When Maria * first started dating her boyfriend it was a dream. She loved spending time with him, but soon that began to mean having sex almost every time they were together. Not long after, it became a requirement, and if she didn’t want to have sex, he didn’t want to hangout. This made Maria feel like saying no wasn’t an option. After all, he was her boyfriend, and she had consented to sex before, right? It turns out, Maria’s situation isn’t all that uncommon. A study done by the Center of Disease Control found that over half of female rape victims were in an intimate relationship with their perpetrator.
Maria’s story and the CDC’s findings left me wondering: what happens when you’re in a relationship with someone you love and care about, but you don’t want to be intimate with them? Or when you want to say no to a partner or significant other that you’ve said yes to in the past? Can you really be sexually assaulted or raped by someone you’re in a relationship with or have been intimate with in the past? The answer is yes. Whether you’re in a serious relationship or you have a friend with benefits, saying yes once never means saying yes every time. Consent is always required for any sexual activity or intercourse. It’s important to recognize that men and women in relationships, committed or casual, can and do experience sexual assault and rape by their partners. We know sexual violence can be a tough topic to navigate, so let’s slow down and talk about what all of this means.
Sexual assault is defined by The Aurora Center at the University of Minnesota as any “sexual touching without consent.” Rape is considered any sexual intercourse without consent. So how do we know if someone is giving consent? Consent is given when someone agrees to sexual touching or intercourse without being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It’s important to also know that just because someone doesn’t say no or remains silent, does not mean that they are giving consent. According to The Aurora Center, “If physical force, manipulation, intimidation, and/or threats are used, there is no consent.” In Maria’s case, as well as many others, consent was not given because intimidation or fear was used by a partner. Maria feared that if she did not engage with her boyfriend he would leave her. Her partner created this fear by threatening to withhold time and affection if sex wasn’t involved. Maria’s story is clear example of what The Aurora Center would identify as a lack of consent.
Relationships can be tricky business, but ensuring affirmative consent shouldn’t be. While having a discussion about sexual consent with your partner may feel awkward and uncomfortable at first, it’s a must in any relationship, from FWBs to serious SOs. As humans, our minds and moods change all the time, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is when consent is overlooked just because it’s been given before.
If you need help starting this conversation with your partner, The Aurora Center is an excellent resource, offering counseling, education, training and many other services. You can also call their 24-hour helpline at 612-626-9111. For additional information on sexual assault and relationships, visit the following websites:
*Name was changed for the privacy of the individual.