Consent


If a part of your relationship with a person involves being sexually involved in some way (whether it’s a long term relationship, dating relationship, or casual hook up), it’s important to talk about consent.

 

According to Northeastern Code of Student Conduct, “Consent means a voluntary, affirmative agreement to engage in sexual activity proposed by another and requires mutually understandable and communicated words and/or actions that would demonstrate to a reasonable person an agreement by both parties to participate in sexual activity.  Consent must be freely given, without physical force, threats, intimidating behavior, duress or coercion. Silence, a lack of resistance, previous sexual relationships or experiences, and/or a current relationship may not, in itself, constitute consent. The initiator, or the person who wants to engage in a specific sexual activity, must obtain consent for the partner(s) for each sexual act. Both parties may be initiators at different points. A persons initiation of a sexual act constitutes consent to that act, but not necessarily to subsequent acts.”

 

Consent should be mutual, ongoing, and enthusiastic.  Being with someone should be fun!  Think of consent as a way to check in to make sure you’re on the same page.

 

Here are some ways to talk about it consent:

Before

I’d really like to _____.  What do you want?

What would be good for you?

Can I kiss you? 

During

Are you into this?

Would you like it if I _____?

Do you want me to keep going?

Do you want me to stop?

Does that feel good for you?

After

How was that for you?

 

If your partner responds by:

Saying “I don’t know”, “I’m not sure”, “This isn’t a good idea,” “I just want to cuddle,” “I want to go to sleep,” “I should go home…”

Clearly saying “No”

Tensing up

Hesitating

Moving your hands away

Turning away

 

These are your cues that your partner probably isn’t entirely comfortable and it's a good idea to check in.

 

So you think it’s weird to keep asking questions?

Asking for consent doesn’t have to be awkward.  It's really about each partner communicating what they want.  If you are into something, verbally encouraging your partner lets them know that your consent is ongoing (and it’s nice to hear).  Ongoing consent sounds like- “Yes,” “Definitely,” “I want that too,” “Keep going,” “That feels good.” It’s also about feeling safe and comfortable enough to communicate if something doesn’t feel good.  You should be able to say “I don’t want to do this anymore” or “That doesn’t feel good, can we try something different?” without feeling threatened.

 

Consent can’t be given:

  • By minors. In Massachusetts, that means a person can legally consent to sex at age 16.
  • By mentally disabled persons.
  • If someone is forced, threatened, or coerced
  • If someone is incapacitated through the use of drugs or alcohol

 

Someone is incapacitated if they are unable to make clear and rational decisions.  Some signs of incapacitation include stumbling, vomiting, passing out.

 

How do I say no? 

Our culture often conveys a message that college students are having sex all the time with many different partners.  That social pressure can sometimes cause people to feel pressured into having sex.  In fact, over 68% of Northeastern students had no sexual partners or only one partner in the last 12 months.[1]  You or your partner shouldn’t be made to feel guilty.  People shouldn’t have to explain or defend their choices.  It’s enough to say- “No.”  “I don’t want to tonight.”

 

These videos show how a conversation about consent can play out- when your partner is very into something, unsure, or not into it

[1] This data was collected in a Northeastern University 2016 National College Health Assessment.

Sexual Health


In addition to talking to your partner about consent, it’s also important to talk about protection.  It’s possible to have contracted an STI and not show symptoms so the absence of symptoms is not a reliable way to tell if you or your partner is infection free.  STIs are not only transmitted through vaginal sex, they can be transmitted via oral or anal sex as well.  Unprotected oral sex puts you at risk for herpes, HPV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.  You can contract any STI through vaginal or anal sex and in fact, can contract them more easily through anal sex.



 

Asking your partner about testing

Here are some things to keep in mind when having the conversation with your partner.

  1. Find a good place and time for the conversation. It can be a harder conversation to start once things heat up.  Try to have the conversation earlier rather than later.
  2. Here are some ways to bring it up. “My sexual health is important to me so I always check in about testing.  Before things go any further, would you be willing to get tested?”  “I think it’s a good idea to get tested.  Would you be willing to go with me?”  “I want to go further with you but I’ll be able to enjoy it much more knowing that we’re both safe.  Have you been tested?” OR start by telling them about your own testing and sexual history and then ask them to do the same.  For example, “Before we go any further, I wanted to let you know that I’ve been tested and I’m STI free.  You’re the first person I’ve been with since then… what about you?”

 

Check out these videos by Laci Green for more tips on talking to your partner about testing or on communicating with your partner if you have an STD.

 

UHCS provides STI testing.  These may be free using insurance or you can choose a self pay option.  A number of local organizations provide free or low cost testing as well.

