Happy February! This month, our society celebrates love, relationships, and romance. Our collective understanding of these concepts, however, is often romanticized -- no pun intended. Media and pop culture primarily celebrate one narrow definition of a relationship (heterosexual and cisgendered) and one narrow definition of romance (whirlwind, head-over-heels, and no-questions-asked), to the exclusion of all else. This is damaging to sexual and gender minorities, but it is also damaging to anyone who was, is, or will be involved in a romantic relationship. It diminishes the patience and communication that is required in healthy relationships, whether that relationship lasts for one night or ten years.
So why does it matter? Education and communication are two of the most effective tools in combating sexual assault, preventing STIs, and avoiding unintended pregnancy. Popular culture seems to promote one sultry, prolonged glance across the room as sufficient communication between sexual partners. In reality, informed consent is an ongoing combination of both verbal and physical communication.
Let’s break down “informed consent” into its component parts. In order for consent to be meaningful, both partners must be aware of exactly what they are consenting to (i.e. fully informed). This means discussing sexual histories and/or STI test results. The rates of sexually transmitted infections in Duval County have been increasing, particularly among youth ages 15 to 24, and across the United States, one in two sexually active people will get an STI by the age of 25. Let’s translate that statistic. If both you and your partner are over the age of 25, statistically, one of you will have an STI. So, while discussing sexual histories and your most recent STI test might be an uncomfortable topic, it is essential for achieving meaningful consent.
Once both partners are fully informed, each person can meaningfully consent. Consent is a complicated subject so, with that in mind, here are a few key points to keep in mind during this month of romance:
- Consent IS an enthusiastic “YES”.
- Consent IS a one-time, finite agreement, for a single act (i.e. consenting to a kiss does not mean that someone has consented to sex).
- Consent IS sober.
- Consent IS NOT the absence of “NO”.
- Consent IS NOT implied by a person’s clothing or actions (e.g. flirting).
- Consent IS NOT ongoing or indefinite (e.g. consenting to sex once does not mean someone has consented to sex in the future).
- Consent IS NOT given while intoxicated.
Meaningful, informed consent is a significantly more involved process than what we may have previously been exposed to through media or popular culture. However, we all owe each other the patience and communication that consent requires. In this most romantic of months, it is essential that we spread love, kindness, and respect for everyone. Happy February, and a Happy Valentine’s Day, from National Health Corps Florida!
This blog post was written by NHC FL member, Chase McCain.
Chase serves the the FDOH in Duval County as a Health Educator.