emergency contraception, rape kits, and sexual health checks, as well as provide emotional support. If there isn’t a sexual assault clinic available to you, you can also go speak to your GP or visit the hospital, and ask for somebody with experience in sexual assault.

If you feel like you might want to take action against your perpetrator it’s a great idea to talk to one of the options above about it and get support when you are ready. Most importantly, there is no ‘right’ way to respond to sexual assault and every survivor’s recovery from sexual assault will look different because there is no set timeline for coming to terms with sexual assault and no set schedule for healing.

This is why it’s so important that, even if you seek help or guidance from other people, you choose what happens next.

2021 Australian of the Year and sexual assault survivor Grace Tame believes that having support around you is so important, as is practicing forms of ‘self-care’ so that you can make sure you’re on a healthy path towards recovery.

“You need to make sure that you have support around you and that you have enough time to take care of yourself properly, and get back in touch with simple meaningful values, family time, downtime, nature, eating well, exercising and sleeping. You really want to get back to your true self,” Tame said.

Additionally, when engaging in sexual activities and seeking consent, it’s so important that you feel respected and safe. ‘Active consent’ means that you and your partner/s give each other an explicit ‘yes’ to the sexual activity you are about to be involved in.

Regardless of what you’re wearing, drinking or if you are flirting with another person, it’s never okay for someone to do something to you without your resounding consent. If the sexual activity is done without your consent, it is considered sexual assault or rape.

These guidelines can help with seeking ‘active’ consent if you are about to engage in any kind of sexual activity:

● Sexual consent must be explicit. There’s only one way to know if someone has given their explicit consent: if they clearly let you know they agree.

● You can always change your mind. You or your sexual partner can decide at any time that you don’t want to keep going. If this happens, both people should stop or it can be deemed sexual assault or rape.

● It’s good to check in with each other. Take notice of your sexual partner’s body language and if they seem tense or uncomfortable, pause and ask them how they’re feeling or tell them how you might be feeling too.

● It’s fine to slow things down or stop. There’s really no reason or rush to have sex or do
anything sexual if you’re not feeling it. It’s important that your partner always respects your feelings.

● Drink and drugs affect consent. If you’re intoxicated, your capacity to make decisions can be affected and your decision might be influenced by drugs and alcohol. This means that if you’re sexual in any way with someone who’s drunk or high and doesn’t know what’s going on and therefore can’t give informed consent, it’s equivalent to sexually assaulting or raping them.

Feeling respected and safe across all aspects of your life is so important to your mental health and wellbeing.

You might like to connect with other people who have gone through similar experiences to you in ReachOut’s Online Community. It is a safe space for young people that is anonymous and available 24/7. You can also check out ReachOut.com for more information and resources.

If you have experienced sexual assault, you can call 000 or 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or check out some of these support services.

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