Comment & Analysis
Sep 22, 2017

Don’t Make Sex Complicated. Learn to Love Consent

Rachel Skelly, an organiser of the Halls consent classes, discusses why consent classes are both vital and valuable.

Rachel SkellyContributing Writer
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This year's consent classes in Halls saw record attendance.
Ivan Rakhmanin for The University Times

I never got to attend a consent workshop. Instead, I learned about consent through my friend, when she explained to me that I had been raped. It’s a hard thing to hear. She told me that what I had experienced was an extreme case of both physical and psychological violence, but I was still certain that I was to blame.

Being unhappy with a situation surely meant that I had done something wrong. It took a long time for me to accept that this was not the case, and only through understanding that, did I begin to realise how unhealthy my sexual past had been. It turned out that I had been raped before, but had never understood it in that way. By talking to people about my experience, I found that many have similar experiences. In fact it’s quite common.

I started working on consent workshops to take back what I had lost. At first, they were a tool by which I wanted to prove something: that these people hadn’t stripped me of everything, that I still had some power. I wanted to show people that you could still live, you could still talk about sex and be okay. But through working on the content with other students, I began to see another side of it. I began to see how sex could be a positive thing. How it could be something that I actually enjoy and actively take part in.

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It turned out that I had been raped before, but had never understood it in that way. By talking to people about my experience, I found that many have similar experiences. In fact it’s quite common

In the end, it took enduring the most negative sexual experience to reach the hope of a positive sex life and the idea that sex could, and should be, really fun. So when people ask me what the point of a consent workshop is, I find it fairly hard to answer – at least when they approach me at the Pav.

I am proud to say that this year and last year we had a really great attendance at the consent workshops. Afterwards, the counselling service had an uptick in people attending for reasons of sexual violence. It seems that after learning about consent, more people realised the lack of it in their sex lives.

Sex is a weird thing in Ireland. We’re all afraid to talk about it. We’re all afraid to acknowledge that it happens, and that we do it. But this leads to a lack of communication, a lack of honesty about what we want from someone. We seem to be afraid of letting another person know that we want them, or that we don’t.

A lot of the criticism about consent workshops is that we’re blaming men, or forcing young people into sex culture. This honestly couldn’t be further from its objective. When I was raped, one of the most upsetting things for me was realising that it wasn’t the first time. I would hope that this isn’t a relatable experience, but inevitably it will be for some. Consent workshops exist to help young people, in Ireland especially, to understand the communication that’s needed during sexual encounters. We have such a strong culture of denying our sexuality, but with these workshops we are giving young people the opportunity to instead explore it, consensually.

Our culture and education have led to full-blown silence on the topic of sex, and it is this that leads to a lack of consent. In every single relationship, we face the awkwardness of asking and the perpetual awkwardness of rejection

The workshops focus on sex positivity and ways in which people can seek out consent from their partners. I was told once that a lack of consent doesn’t mean rape. It’s a sentence that I am still struggling to appreciate. Unfortunately, in so many cases, that sentiment is still regarded as true, and it’s what the law sides with. The movies say that men are the perpetrators and women are the victims, the stories we hear are of shady men in dark alleys taking advantage of vulnerable women, but this isn’t the reality of it. It’s often the people we know, the people we trust, those who we allow ourselves to be most vulnerable with. It’s often our inability to communicate or to comprehend what our partner is communicating. The workshops don’t give a definitive guide, because there isn’t one. Each case is unique and ambiguous and that’s what makes it so difficult. It’s an issue that is complicated, yet rarely spoken about.

Our culture and education have led to full-blown silence on the topic of sex, and it is this that leads to a lack of consent. In every single relationship, we face the awkwardness of asking and the perpetual awkwardness of rejection. Breaching this awkwardness is our goal.

Consent workshops were established to help people surpass this, to engage in positive sexual encounters and to actually have fun with our partners. One year on from Trinity’s first consent workshops, I hope that our incoming second years have experienced some positive changes in their sex lives. The aim has never been to alienate, to upset or to vilify, but to foster a positive relationship with sex, to encourage young people to feel empowered in their sexuality and to allow them to explore that without fear of humiliation, shame or hurt.

It’s often said that humans are one of the few species that have sex for pleasure. It’s important to engage for our own pleasure, regardless of any social pressures. Sexual consent should never have been a taboo, but that is the reality. Inviting someone to be with you intimately should be seen as fun and exciting, and this is what the Trinity consent workshops highlight.

The workshops are fun, open and safe. The workshops are a place to explore what consent means and how to incorporate it into your life, both sexually and otherwise. The workshops, put simply, are a dream in which sex, for both individuals, is a positive experience.

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