Relationships: consent and communication

June 16, 2022

Collage by Barnaby with image of woman by Cliff Booth at Pexels and photograph of man by Emiliano Vittoriosi at Unsplash

Barnaby Fournier promotes healthy communication in relationships and actions when boundaries are crossed

For me, consent means freedom; freedom of my bodily autonomy. Sex between individuals is a mutual process which should be consensual and clearly expressed, either through words, body language, or both. Consent should be maintained throughout a sexual act. If you initially consent, you are free to change your mind at any time during the encounter.

With that said, non-consensual sex, of which luckily I’ve never been a victim of, is soul-destroying. Sexual violence can have long lasting psychological, emotional, and physical effects on a survivor. Recovery for a victim is incredibly hard.

It’s important to note that I’m a man. Whilst this does not in any way mean I can’t be raped or sexually assaulted, it does mean that I’m less likely to be violated than a woman. Recent statistics published by Rape Crisis England & Wales, show a shocking 1 in 5 women have been raped or sexually assaulted, in stark contrast to 1 in 20 men.

Setting boundaries is crucial in any relationship. Knowing they will be respected instills a feeling of security, trust and comfort within a relationship. It’s always good to be clear right from the start.

Often there are aspects of relationships that you don’t feel comfortable with, such as public displays of affection. Your partner may be completely unaware of this, so it’s good to be clear that this is a boundary not to be crossed. Although there will be bumps along the way, with clear communication your relationship is more likely to flourish.

Porn as an industry has blurred the lines around consent. Porn is a practice of misogyny and racism

I feel that technological advancements have had a spectacularly negative outcome on attitudes to sex and consent. A recent survey by BBC3’s Porn Laid Bare reported that more than half of young men use porn as their main source of sex education.

Porn as an industry has blurred the lines around consent. Women are mostly reduced to sex objects, which for young teenage boys, makes violence towards women look acceptable. Porn is a practice of misogyny and racism.

A report in Mashable news shows 50% of British women have expressed fears that porn dehumanises women. Many roles in the porn industry that are afforded to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) are rooted in racism and colonialism with Black people often fetishised, upholding racist stereotypes.

Social media has normalised the idea of sharing content without consent. If social media sites asked for consent before anybody posted, awareness of the issue would be more developed. Having constant reminders in our everyday lives, such as asking for consent before posting, would be better for the bigger picture. We would all be more likely to make sure an act is consensual.

I have been in multiple situations where my friends, both male and female, have been inappropriately touched in clubs, bars and at house parties. When this has happened in clubs, firstly we have made sure our friend is ok and safe. Then, it has been important to notify a trusted member of staff. Although sadly I’ve heard from my female friends about many incidents where male bouncers have taken advantage of women who are drunk.

The 97 March, Trafalgar Square, London 2021. A protest against the sexual harassment of women. Photograph by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona at Unsplash

I don’t use the term, taken advantage of lightly, as the narrative is often that the victim should be blamed because they were under the influence. This is not true. While they might not have expressly said no, they weren’t in a fit mental or physical state to give consent.

You’ll feel more comfortable if you can set boundaries early on in any relationship. It is also very important to note and not to be frightened to communicate if your personal boundaries have evolved. Something you were happy with at first, you might not be anymore and vice versa.

You can spot if a friend’s relationship is toxic when you take notice of the signs. Your friend might have become more secretive, withdrawn and less communicative since the start of their relationship. Control is a major aspect of an unhealthy relationship. You may notice your friend being prevented from seeing you. Or you may see them being pushed to consume more alcohol.

The biggest and most alarming sign is when a partner tries to harm them physically or sexually. Then it’s time for them to get out, fast. It’s essential to talk to your friends about any red flags you see in their relationships. You can get more advice here from the Your Best Friend #FriendsCanTell campaign.

Thanks to SafeLives, which is operating the Your Best Friend Fund, for making this fantastic #FriendsCanTell campaign possible.

Barnaby is a student at the University of Manchester, studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He is half-French, loves travelling and aspires to travel to every country in the world. Currently, he has been to 28 out of 196.

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