Words: Demi Whitnell
The principles of consent do not only apply to sexual acts but any intimate act which involves an individual’s personal space.
Sexual consent means actively agreeing to engage in sexual activity. Before being sexual with someone, you need to know that they also wish to become sexual with you. Consent is about setting your own personal boundaries but also respecting and understanding the boundaries of your partner/s.
Without consent, any sexual activity is sexual assault or rape.
F- Freely given
Consent cannot be given if the individual is under pressure, being manipulated or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Consent is a choice and if an individual is swayed by an outside factor, then they do not have full autonomy over their decision.
Consent is fluid. This means that just because an individual has consented to a sexual act in a previous engagement does not mean that they wish to engage in that act every time. Consent must be asked for before every single sexual encounter, even with a long-term partner.
Additionally, even with consent, an individual can stop sexual engagement at any moment. Just because the individual has consented to engage in a sexual act does not mean they must follow through with it if they feel uncomfortable or wish to stop – they are entitled to stop the scene whenever they wish.
An individual can only consent if they know the full story of what they are engaging in and if both individuals do exactly what they have agreed upon. If someone says that they will use a condom during penetrative sex but decide not to or to remove it during the scene, there isn’t full consent.
When engaging in sex, pleasure is at the core. You and your partner/s must be enjoying the acts that you are engaging in. Only do stuff you WANT to do; don’t feel you have to do the things that you feel you’re expected to do.
Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex). Verbal consent uses words to confirm your agreement to a sexual act, this means that there are no elements that are assumed or implied.
Implied consent is an agreement through actions or body language. This type of consent can be dangerous, however, as body language differs from person to person, you may misread someone’s body language or even give off the impression that you wish to engage with someone sexually when you do not. Therefore, it is recommended to also use verbal consent. It is also good to discuss with your partner/s how they feel about implied consent and how they use their body to communicate consent in a sexual interaction.
Contractual consent involves a written contract, outlining sexual preferences of all parties involved and states the soft and hard-limits of each individual. You will see contractual consent used predominantly in BDSM scenes or partnerships mainly because the sexual acts are of a more hard-core level and can have safety issues. The only issue with contractual consent is that the individual takes this one formula agreement as coverage for ALL encounters. As stated previously, it is important to note that an individual can opt out at any time, even with a written document, be sure to revisit these contracts regularly to ensure all parties are still on the same page or to even add new activities.
The age of sexual consent is how old an individual has to be in order to be considered legally capable of consenting to sex. The age of consent to any form of sexual activity differs from country to country.
Currently, the age ranges from 14 to 18 with the majority of countries ranging between 14 and 16. In the UK the age of sexual consent is 16. In the US, the age of sexual consent is set on a state-by-state basis, ranging from 16 to 18.
Keeping your Vagina Clean
Your vagina is designed to keep itself clean with the help of natural secretions (discharge). You should, however, wash the area around your vagina gently every day. Avoid perfumed soaps, gels and antiseptics as these can affect the healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels in your vagina and can cause irritation. Instead use plain, unperfumed soaps.
Keeping your Penis Clean
Gently wash the penis with warm water each day when you’re having a shower or bath. If you have a foreskin, pull it back gently and wash underneath. If you don’t wash underneath the foreskin correctly, smegma, a natural lubricant, may start to build up. Smegma is a breeding ground for bacteria and can lead to irritation. It is also important to clean the base of your penis and your testicles as this is where sweat accumulates.
There are a variety of condoms made from different materials such as latex and plastic which includes polyurethane and polyisoprene. If you are engaging in a scene with several partners, make sure to use a new condom with each individual.
Using a condom does not work as a form of protection unless used correctly. You only need to use one condom at a time. If you layer condoms on top of one another the friction will, in fact, break the condom and deem them ineffective.
Open the condom gently, checking it over for tears or unusual bumps before using. Pinch the reservoir tip of the condom before rolling over the penis, this leaves space to collect the semen and reduces the chances of the condom breaking under pressure. The condom should be rolled down to the base of the penis, covering the entire member. Make sure that the condom base ring is secured at the base of the penis to prevent fluids sliding out from the bottom and coming into contact with your partner.
