Words by Hadley Stewart | @Wordsbyhadley

If, like me, you’ve never sat down and thought about the term ‘consent’, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it doesn’t really apply to you.

Often we associate the term with the law, meaning that it’s easy to think it’s something that doesn’t form part of our lives unless we’ve been the victim of a crime. A sexual assault, for instance, is often paired up with the notion of consent. So does that mean we’ve never consented to anything or used our power of consent? Probably not.

When I started thinking about what to write for this issue of FS, I thought about a time when I’d been asked to do something that I didn’t want to. Now, before you start rolling your eyes thinking that I’m about to spew out a list of things I haven’t done yet – the washing up being one of them – we’re going to be sticking with sex for the purposes of this article.

We often hear about consenting to sex, for example, but what happens after you’ve given the green light? There I was lying naked on top of a guy, thinking of something other than the household chores, when consent took me by surprise. He asked if he could fuck me and when I asked if he had a condom, he said he didn’t.

He seemed unfazed by this and shrugged off the anxiety that had now weaved its way between us. It would have been easier to have ignored my worries, by just carrying on. There’s always another time to deal with any potential consequences, I thought to myself. But there I was, like a lost tourist daring to jump into a packed tube carriage just as the doors are about to close – would I make it through without becoming a trapped item?

I wasn’t sure if the risk was worth it. The word ‘no’ isn’t exactly the biggest turn-on, which is perhaps why we’ve all subconsciously banned it from our bedroom vocabulary. When you’re between the sheets, it’s easier to say “yes”, because saying “no” seems to bring everything to a screeching halt.

I knew that I didn’t want to have condomless sex with him, but I didn’t know if I was able to say that word. I was scared that he’d judge me, say I was boring, tell me that I was overreacting, or worse get angry. “No.” The word popped out.

There was a little awkward silence, but at least everyone was on the same page. I’d created a fear around stating what I was happy with, because I was apprehensive of how it would make me look. Equally, the stigma around STIs and HIV had seeped its way under the bedroom door. By telling him that I didn’t want to have unprotected sex, was I also insinuating that he was lying about his HIV status? Was I coming across as being judgemental? Despite having consented to sex, we don’t necessarily make it clear what we’re consenting to. How able do you feel to negotiate in the bedroom?

Unfortunately many of us are left to make up our own techniques to negotiate the varied sexual activities menu – which can be daunting for some people. It’s easy to feel pressured by our own anxieties or feelings in the heat of the moment and do something that we’re not all that comfortable with. Perhaps the biggest lesson here is the need for communication.

This is somewhat limited by how well you know your sexual partner, but give it a go. Being on the same page is an enlightening place to be.