By Jamie Porter, health promotions analyst
Last month, a Swiss man was convicted of sexual assault for removing a condom during sex without his partner’s knowledge. This was a landmark case in Switzerland—and for the rest of the world.
The victim had consented to one sexual act with the man. She had made it clear that her consent was contingent upon her partner wearing a condom. When he removed the condom without her knowledge, he began a different sexual act; a sexual act for which he didn’t have consent.
Any sexual act without the consent of both partners is considered sexual assault.
According to Scarleteen.com, sexual consent is “an active process of willingly and freely choosing to participate in sex of any kind with someone else, and a shared responsibility for everyone engaging in, or who wants to engage in, any kind of sexual interaction with someone.” It is:
- Verbally expressed
- Given when sober and conscious
- Can be withdrawn at any time
- True for all participants.
Consent must be given for each sexual act, and consent for one sexual act does not constitute consent for another act. Check out the Scarleteen.com link above for a more in-depth exploration and explanation of consent.
If you are having a hard time seeing how a discussion of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention would relate to sexual consent, try thinking about it this way: When conducting an academic study, researchers must obtain consent from every participant. Part of obtaining consent from participants includes informing them of any and all possible risks participating in the study may pose. That is what we call informed consent.
In many ways, informed consent used for research is similar to sexual consent. It is specific; researchers must inform participants about exactly what will take place during the study. During informed consent, participants must be sober and give consent verbally (in addition to in written form). All participants have the right to stop at any time.
Another parallel that should exist, but often doesn’t, is informing participants of potential risks. STDs and pregnancy are possible risks to many sexual acts. In sexual consent, partners should disclose any STDs they have, any contraception used (if needed), and how they can reduce these risks.
Condom use and consent are rarely talked about together—if at all. This case shows that discussions about STD prevention and contraception are not just important to keep all partners sexually healthy—they are an integral component of obtaining consent. More importantly, if you are not respecting your partner’s wishes and boundaries when it comes to using barriers to prevent STDs and/or pregnancy, you are not practicing consent.