by Zoe Dee & Joanna Wright
photographs by Sylvie Tittel
Consent about sex is a conversation that happens (along with farts, giggles and hopefully snack breaks). Ultimately – according to WinWin’s sex columnist Zoe Dee – great sex involves nothing less than an enthusiastic ‘yes!’.
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CW: This article talks about sex and consent, and mentions abuse and rape.
WinWin: Hey Zoe! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Zoe: Hi, I’m Zoe and I’m super passionate about my job promoting sexual health, and over the last three years, educating young people about sex and consent. I’m very excited to have the opportunity and privilege to start a conversation here with you. I acknowledge that I live and work on the stolen Aboriginal lands of the Awabakal and Worimi people, and pay my respects to their elders; past, present and future.
WW: Welcome and thanks! We’re going to chat about consent. My understanding of consent was always pretty black and white: “no means no” and “yes means yes.” Sometimes sex ed skips over consent being more complex than that.
Z: So consent is by definition the seeking and giving of permission. I like to think of it as communication. We do ‘consent and communication’ all the time in everyday life, like checking in if a friend needs a hug; telling someone not to share a secret or asking someone to hang out on the weekend. These are all pretty basic examples, right? It’s part of being a respectful and trustworthy friend/partner/sibling etc.
WW: I suppose the ideas we’ll be talking about here apply to anything personal, physical or intimate between two people.
Z: Sex means a lot of different things to different people, depending on who you ask. Sometimes I think we make consent more complicated than it has to be.
“Asking someone if they are okay with an activity is pretty normal.
Adding in genitals and other sensitive parts of the body should be treated the same.”
I like to say that “yes means yes!” and anything less than an enthusiastic yes (hence the exclamation mark) should be considered either as a “no,” or an ‘immediately stop what you are doing and check-in’ moment.
Consent is about having the sex YOU want. Not the sex you think you should be having. Not the sex your partner thinks you should be having. Not the sex that hurts or you think someone else wants you to have. It’s 100% up to you and consent is how you can communicate that with a partner.
Consent has to be freely given, this happens when everyone understands what they are agreeing to do.
The legal stuff: age of consent
“Power dynamics are super important when it comes to sex and consent,” says Zoe, adding that “in most states there are specific laws around consent and power to prevent older people from exploiting young people for sex.”
The age of consent in most states is 16. If you are under 16 there are different laws in each state. “These laws aren’t to stop people from under the age of 16 having sex,” explains Zoe, “but to protect them in certain situations.” For instance:
— you can’t consent to have sex with someone in charge of you like a teacher, coach or boss if you are under the age of 18
— you can’t consent if you have consumed ANY alcohol or drugs, or are asleep or unconscious
— you can’t be threatened, convinced, or lied to by someone to give your consent
More on the laws in your state can be found here
WW: Ok so let’s get down to business [haha]. How do I begin to talk to my partner about being ready for sex?
Z: Firstly, I highly recommend a ‘non-sexual sex talk’ e.g. with clothes on, prior to being horny. Making this a normal part of conversations that you have with partners and friends makes the hands-on practical sex process way easier.
Then, it can be as simple as “can I kiss you?” through to a more detailed discussion pre-sex about what your boundaries are: “what’s a hard no for you?” and “what would you be open to trying?” are great things to chat about.
It also gives you a chance to discuss safer sex basics like STIs, condoms and contraception. We’ll discuss it in much more depth in a later column, but the key thing to remember is that safer sex is more pleasurable. Especially when you don’t have to worry about pregnancy or having an allergic reaction to latex condoms!
A simple way to bring this up might sound like:
“Staying safe is important to me, can we talk about condoms and contraception?”
When it comes down to it, sex should be fun and pleasurable. Yes, someone will probably fart, accidentally hit someone in the face or even fall off the bed. The best way to make it more fun and pleasurable is to communicate! Yes, this does mean that you have to use your words.
A simple question shouldn’t kill the mood.
If it does, perhaps they aren’t the right partner for you.
WW: Seems to be a lot of talking!
Z: Yes, there can be lots of conversations along the way, instead of a one-off. It’s really important to note that silent sex is absolutely not good sex. Movies really perpetuate this idea of a couple wordlessly falling into each other’s arms. They just know how to have great sex, often with a person they don’t know very well or at all!
WW: YES! It seems so easy on screen. But you just have to imagine that they are professional actors… with a director telling them exactly where to put their limbs, and what angle to hit so that the lighting guy can make it look awesome… and a couple of camera people moving around too… etc. The ‘lovers’ don’t need to talk to each other because they’re being told what to do by a bunch of people standing around!
Z: Exactly! It’s the same in porn. They literally discuss and choreograph every single move before they start shooting a scene, plus they have snack breaks. I feel like sex snack breaks should be more of a thing! Haha!
WW: ALWAYS YES to snack breaks! But seriously, and just to be clear: it is normal for people to talk during sex?
Z: Completely normal and should be expected. Having great sex comes with trust, communication, consent and practice. Again talk, talk and more talk.
WW: Do you think the way you communicate with someone in general is a good indication of how they’ll treat you when it comes to sex?
Z: Like I said before, we get to practice consent as part of respectful relationships every day. How someone treats you generally is a good indication of how they’ll respect you inside the bedroom. If they don’t respect you, your time, feelings, boundaries, friends and family… or worse, if they put you down, play mind games, abuse your trust, force you into situations that are uncomfortable or dangerous, coerce or trick you into drinking alcohol or taking drugs… these are major red flags and signs of abuse.
Abuse within a relationship is serious and can happen to anyone of any age. See the bottom of this article for some resources if you are concerned.
WW: We all want to be respected and treated well. What are signs of someone who is a good partner?
Z: You want someone who does their best to make your relationship as equal as possible and cares about building trust and intimacy. They might:
- be reliable with you and with their other friends and family
- be true to their word
- ask what your boundaries are AND respect them
- want to talk things out and not ignore problems
- make time for you as well as balance their other relationships and commitments
- listen and share.
WW: Those points above sound like a great friend, as well as someone we would want to sleep with, or be intimate with. Do you have any tips for those of us who *cough* struggle with being direct?
Z: Practice makes perfect. Practice having conversations about sex, masturbation, feelings, consent, boundaries and bodies with people you trust. If that is still a bit too much, chatting online/texting is also a great first step. You could always send them a link to this article!
Practice using your voice and talking to other people about what you need.
If you need to have a conversation with a clingy friend about taking up too much of your time and brain space when they blow up your DM everytime something goes a little wrong, do it!
Parents not knocking on your door and waiting for an answer resulting in you getting walked in on while masturbating? Cringey, I know, but have that conversation about privacy.
Need to apologise to a friend for making them feel uncomfortable by leaving them alone with that creepy guy you both hate? You know what to do!
These conversations are practice for the future. Dealing with complex relationship stuff allows you to explore your boundaries and limits, and can help you feel stronger and more confident in your day-to-day life.
In a nutshell? Consent makes all relationships better, so go and practice today!
If reading this has made you concerned about a non-consensual sexual experience or sexual assault you or someone you know has experienced, you can contact the National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Counselling Service 24 hours at any time on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or online chat via their website
You can also contact the police anytime to report sexual assault on 000 or via Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000