Something that is significantly forgotten about during most sexual encounters is the importance of lube. Lube cuts down the amount of friction on a condom and prevents the chance of it breaking, furthermore, it allows easy access which can be beneficial if an individual is tight, decreasing pain.
The inside condom is used by those with a vagina. Like with outside condoms, open the condom gently, checking it over for tears or unusual bumps before using. Unlike the male/ outside condom, the inside condom has two rings. One ring is closed and the other is open, this allows the condom to protect whatever is being inserted into the vagina from the bodily fluids secreted.
Again, the use of lube is key. When inserting the inside condom, finding the best position for you is important. Push the closed, pinched ring as far back inside you as possible (much like if you are inserting a tampon), after it is pushed as far back as possible, allow the open ring of the condom to hang outside of your vaginal opening.
Dams, also known as dental dams are a barrier protection for oral sex. When using a dam, remove from the packaging and check for any tears whilst also ensuring that it is large enough to cover the body part you wish to use it upon. Place the dam over the body part and keep it in place by either holding the dam yourself or asking your partner to. Do not switch sides during use and make sure to throw away once the act has been completed.
Disposable (single use) gloves are a thin latex rubber or nitrile covering for the hand that can be used as a form of protection during sex. Using a helps to reduce the risk of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and is also a preferred option for those with long fingernails.
Contraception is free for most individuals in the UK and there are 15 different methods to choose from. What is most important when finding the right method for you is to know your own body and to be aware of the risk. Most contraception cannot protect you from catching or passing an STI but rather protects you from getting pregnant. Condoms are the only method to protect you from both.
The Combined Pill
The combined pill is often just called ‘the pill’ and is an oral method of contraception being over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. You take 1 pill every day for 21 days, then you stop for 7 which is when you will have your period and then continue the cycle again. For these pills, they must be taken at the same time every day otherwise the cause of pregnancy is increased. The minor side effects of the combined pill include mood swings, nausea, breast tenderness and headaches whilst the higher risk include, blood clots and cervical cancer. Under the combined pill umbrella are three different types; monophasic 21-day pills, phasic 21-day pills and every day ED pills.
The contraceptive Diaphragm or Cap
The contraceptive diaphragm or cap is a circular dome made of silicone which is inserted into the vagina, it covers the cervix so sperm cannot get to the womb. The cap is 92-96% effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly, your doctor will ensure that you receive the right size cup for you. If you lose more than 3kg in weight have a baby or a miscarriage/abortion, you will need to be refitted with a new cap. The caps need to be left in place for 6 hours after sex to allow the spermicide to work. Again, this does not protect you from STIs but means that you can have full control of when you insert and use your contraception.
The implant is a small flexible plastic rod that’s placed under the skin in the upper arm by a doctor and it releases the hormone progestogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. This method lasts for 3 years meaning it is perhaps the easiest to use. Much like the pill, it is 99% effective and can be removed at any time with your natural fertility returning to normal pretty quickly. When first inserted, it may cause some bruising, tenderness and swelling around the implant and can cause periods to become irregular, lighter, heavier and longer or in some cases, stop completely. Similarly, to the pill, some medicines may make the implant less effective so be sure to ask your doctor before taking any new medications.
The injection releases the hormone progestogen into the bloodstream in a similar way to the implant. The injection most commonly lasts for 13 weeks and is 99% effective. Unlike the implant, it does not affect other medicines. The downsides of the injection are that the individual must be organised and update their dab before the last expires, your period may become irregular, heavier, shorter, lighter or even stop altogether, it can take up to 1 year for your fertility to return to normal. Again, it does not protect against STIs.
The patch is a small sticky patch that releases hormones into the body to prevent pregnancy and is more than 99% effective. Each patch lasts one week and you must change it every week for three weeks until you have your period, in which you do not use a patch. Luckily, it does not come off in the water and can control painful and heavy period flows. Furthermore, it may protect against ovarian, womb and bowel cancer.
