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Understanding sexual consent in relationships

Relationships
 Understanding sexual consent in relationships (Photo: iStock)

Informed consent is the cornerstone of all ethical and fulfilling intimate transactions. It transcends a passive acceptance or an unarticulated silence, instead transforming into a constructive dialogue meticulously orchestrated by transparent communication and unwavering respect for individual autonomy. This fundamental principle underpins the foundation of healthy intimacy and flourishing trust.

Understanding consent is the cornerstone of healthy and fulfilling intimacy. It ensures that every encounter is a deliberate choice, free from coercion, manipulation or the compromising effects of substances. It is the foundation upon which trust and intimacy can truly flourish.

Understanding sexual consent is as easy as FRIES: the acronym for, Freely Given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic and Specific.

Freely Given:

Consent must be a voluntary choice made without pressure, threats or manipulation. It cannot be extracted from someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as their capacity for rational decision-making is impaired.

Reversible:

Just as the conductor can alter the tempo, consent is not a one-time agreement. It can be withdrawn at any point, even amid intimacy. Respecting this "stop" signal is paramount, regardless of past actions or expectations.

Informed:

To truly consent, individuals require complete information. This includes details about the intended sexual activity, potential risks like sexually transmitted infections and the use of protection. Withholding information or creating false narratives invalidates any purported consent.

Enthusiastic:

This is where the "affirmative consent" principle comes into play. Consent should not be about lukewarm acceptance or simply going along with the flow. It should be a resounding affirmation, an expression of genuine desire and enthusiasm for the activity at hand.

Specific:

Just because someone agrees to one form of intimacy doesn't mean they automatically consent to everything else. Explicit verbal or non-verbal cues are essential for exploring different types of touch and activity.

Silence does not mean consent. It is important to remember that the absence of a "no" does not necessarily equate to a "yes." True consent thrives on clear communication, both verbal and non-verbal. A hesitant "maybe" or a reluctant touch are not substitutes for enthusiastic affirmation.

The age of sexual consent in Kenya is 18 years according to the Sexual Offences Act, any activity with a person below that age can lead to up to 20 years of incarceration. Laws vary by region, but generally, individuals below a certain age are legally incapable of giving consent due to their emotional and developmental stage. Having sexual relations with someone below the legal age is not only a violation of trust but also a serious offence.

Understanding consent extends beyond the initial encounter. Even established relationships require ongoing communication and respect for boundaries. Just because you've been together before doesn't mean consent is a given. Every encounter, regardless of familiarity, requires a fresh and enthusiastic affirmative response.

Sexual assault and rape occur when these interactions tragically become discordant. These acts of violence are devastating and the impact on survivors is profound. It is crucial to remember that blame never lies with the victim. Regardless of clothing choices, past behaviour or even previous consent, no one ever deserves to be violated.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, remember, you are not alone. There are numerous resources available to offer support and guidance. Report and seek medical assistance before 24 hours elapse.

Organizations like Usikimye or the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) step in to offer support and ensure swift justice.

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