Having an open and mature conversation about the things that fall under the umbrella of sexual health is not easy for most people, and even less so when it comes to the subject of consent.
Sexual health still remains a taboo subject for many today. By encouraging more dialogue and openness around the topic, more people will have greater knowledge and be better equipped to make informed choices in relation to sex.
Sexual Health Week, an annual initiative which aims to raise awareness with a view to improving everyone’s sexual health, has just concluded. Increasing understanding about consensual sex was one of the main focuses of this year’s campaign.
A key objective of Sexual Health Week is educating people of all ages so they can as adults enjoy a healthy and responsible sex life, whilst minimising the risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies.
However, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub is an advocate that sexual health must go beyond traditional views of simply avoiding disease and unwanted pregnancy and should include engaging in harder to discuss topics such as sexual consent and what it means.
Consenting to sexual activity means to agreeing freely and with full capacity to engage in that act. This means that someone has to be able to agree to sexual activity with full understanding of what they are agreeing to, and with no pressure to say yes.
Another way of thinking about it is consent is someone saying yes only when they really mean yes because it is something they genuinely want to do. When someone feels obliged to consent but doesn’t really want to or doesn’t fully understand what they are agreeing to, this is sometimes called ‘enthusiastic consent’.
It’s important that everyone involved in sexual activity is consenting at all times. No one should ever feel they have to do something they are not comfortable with or don’t want to do. Just because you have consented to one thing doesn’t mean you have consented to something else, and it’s completely okay to say no or stop at any point if you don’t want to continue.
In fact, it doesn’t matter who the other person is, what your relationship with them is or how far you’ve gone with them or others in the past; you always have a right to withdraw your consent at any time.
Physical, emotional and psychological pressure may be used to force someone else into sexual activity. Just because someone does not hold you down and make you engage in a sexual act against your will or if you do not say ‘no’, it does not mean you have consented.
Talking about sex can be difficult, and feelings of awkwardness when talking about sex can put people off having conversations about consent. Conversely, good communication is key to understanding and expressing what you and your partner want.
This means it is important to practice ways of asking others for consent, listen to their response, and pause to check in on their wellbeing. It is also crucial to do the same for yourself.
Giving and getting consent doesn’t have to be a stiff, awkward, formal conversation. It can (and should) be a continuous dialogue about what you want, don’t want, like and don’t like. There are practical ways of negotiating consent. It doesn’t always have to be verbal but it does involve checking what you want, checking what your partner wants, finding ways of expressing what you want and don’t want and listening to and respecting what your partner wants and does not want.
The more practice you have talking about sex, desire, relationships, pleasure and your body, the less awkward it will become and the easier it will be to communicate with your partner(s) healthily. And remember, no matter how bumpy or stilted these conversations may be, practicing consent every time you have sex or sexual activity is always the right approach.
If you don’t give your consent and someone forces you to do something sexual that you do not want to do, it is never your fault and it is not okay. If this has happened to you, you should speak to someone you trust to get help and support and report what has happened. Click here to find out more about how to report sexual violence.
Indeed, we are all becoming more aware that young people in school are affected by issues such as sexual harassment, sexual assault and image-based abuse, along with other forms of gender-based violence.
In August, Rape Crisis Scotland launched Equally Safe at School (ESAS), an innovative approach to preventing gender-based violence. This provides all secondary schools with access to a free suite of online tools and resources to help them understand the problem and implement a set of holistic measures. Mary McNeil, Development Manager at Cornerstone House Centre, said:
“Anyone can find themselves facing a situation where they don’t consent to what a partner or another person wants from them sexually. Whilst young people and women are often considered the most vulnerable in this respect, it can happen to anyone.
“Encouraging confidence and conversation around consent is the basis of building the skills needed to navigate the seeking and giving of consent.
“Consent is an extremely important part of any sexual relationship. Nobody should feel pressured into sexual activity if they are feeling unsure and Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub can signpost people to partner organisations if they need help in this area.”
Lanarkshire Sexual Health is a useful website that contains a wide range of information about sexual health, including consent. It also includes details of local services in relation to sexual health testing, family planning, STIs and healthy sexual relationships based upon safety, pleasure and respect.
There are also many free resources and services readily available to support Cumbernauld citizens with their sexual health. These include NHS Lanarkshire’s provision of Sexual Health Clinics and Young People Clinics, as well as a Free Condoms No Fuss C Card Scheme, which offers condoms and lubricant to anyone living, working or studying in Lanarkshire.
Individuals can pick up a C Card and leaflet from various locations in the Greater Cumbernauld area, including Cumbernauld Central Health Centre and most local pharmacies. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, NHS Lanarkshire is also temporarily offering condoms and contraceptive pills by post.
So, this Sexual Health Week, don’t be afraid as partners, spouses, families, friends or professionals to engage in positive discussion about sexual health. By doing so, we can all help to remove stigma and ensure that each person receives the sexual health advice and support that they need.
For those seeking to improve their sexual health, the below tips and advice are provided by Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub.
