Written by Stephi Batliner, Designer & Founder of sixty-nine.org
Sexual consent can happen in many different ways. Whether it’s verbal or non-verbal, clarity plays a major role. As we all know, not everything in life is black or white. If we are located in a grey area situation, communication and honesty are the key factors that lead towards clarity.
I never thought that I would get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) by practicing safe sex, but I did. Living with the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) has taught me many life lessons and it forced me to rethink the connection between sexual consent and disclosure.
On many occasions sexual consent happens through body language and behaviors like eye contact, initiating sexual activity or pulling someone closer.
Whereas sexual consent can happen verbally or nonverbally, disclosure involves language, either spoken or written. Disclosure means having an honest conversation about sexual health. So agreeing to have sex with someone doesn’t mean to agree with being confronted with an STI. Giving sexual consent without being aware of the big picture is a situation many people find themselves in. Why? With a new partner, non-verbal sexual consent creates a huge barrier to disclose for example status, fears, needs and so on. Many times it’s easier not to talk and to ignore the fact that there could be major lifelong consequences to our actions.
Consent = Talking & Honesty
You might interfere and say that if you have protected sex you don’t need to tell them your STI status. That’s wrong in many ways. Why? Disclosing an STI is the right thing to do – always.
Protected sex doesn’t create an exception or a free pass. No telling someone is knowingly putting someone else’s health at great risk. Condoms might reduce the risk of transmission in some cases, but it doesn’t protect from all STIs.
Being responsible and having an open communication is about choice. It’s about giving someone a choice to being able of making an informed decision.
I understand, sometimes we just don’t want to talk. We are afraid that it will kill the tensions, that it makes us uncomfortable. We all want to avoid them. We all are afraid of them. I know first hand that these are not the most fun conversations, in fact, they are difficult ones. I also know that it gets easier. Do you choose your life decisions actively or do you not choose and just accept to live with whatever the consequences are?
Consent to have sex goes hand in hand with an honest conversation about sexual health and no matter how hard we try to ignore that these conversations play an essential role in our sexual and mental health. Talking about sexual consent and disclosing is not only about making your partner aware of a possible transmission and agreeing on a solution to minimize the risk, it is also about protecting yourself. It’s always a two-way street.
We learn so many things, but no one ever taught us how to talk about sexual health, how to discuss STIs or how to give clear consent and what it really means. Sex always involves risk but it’s a matter of communication.
In order to support communication, I created the project “69 - Story Collection”. It’s my side hustle and based on the findings from my personal research project during my Master studies: "A human-centered concept to tackle the stigma of the Herpes Simplex Virus". I conducted interviews with a diverse group of people living with herpes. The aim of this initiative is to transform the negative image of herpes into an accepted conversation topic in our society. The "69 - Story Collection" is a website with stories told by diverse people living with herpes who want to empower themselves in order to support others. All the stories are based on personal experiences of individuals and offer authentic insights into their lives. It’s essential to show all the different perspectives.