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Sexual consent – When no is really no

This article first appeared on PublicHouse.sg.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about what sexual consent means.

As part of SlutWalk Singapore, a fringe event entitled, “Silence Does Not Mean Consent”, was held on Sunday 27 November.

AWARE, Singapore’s only gender-equality advocacy group, released two information leaflets: “What is consent?”, as well as “Reducing Risks of Sexual Assault”, at SlutTalk on Saturday 3 December. The New Paper also raised the question, “When does friendly banter cross the line?”, on Tuesday 6 December after SlutWalk Singapore.

So what exactly is consent when it comes to sex?

According to Scarleteen, a popular sexuality resource website for young people, consent is:

• Voluntary: Not coerced.

• Sober: A person who is intoxicated cannot legally give consent.

• A process: Asked for at every step of the way.

• Verbal: If you want to move to the next level of sexual intimacy, just ask.

• Informed: Never implied and cannot be assumed.

• Mutual: Both people should be involved in the decision to have sex.

• Wanted: Just because you are in a relationship does not mean that you have permission to have sex with your partner, even if sexual activity has already occurred.

• Enthusiastic: The absence of a “no” doesn’t mean “yes”, and “maybe” is still a “no”.

Indeed, Section 90 of the Penal Code in Singapore states that there is no consent:

(a) if the consent is given by a person under fear of injury or wrongful restraint to the person or to some other person;

(b) if the consent is given by a person who, from unsoundness of mind, mental incapacity, intoxication, or the influence of any drug or other substance, is unable to understand the nature and consequence of that to which he gives his consent.

AWARE’s leaflet “What is consent?” cautions that consent has to be expressly given to any form of penetration. It states that rape is committed when a man penetrates a woman’s vagina with his penis without her consent. Penetration of the vagina or anus with fingers or the hand, or getting a woman to give a blow job without her consent constitutes “unlawful sexual penetration”, which carries the same penalty as legal rape. The penalty for both offences is imprisonment for a term of up to twenty years plus a fine or caning.

I have often been asked whether seeking consent each step of the way during a sexual encounter would break the flow of activity or dampen the intensity of the emotional connection. It would appear to be disruptive; however, I would say the reverse would be true. One should not assume any entitlement to another person’s body or sexuality. The verbal articulation can reduce any second-guessing, when and where non-verbal communication cues are not clear. This respect and honesty can reassure your partner, as well as build even more trust and intimacy in the relationship, which, in turn, leads to sex being a better experience. It is normal and healthy for women to communicate their needs, wants and preferences.

Let’s be clear, once again, about when No means No.

“Not now” means No.

“Wait” means No.

“I rather be alone” means No.

“No thanks” means No.

“You are not my type” means No.

Silence means No.

“Stop” means No.

“Get off me” means No.

Sexual assault can be extremely traumatic. Normal reactions of victims include fear, guilt, anger, confusion, sadness, depression and shock after the incident. Ladies do not need to go through this alone.

AWARE launched a Sexual Assault Befrienders Service (SABS) on Friday 25 November. SABS Befrienders will accompany a sexual assault victim to the police, the hospital or to court. They also provide information and emotional support to guide and help the victim through the various legal and medical processes.

This service operates Mondays to Fridays from 10a.m. to 9:30p.m. The helpline is (65) 6779-0282; email sabs@aware.org.sg.

Dr Martha Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching in Singapore. She is a certified sexuality educator with AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists), as well as certified sexologist with ACS (American College of Sexologists). She holds a Doctorate in Human Sexuality from Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality as well as certificates in practical counselling, life coaching and sex therapy. She is available to provide sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conduct sexual education workshops and speak at public events in Asia. For more, visit www.eroscoaching.com.

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