Consent and self-care

Amy Donohoe

Consent means mutually and actively agreeing to be sexual with someone. Consent lets someone know that an action, especially sexual, is wanted.

DCU’s Smart Consent program is a conversation opener on the topic of consent. 643 students have voluntarily attended it since September.

“Consent is an agreement between two or more sexual partners. It’s an agreement that all parties are feeling it, both willing and just because they agree with one aspect, doesn’t mean that they agree to everything,” said Smart Consent facilitator, Thomas Dorian.

He stated that, “It’s really important to make students aware of consent because I believe that in Ireland, we are nearly afraid to talk about these things. They’re too taboo but I think the classes will give the students the vocabulary and the power to have these conversations and the confidence to talk about consent in the bedroom, or anywhere really.”

The program highlighted that consent is freely given – it’s a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It’s reversible, as anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing at any time. It’s enthusiasm – you should only do what you want to do and not what you think is expected. And it’s being specific – saying yes to one thing doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others.

The aim of the program is to work with students, not provide classes, by using the evidence-based activities that they’ve have designed. No one is asked to give personal information or talk about their experiences, instead, the workshops are there to help others understand.

“To educate themselves, DCU has Smart consent classes opened up to all students which have been very successful. There’s a lot of rich information on the internet about consent and about smart consent. Students can also come to any student union member. We can advise them. They can also go to the health centre and student advice”. Thomas continued to say.

“I found within my two years of being a facilitator and from Smart Consent starting off, the conversation between students is more open. Students know more about it this year than they were last year. We have opened up that conversation.”

It should be clear that two people are willing, comfortable, and in agreement to intercourse. If any type of sexual activity, including sexual touching, kissing, fondling, oral sex, or intercourse, is forced on a person without their consent, it becomes a form of sexual assault and is considered a crime, according to the Sex & U website.

Consent is never implied by things like your past behaviour, what you wear, or where you go. Sexual consent should always be clearly communicated there should be no question or mystery. Silence is not consent. And it’s not just important the first time you’re with someone. Everyone must request consent every time according to plannedparenthood.org.

The legal definition of consent was introduced in The Criminal Law Act 2017. The law now states that “a person consents to a sexual act if he or she freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in that act” and it highlights several circumstances where consent cannot be given which include being asleep or unconscious; under force or the threat of force or being impaired by alcohol or drugs.

The Rape Crisis Centres nationwide provide support to victims of rape and sexual assault. They support victims and provide information surrounding rape and assault. They can accompany victims to the Gardaí and help arrange a medical forensic examination at a SATU.

Amy Donohoe

Image Credit: Sonja Tutty