Consent is words or overt actions by a person clearly and affirmatively communicating a freely-given, present agreement to engage in a particular form of sexual contact. Although consent does not need to be verbal, verbal communication is the most reliable form of asking for and obtaining consent. All parties to a particular form of sexual contact must provide consent, and such consent must be present throughout the activity. Even when consent is given, it may be retracted at any time.
A person can only provide consent when that person:
- Acts freely and voluntarily, without coercion or force or otherwise feeling unduly pressured, threatened, intimidated;
- Is informed about the nature of the sexual contact involved;
- Is not incapacitated, whether from alcohol, other drugs, or other causes, such that they cannot understand the fact, nature, or extent of the sexual contact;
- Is conscious;
- Is of legal age to consent (16 years old in Minnesota with some exceptions for younger individuals who are close in age).
These requirements for consent mean that sexual contact with someone who is threatened, coerced, intimidated, uninformed, incapacitated, asleep or otherwise unconscious, or not of legal age, is by definition sexual assault.
The following are a few things that should always be discussed with new sexual partners.
- Are we monogamous? The more partners you have, the greater the risk of STIs. Those who are in mutually monogamous relationships are much less likely to contract an infection.
- What is your sexual history? You deserve to know. This includes any history of STIs, when they were last tested, how many sexual partners they have had, and anything else that seems important.
- Are you willing to be tested? Someone who truly has your best interests at heart will say yes. Hesitation or refusal is a big red flag.
- How do you feel about sex? The answer to this question will give you an idea of whether you are both on the same page when it comes to the emotional, physical, mental, and even spiritual sides of sexuality.
- How do you feel about contraceptives? Talking about which contraception methods are right for the two of you is always a sign of a healthy relationship. If a partner is pushing you to use one form over another or doesn’t seem to want to use contraceptives, this is a red flag.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Abstinence is the only way to protect yourself completely from STIs.
According to the World Health Organization, a person can have an STI without having obvious symptoms of the disease. Common symptoms of STIs include vaginal discharge, urethral discharge, or burning during urination, genital ulcers, and abdominal pain. If STIs are not treated adequately, it can lead to various complications.
It’s a good time to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) when:
- You have a new sexual partner(s).
- You or your partners have other sexual partners and it’s been more than three to six months since your last test.
- You notice any changes in your body.
- You had sex with someone who has an STI.
- You had sex without a condom or the condom broke.
Contraception allows for the prevention of pregnancy and for planning the timing of pregnancy. Some methods can also protect against infections. Modern methods of contraception include oral contraceptives (such as birth control pills), contraceptive vaginal rings, condoms, intrauterine devices (also called IUDs), injectable and implantable products, and sterilization.
General methods of contraception include:
- Barrier—physically interferes with conception by keeping the egg and sperm apart
- Hormonal—regulates ovulation by changing the balance of hormones related to development and release of the egg; changes cervical mucus to impair sperm function or transport
- IUDs—small devices inserted into the uterus that change the conditions in the cervix and uterus to prevent pregnancy as well as inhibiting the transit of sperm from the cervix to the fallopian tubes.
- Sterilization—surgical procedures that make someone permanently unable to reproduce.
STIs are infections that are passed from one person to another during sexual activity. Anybody who has oral, anal, or vaginal sex, or genital skin-to-skin contact with another person can get STIs.
There are lots of ways you can make sex safer. One of the best ways is by using a barrier — like condoms, internal condoms, and/or dental dams — every single time you have oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Barriers cover parts of your genitals, protecting you and your partner from body fluids and some skin-to-skin contact, which can both spread STDs.