Health Sex and sexual health Sexual Wellbeing Sexual Wellbeing: consent Consent means that you have given permission for any intimate and sexual activity. When we are pressured or forced into sexual activity without consent, it’s considered either rape or sexual assault. Consent can be a big issue within the LGBTQ+ community, especially in LGBTQ+ spaces. Consent doesn’t just apply to overt sex, it can also mean unwanted touching, kissing or any unwanted intimate contact and attention. Consent is about people freely choosing to take part in sexual activity, without threat or coercion, and having the capacity to make an informed choice. How can consent impact our sexual wellbeing? When consent isn’t given and we feel violated or disrespected, it can impact us in different ways: Shame – We can sometimes blame ourselves for things that our out of our control. This brings feelings of shame and regret and internalising something that was not your fault. Lack of agency – It can make us feel like we have no control over our own body and our own sex lives. It can bring on a feeling of powerlessness. Self-esteem – It can be detrimental to our self-esteem and self-worth. We can feel devalued and disrespected when consent isn’t given for sexual contact of any kind. Trauma – When we are violated in this way, however extreme, it can impact us in the long-term. These feelings can stay with you for a long time and can even effect future relationships and interactions. Trust – It can impact our ability to trust fully. When someone has violated the boundaries you have in place, it can make it very hard to trust people going forward. When consent is observed and respected it can: Empower – Having a sense of agency over our own body will build confidence and build better relationships Control – Being in control of our own sex life and having your boundaries respected will allow us to establish better relationships and have better sex Reducing anxiety – When we don’t have to worry that our sexual partners aren’t going to respect your limits, it can make us less anxious when it comes to sex How can we ensure our sexual wellbeing? What can we do to when consent isn’t given and how can we protect our sexual and mental wellbeing? Set personal boundaries – Be very clear what your limits are. Don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with and remember that consent can be withdrawn at ANY time. If you’re doing something and you don’t like it, then you can say no and ask them to stop. Communicate limits – Explain what your limits are and if those limits are violated, tell them no and tell them to stop. Walk away from situations – don’t be afraid to stop things that don’t feel right, or you haven’t given consent for. If your self-esteem is low, sometimes it may feel easier just to go along with something, but it’s your body and you get to choose what you do with it. Report – If you have communicated your limits and you have said no and they continue without your consent, then this is sexual assault. Sexual assault is a crime and can be reported to the police. There are organisations set up for LGBTQ+ people that can help you in situations such as these (see below) Help and support Galop is the UK’s premiere LGBTQ+ anti-violence charity, and runs the National LGBTQ+ Domestic Abuse Helpline (0800 999 5428). It provides expert advice and advocacy for queer people experiencing abuse and can assist you with advice on your rights, emotional support, emergency help, information on housing options, and referrals to local LGBTQ+ services. For help and advice around consent and abuse, visit the Abuse and Hate Crime section of our website. For help around depression and anxiety, our mental health pages provide lots of help and advice. Mind Out, the LGBTQ+ mental health service, offers a variety of support via its website. If you’d prefer to speak to an LGBTQ+ person on the phone, then Switchboard’s volunteers are also there to listen on its dedicated helpline. You can talk to people in confidence on the LGBT HERO Forums, a safe space where you can talk to peers and ask for help and advice.