The IUD is a small T-shaped plastic and copper device placed inside your womb by a doctor and can prevent pregnancy for between 5 and 10 years. It is fast-acting and long-lasting, being able to be inserted at any time during your menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, there is a risk that your body may reject the IUD and it can be uncomfortable to put in. The IUS is similar, however, it only lasts 3 to 5 years.
The Vaginal Ring
The vaginal ring is a small soft, plastic ring that is placed inside your vagina which releases continuous doses of hormones to prevent pregnancy. The ring is more than 99% effective, last for a month and does not interfere with sex. There are few risks with the vaginal ring, however, those include a small risk of blood clotting, irregular periods and it can actually make its way out of your vagina, however you can place it back once rinsed with hot water.
The only-pill prevents pregnancy by thickening the mucus in the cervix and needs to be taken every day. The only-pill is 92% effective and has similar risks as the combined pill. The only difference is that you continuously take the pill and do not take a break for your period.
Any kind of kissing, massage or touching that happens before intercourse. It can help to get people aroused and can make sex more enjoyable.
Masturbation means using your hands to stimulate your genitals or your partner’s genitals. Many people masturbate on their own – it’s a good way to find out what you do and don’t like and where you like to be touched.
Partners can masturbate each other in turn or at the same time (mutual masturbation) or masturbate themselves while the other person watches.
When using your hands and fingers to stimulate parts of the body such as the penis, vagina, mouth, nipple, vulva and anus, there are still safety precautions you need to take. Lube can help to prevent cuts or pain during foreplay.
Masturbation does not cause any harm, mentally or physically, even if you do it often however, your genitals may feel sore or inflamed. The transmission of STIs is still a risk when masturbating with a partner so the use of barrier methods are highly recommended. Even though masturbation has no health risks, the stigma of self-pleasure is prevalent and it is something that relationship and sex education (RSE) does not educate effectively. From internalized misogyny to faith and social views, masturbation is often still considered a dirty act.
Non- Penetrative sex
Sex that does not involve penetration of the mouth, vagina or anus.
Using the mouth and tongue to stimulate your partner’s genital area. While you can’t get pregnant by having oral sex, sexually transmitted infections can be passed on in this way.
Penetrative sex, vagina and anus
Penetrative sex or sexual intercourse is the act of inserting a body part or toy into an individual’s vagina or anus. It is always recommended to use a form of protection when engaging in penetrative sex, to protect you both against sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.
Using toys during sex is often a taboo topic. It is not a part of the UK Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum.
Using toys during sex (be it solo and with a partner), however, can certainly increase the enjoyment factor. There is a plethora of toys available on the market, ranging from toys such as vibrators which are used on the vulva and vagina, to cock rings, anal plugs, dildos and beads. Toys are used to enhance the scene and provide different stimulations for different body parts.
Using a form of protection on a toy which is being used for penetration is highly recommended.
Cleaning Sex Toys
Toys that have been exposed to bodily fluids cannot be shared and must be cleaned correctly. Sex toy cleaners are available to purchase online, however, typically soap and water can be used to clean the toy. It is best to check the instructions manual on how to properly clean your toys.
Sex toys for those with a penis are usually disregarded in the sex toy community purely because there is less representation for those on social media. However, sex toys for those with a penis have come a long way and there is such a vast variety now. From male masturbators which replicate the motion of a hand-job to vibrators and cock rings, there are a variety of toys for different experiences.
UK Relationship & Sex Education (RSE) in schools tends to focus solely on cisgender individuals. Body partners are typically identified as male or female, which can often be inaccurate & fail to recognise other genders. When educating on sex using nongendered terms can lead to more effective discussions, as it is clearer and more inclusive. Most RSE educators argue that the language surrounding sex needs to be worked on, and that sexual language should be inclusive and applicable to everyone.
In terms of protection, trans and non-binary individuals should use the same methods; outside condom, inside condom, gloves and dam. An LGBTQ individual is not at higher risk of STI transmission, however, they are at higher endangering themselves during sexual activities due to a lack of education which includes them. It is important that any and every individual can access sexual information about how to obtain pleasure, their sexual functioning, sexual health, risks and kinks.