Telling your partner you have an STD

  1. Choose a time where you have a private space, are free from distractions and have plenty of time to talk. Ideally, this should happen when both people are sober and before you are intimate.

 

  1. Here are some ways you could bring it up- “I really like you. Before things go any further with us I wanted to tell you that I contracted _____ in my last relationship.”  “There’s something I want to talk to you about before things go any further with us.  A couple years ago I contracted ____.”  Explain what it means for you and for them.

 

  1. Give your partner space to ask questions.

 

Depending on what you and your partner want and need, you have the option to bring your partner with you to UHCS so that you can talk together with a health provider about what treatment and next steps can look like.

 

Protection from STIs

Barrier methods like male or female condoms or dental dams can reduce the risk of STIs.  Some people in mutually monogamous relationships may choose to stop using condoms if both partners have been tested and are STI free. Not having sex at all is the only 100% effective method for preventing STIs.

 

UHCS and the LGBTQA resource center provide condoms for free. 

 

Contraception

If you are having vaginal sex and wish to prevent pregnancy, talk to your partner about methods of contraception. 

 

26.2% of Northeastern students reported using withdrawal as a pregnancy prevention method. [1] This can be an effective method if done correctly but often that is not the case.  This method requires accurate timing, self-control and also a lot of trust in your partner.  Additionally, it doesn’t protect from STIs.

 

If your partner is unwilling to use protection when you ask and tries to pressure you to move forward, this is a red flag.  Your health and comfort should be important to the person you’re with.

 

[1] This data was collected in a Northeastern University 2016 National College Health Assessment.

Sexual Assault

If you do not give your consent to a sexual act, then this is sexual assault.  Northeastern Code of Student Conduct defines sexual assault in the following way:

Sexual Assault with penetration: Oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by an inanimate object, penis, or other bodily part without consent

Sexual Assault without penetration:

  • Touching of the intimate body parts without consent (even over clothes)
  • Attempted penetration of an individual without consent
  • Intentional viewing/filming, photographing, or recording in any manner, transmitting or disseminating any recording of any type of sexual acts and/or related materials, sounds, or images of another person without their knowledge or consent

Abusive Relationships

Sexual violence happens not only between strangers and acquaintances, but also in the context of ongoing relationships.  It’s important to be able to recognize warning signs of abusive relationships in order to intervene then as well.

Healthy relationships are about trust and communication while abusive relationships are focused on power and control. 

 

Domestic Violence (DV) or Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. 

While often people think of abuse as something that happens physically, it can actually take a variety of forms.  In fact, in the last 12 months 5.6% of Northeastern students reported being in an emotionally abusive intimate relationship.[1]

 

Forms of abuse

Physical Abuse

  • Unwanted bodily contact
  • Scratching, Pinching, Punching, Pulling hair, Spitting, Slapping, Kicking
  • One partner physically restraining the other

Emotional Abuse

  • Saying or doing something that causes fear or low self-esteem
  • Spreading negative rumors
  • Putting down the other person, undermining their thoughts and ideas
  • Threats to harm oneself if the other partner leaves
  • Threats to expose personal information

Financial Abuse

  • Using money to hold power over partner
  • Forbidding someone to work or limiting hours in which they can work
  • Withholding financial support
  • Hiding or stealing money
  • Paying for things or giving you gifts and expecting you to give something in return

Sexual Abuse

  • Any unwanted or non-consensual sexual behavior
  • Not letting someone use birth control or protection
  • Sending unwanted sexual images
  • Coercing someone to take nude photos

Cultural Abuse

  • Threats to out someone about something as a way to isolate them from family or friends. For example, “If you don’t have sex with me, I’ll tell everyone you’re a lesbian.” “If you don’t have sex with me tonight, I’ll tell your family we’re sleeping together (knowing it’s against family cultural or religious beliefs.”
  • Reinforcing cultural beliefs that play to one person gaining power over another “Man up”  “Women should…”

Digital Abuse

  • Keeps constant tabs on partner via technology
  • Decides who partner can and can’t talk to online
  • Controls passwords, poses as you
  • Puts partner down over social media
  • Incessantly contacts you, becomes angry if you don’t respond

 

Why won’t someone leave a relationship that’s abusive?

There are many factors that may affect someone’s ability to leave a relationship that’s abusive.  One key factor is that people often feel afraid for their own safety.  In an emotionally abusive relationship, the abuser may have their partner believing that they are no good or that no one else will love them.  People are often manipulated into staying.  The other thing to know is that abusive relationships aren’t usually abusive all the time.  Just when it gets bad enough that the partner is ready to leave, the abuser may become more gentle and supportive as a way to keep their partner from leaving. 

 

[1] This data was collected in a Northeastern University 2016 National College Health Assessment.