Yes Means Yes

By Alex-Maree Roberts ’16

Although sexual intimacy between couples is unique and varies from case to case, it should always be based on mutual respect and regard for your partner. It’s important to keep a few things in mind to ensure the emotional well-being of yourself and your partner when being intimate.

The most important part of intimacy is consent. Consent is verbal permission for the execution of a sexual act. It can be revoked at any time, should be given by both partners and must meet certain criteria to be valid. The age at which consent may be given varies between states, so it is important to be mindful of legal restrictions before engaging in sexual relations. Consent also cannot be given while inebriated (intoxicated by drugs or alcohol) and does not count if it was given under coercion or duress. The absence of a refusal or silence do not qualify as consent. Only a clear, vocal “yes,” means yes.

Today’s culture does not celebrate consent as being sexy or valuable. However, getting and giving consent are the only ways to ensure that one’s pursuit of pleasure is not infringing on another’s control over his or her own body. Everyone deserves to have a say in what is done to their body and it is the responsibility of everyone involved to respect their partners’ wishes; without consent, sex is assault or rape.

There are many different ways to ask for consent. “Is this ok?” “Can I _____?” “May I continue?” One can also find creative ways to ask for consent that get the message across. Once consent is given or refused, it is important to respect the other person’s response. Consent does not last indefinitely, so even if someone has agreed to an action once or repeatedly in the past, they are not obligated to do it again.

That being said, sex comes in many different forms and can become a part of a variety of different relationships. One of the most important things to remember before engaging in sexual activity is to be sure that all participants are ready, enthusiastic and willing. It may seem obvious but studies show that large percentages of people later regret initially becoming sexually active. There’s no hurry to engage in intimacy, and social pressure should not constitute a reason to get involved. Intimacy should only occur when both parties want it, when both parties are mentally prepared for it, and when both parties are mature enough to deal with any possible consequences such as (STIs, pregnancy, emotional harm).

In the context of PA, what does all of this mean? High-schoolers are bombarded on a daily basis about what they should or shouldn’t do with their bodies. Not all advice, no matter how well-intentioned, is helpful. In navigating the culture around intimacy and finding a place where everyone is satisfied, the most important things to remember are that firstly, you are entitled to find the most pleasurable and safe practices for yourself at your own pace and that secondly, there is no excuse for anyone to interfere with anyone else’ determining their own.

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