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‘A Woman Wearing Short Clothes Is Okay With Sex’: What People Get Wrong About ‘Consent’

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Your body belongs to you alone, and therefore you should be the only one who decides what happens to it. Whether it’s a hug, a kiss, a blow job or penetrative sex, everything needs your consent, every time and it applies to everyone.

Consenting is saying ‘yes’

It is simply – saying yes. Agreeing to whatever is about to happen, explicitly. Saying yes when you mean yes and but equally important is saying no when you mean no. The power and ability to say no is important to the concept of consent.

Confusion in communication can lead to a lot of crossed wires. This is part of the reason why sometimes guys cannot understand that no means no. Even when it does.  Especially when it does.

Understand what you are saying yes to

Ok, so you have said yes to whatever is about to happen. But do you understand, really understand, what is going to happen? Let’s say your boyfriend wants you to try anal. He thinks it will be fun and you decide to just go along. Well, that’s not consent or at least a complete one. Or is it your girl asking you to go ahead with intercourse because all her friends have had peno-vaginal sex.

But you don’t want to –  till you feel ready, but still go ahead not to upset her. Again, that’s not an act with clear consent. An important aspect of consenting to something is to really understand what’s about to happen and how will impact you, now and in the future. This is why a yes from a minor for a sexual activity is not considered as consent in the court of law. Similarly, a consent given under influence or drugs or alcohol is not also valid.

Consent can be withdrawn anytime

Now, after you understand basic consent, there’s another concept that people need to grasp – the fact that consent can be withdrawn. Consent can flip to the other side at any point during a sexual interaction: at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. You can back out at any time if you feel uncomfortable.

For example, let’s say you have been seeing a guy you like. You have been out on a few dates, have a lot in common and have spent time getting to know each other. You decide that you want to do more than talking. You plan the day, place and the occasion carefully.

So great, you’re all set, but something comes up. Something like, for example, neither of you has protection or can’t find somewhere to buy any at short notice.

At this point in the interaction, if you want to back out, it is completely within your rights to. If you don’t want to have sex without a condom, you don’t need to. In fact, you don’t even need a big reason (such as a lack of condom) to back out. If you don’t want to have sex anymore, that’s a good enough reason. ‘But you said yes earlier’, is not an argument to force/coax/convince anyone into having sex. Anyone can change their mind at any time, and it is ok, however frustrating or irritating.

Similarly, consent can also be withdrawn midway. Let’s say he is inside you and it starts to hurt, you can withdraw your consent, and the sex should stop.

If you are not okay with the situation anymore, whatever be the reason, you can withdraw your consent. Take time however to explain the reason to your partner for a healthy relationship. Also, it is best to not have any assumptions about what your partner doesn’t want and instead, check in with them to make sure that you and your partner are on the same page.

Men too can back out

For men, if, say, she is giving you oral sex, and you don’t like how she’s doing it, or she tries a technique that doesn’t work for you, you can tell her to stop at whatever point she’s gotten to. They’re your bits after all!

Just because you’ve initiated sex or any sexual activity, that doesn’t mean you have to see it through all the way to the ‘end’, just because you think you’ve committed to the act (men tend to take a lot more pressure about this). Sex is supposed to be pleasurable for the both of you, right?

No is always an option, always

Saying no can be scary, uncomfortable, or simply against the tradition. For example, in many cultures, including ours, a marriage is considered a lifelong consent for sex, signed and sealed at the altar. And so a spouse (mostly the wife) can’t say no to sex if they don’t want it. Husbands in India aren’t used to hearing no from their wives for anything, let alone a sexual activity. Such attitude also seeps into non-marital relationships with many women thinking they have to agree to a sexual activity, even when they don’t feel ready, especially to ‘make things work’. This is not true.

Saying no is everyone’s right. Even sex-workers have full right to withdraw consent to sexual activity. Yes, you heard that right. Whatever be the status or nature of a sexual relationship, you don’t have to consent to anything you don’t understand or aren’t comfortable with. It’s not easy always to say no, but it is important to say it. Many forced acts can be checked with an emphatic no.

Yes, women want it too!

Women saying they want sex is still a taboo, regardless of statistics that show that women want and enjoy sex just as much as men do. Result: A million myths about when women want and don’t want sex! A woman consents to sex when she smiles coyly on the dinner table. If a woman has come to your room, she is ok with sex. A woman wearing short clothes on a date is ok with sex and a woman sharing a bed with you is ‘obviously’ ok with sex. All bakwaas! A woman (or anyone) is ready for sex when they say so, explicitly and consensually.

– With inputs from Kerubo Akello. Love Matters Africa.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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