Good sex is all about consent. It’s easy to understand but hard to do
What is consent?
Consent in the law is agreeing to do something and having the capacity to agree to do something.
So if people agree to have sex and they are awake and not too pissed then they can do so without it being rape or sexual assault. If someone says no and the other person ignores that no, that is sex without consent. The absence of a ‘no’ does not mean a ‘yes.’ Also if someone fears the reaction of someone else if they did say no, that is also sex without consent.
Read more about the law and consent
No = no, yes = yes. Simples?
Yes on the one hand it is really simple. But agreeing to sex is also about having the kind of sex that we want to have. There are lots of reasons why asking is difficult but we can try to get into the habit of asking so that we can be surer that everyone is up for the sex. Also it can help us avoid really crappy sex that we might regret (and wouldn’t want to have again). However there are lots of reasons why asking for what we do and don’t want can be difficult.
Why asking can be hard
Asking for the sex that you want can be really difficult (this includes asking for sex to stop). When we ask for something the other person could reject us or think differently of us. Some people find this easier than others.
Some people get status/props/ratings for being sexual, others not. Eg ‘lad’ or ‘slag’
It’s easier to ask for what you want from sex when the names you hear about you in your head are (for example) ‘stud’ or ‘legend’ rather than ‘slag’ or ‘ho’. Many people feel how they are seen as (eg) women, LGBQ, trans/genderqueer/intersex, black or minority ethnic peeps or peeps with disabilities (or sometimes a combo of more than one of these) can affect how they feel about themselves.
Asking for what you want means facing rejection – if all you want is to be accepted because you’ve felt rejected all your life, this can make asking harder.
Read more on how to ask
We don’t get to practise
Being asked to do things you don’t really want to do are also part of many people’s growing up. Being told to kiss your nan, or holding someone’s hand rather than being asked for instance. Being told to do stuff in school and not questioning why or you’ll get in trouble. So often we really only get to practice asking or saying no when many people start to explore having sex for the first time. It’s hard to get into the habit of saying ‘yes I’m into that’ or ‘no I’m not into that’ – especially when we haven’t been taught very well about what ‘that’ is.
How to make the first time really good actually
Crappy sex ed
A lot of people’s sex ed has been pretty crap. They might have been taught that no means no and yes means yes. They might know about the law. But what does consent look, sound and feel like? People are often not taught how to talk about sex or their bodies (or don’t get enough practice in using the words with people or understand what the words actually mean).
Also they are often only taught about things which relate to penis in vagina sex. Not everyone wants to have sex with a penis or vagina, either because they don’t have one between them or because that kind of sex doesn’t do it for them. It can feel like that is the only ‘real sex’ or ‘normal sex’ which can add pressure to people who may not want that kind of sex.
Sex isn’t just this one thing that we might say no or yes to. It’s many many different things that me might like or not like, or not know if we like. We should see sex like this because if we have more choices it’s more consensual.
Often people aren’t taught that sex can be really really pleasurable (and what we need in order to make sex feel great). People are taught myths like ‘sex always hurts the first time’ or ‘first time sex is crap so get it over with’. People are often taught incorrectly about how their bodies work and are taught incorrectly (or not at all) about masturbation.
Read more about how to avoid painful sex
TV, film, mags, porn – grrr
Add to this all the information we get about what counts as ‘sex’ from TV, films, porn, newspapers, ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ magazines. When was the last time you saw a sex scene in a film where people talked about what kind of sex they like before and during the amazing sex they have? It’s all like ‘man slides in between the legs of a woman and starts humping for a bit until they both have an orgasm at the exact same time’ all without words (these people must be mind readers, like Derren Brown). In order to have good sex you need to communicate …
Here’s how to do sex talk and communication
Many people are given very little experience of how consent feels or what it looks like before they have sex. I’ve got some ideas about how you can learn about this before you have sex here and some ideas about putting this into practice here.
Also here’s how to have good sex (hint – it’s all about consent)
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© Justin Hancock, 2023
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.