By David Stuart. Originally published in FS Magazine by GMFA
No means no. Stop means stop. Simple. There are no blurred lines when it comes to consent to sex. When your partner doesn’t want it, you don’t do it. When your partner wants you to wear a condom, you wear it.
But what about when your partner doesn’t want you to wear a condom? What is he consenting to?
What about that 16-year-old who is consenting, yet doesn’t seem to possess a sexual maturity, or the boundaries/self-care to keep himself safe?
What about that vulnerable young shag, who is so needy of approval, so desperate for you to like him/love him/not reject him, that he’ll consent to anything?
And then there’s chem sex, drugs and alcohol. That sexual playground of extremes and indulgent fantasies running amok. I know that many gay men do find these lines blurred; PEP clinics are full of gay men who claim to have ‘consented’ to condomless sex while under the grip of a powerful drug high; but sadly, there are more sinister stories than that. Too many guys ‘come to’ after a delirious GBL high in a sauna or bedroom, to find a guy or two fucking them; or having poor memory of what has just happened, but having a sore or bleeding arse. Plain and simple sexual assault to you and I perhaps; though more commonly, guys will shrug their shoulders and say “Well it’s my fault, these things just happen on G.”
Rape ought not to be a recreational hazard.
These drugs are very powerful disinhibitors. Crystal meth (‘Tina’) and mephedrone tap into our deepest and darkest sexual fantasies, robbing us of our usual filters that help us make informed choices, and keep us safe from harm. GBL (‘G’, ‘Gina’) does the same, with the additional danger of poor clarity; we’re often unaware of what we are doing while high on G, or have no memory of what we’ve done.
Yeah, sure, we ought to take responsibility for our own behaviour on drugs. That’s a given. It’d be too easy to say guys are asking for trouble if they choose to do these drugs. No. That’s too easy, and completely lacking in empathy, or understanding of the complexities that drive us to harmful drug use.
So what if the guy you’re shagging is rolling his eyes in ecstasy and horniness, his high is working just as he planned, and he’s well up for it.
Is that consent? How do you define consent, and where do you draw the line?
What if your shag, his G kicking in, is so aroused by your slamming (injecting) while under the influence, that he asks you to slam him too? Is that consent?
Some guys do drugs. Get over it. Let’s not leave the onus of responsibility solely with them; let’s show some community spirit, some gay brotherhood. Consent is the ultimate two-way street. In contrast, drugs can be a very selfish thing. There are some drugs that improve empathy and understanding for others; MDMA and ecstasy can sometimes do that. Mephedrone, meth and GBL do not; they are powerful disinhibitors that open floodgates to repressed sexual needs and urges; often very selfish needs and urges that can supersede concern for your partner. Use these drugs with caution. And engage with others who may be using these drugs, with caution. And respect.
Galop have a web campaign about sexual consent, and they suggest three guidelines;
1. Talk – say what you want to do or have done to you, and ask your partner the same.
2. Listen – listen to your partner, both his words and body language.
3. Think – be mindful, of your situation and your partner’s needs and responses, and ability to consent. And in the passion of the moment, be mindful of consequences, and your compassion for your partner.
It can be difficult to do these three things, particularly when hooking-up online or via an app that limits our communication involves peer pressure and possible rejection. The current hooking-up climate of immediate sex, prioritising GPS proximity and selling ourselves as confident porn stars does not lend itself to talking, listening or thinking.
So we have to put a little extra effort in, work a little harder, to get what we both want from sex.
Most of all though, remember that sex is something we’re supposed to enjoy. We forget sometimes, that sex is not just about disease, or risk, sin or taboo. It’s not just about condoms, sexual health clinics, or harm-reduction campaigns.
Sex is fun. It’s about connecting with each other, sharing some intimacy, being affirmed as a sexy guy, affirming your partner as a sexy guy. Sometimes it’s the kindness we show each other that is the sexiest part of the tumble. Sometimes it’s our humanity, not our avatar or sales pitch, that is most attractive to others.
In a climate of changing HIV health, HIV stigma, normalised app use, normalised drug use… let’s look out for each other, and redefine what makes a truly great shag.