TOP TIPS FOR PROTECTING YOUR SEXUAL HEALTH
Be Aware of the Risks of Unprotected Sex
Unprotected anal sex and unprotected vaginal sex are the most common ways that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed on. There are many different STIs, including Chlamydia, Genital Herpes, Genital Warts, Gonorrhoea, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV and Syphilis. These can be contracted through having unprotected intercourse with an infected person or carrier. It is absolutely vital that you inform your sexual partner(s) soon as possible if you have (or think you may have) an STI.
Unwanted pregnancy is also a common occurrence of unprotected sex. Using a condom during sex is the best way to reduce the risk of STIs or pregnancy.
There are other sexual activities which do not carry the same risks as unprotected penetrative sex but can still be very pleasurable for you and your sexual partner(s). Click here for more about specific sex activities and the risks they carry.
Increase Your Knowledge and Understanding
They say that knowledge is power. This is definitely true with your sexual health, as it can give you the power to make better and more informed choices.
Reading the different sections of the Lanarkshire Sexual Health website is one way to increase your understanding of many areas of sexual health, including contraception, fertility, relationships, services and STIs. Whether you are seeking advice or information for yourself, your partner, your child, a friend or a client, there is a lot of knowledge to be gained from this portal.
A healthy sex life can promote a range of health benefits, both physically and emotionally. Learn how you can make the most of your sex life and keep healthy.
As well as making sure you have safe sex, it is also important to remember that sex can be very enjoyable and can enhance your relationship with your partner. A good start to having great sex is getting to know your body as well as your partner’s, learning to be more sensual and understanding how arousal occurs.
Get Checked Out If You Have Any Concerns
If you have taken sexual risks or think you might have contracted an STI, don’t delay in consulting your GP and getting tested. The sooner you get tested, the sooner you can put your mind at rest. If results come back positive, then early detection means treatment can be more effective in making you healthy again.
Some infections, such as the HIV virus and Chlamydia, do not always show symptoms until they become more advanced, making them more difficult to treat. So if you are having sex then it is important to have regular check-ups. An appointment can be made at an NHS Lanarkshire Sexual Health Clinic by telephoning 0300 303 0251 or booking online.
Know About the Health of You and Your Partner’s Genitals
Do you know what a healthy penis or vagina looks and feels like? Whatever its shape or size, learn what you should do to keep yours in good health.
Every vagina is different. Click here to learn about normal colour, smell, natural changes that occur and when you might need to see a doctor. Equally, there is no ‘correct’ size or shape for a penis. Click here to learn all you need to know about penis and testicle health including normal appearance, size and shape.
If you have any concerns about your genital health, take the time to consult your GP. Also, make sure you discuss any concerns with your sexual partner(s) before having intercourse.
Always Take Care to Use Condoms and Contraceptives Properly
Understanding how to use condoms properly, how they work and where you can access them is essential for protecting yourself and your sexual partner(s).
Condoms are the best way of protecting you and your sexual partner(s) from STIs and unintended pregnancy. Click here for information about how to put a condom on. There are a number of contraceptive options available to women that couples should be aware of when making sexual choices.
Don’t Be Embarrassed to Talk About Sex
Sex is definitely worth talking about; sharing feelings and concerns with your partner promotes better sexual health both mentally and physically.
Talking about sex does not need to be embarrassing. In fact, experts say it is essential. Bringing up your worries and talking about your expectations with a partner can ease tension and improve your relationship and sex life.
If you have concerns about sex or your sexual health, there are many professionals that you can talk to through NHS Lanarkshire who can offer expert advice and help you to make the right decisions on issues that are important to you.
Consider the Facts About HIV and AIDS
If you are sexually active, it is essential to understand the facts about transmission and symptoms of STIs, and where to access information and support in relation to this.
Understandably, many people are especially concerned about the possibility of contracting HIV through sexual intercourse. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and it attacks the body’s immune system, making it more vulnerable to illnesses. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency, and it can occur as a result of the damage that HIV has done to the body.
The best way to prevent yourself from becoming infected with HIV is to always use a condom for sex. If you are concerned that you may have put yourself at risk of contracting HIV, it’s important to get tested as soon as possible. Terrence Higgins Trust facilitates a Lanarkshire Fastest Clinic which offers rapid HIV tests with results available within 20 minutes.
Think About Coronavirus Risks Before Engaging in Sexual Activity
Though coronavirus has been detected in semen, so far there’s no evidence it can be passed on that way. Intimacy and intercourse may not transmit COVID-19, but nearly everything else about sex with a partner increases your chances of getting sick.
Bodily fluids exchanged during sex and genital contact isn’t what infects people whose partners are COVID-19 carriers. Instead, it’s intimate contact like heavy breathing, kissing and close proximity that causes risk.
So, before sexual contact, make sure everyone agrees to the same social distancing and mask procedures and that each partner is comfortable with the other’s pandemic precautions.
Remember Two-Way Consent Is Absolutely Imperative
Respecting and protecting your partner’s sexual health is imperative at all times, even if you do not always agree with or like their views or beliefs. In the same respect, your partner should always respect and protect your sexual health.
If this is not the case, this needs addressed as soon as possible. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to access professional advice or help regarding this. If you believe you have been the victim of a sexual assault or crime, or know someone else who has, you should contact Police Scotland immediately.
Looking after your sexual health is as important as any other aspect of your health. For more about sexual health and supports available in the Greater Cumbernauld area, visit www.lanarkshiresexualhealth.org.