An opinion piece from EaRN project assistant Jenni, talking about consent in our sexual health choices.
It’s Sexual Health Week 2018 (24th- 30th September) and the theme is consent. I want to share with you my thoughts, discuss contraception and sexual well being.
First of all, a disclaimer, I have never written a blog post before. I’ve written pieces of academic work, I have scrawled my feelings into a diary and often after a few glasses of wine tried to organise my life into an iPhone note scattered with misspelling. So, this may turn out to be a mash of all three but I hope you find it interesting.
It is worth saying that everyone deserves the right to happy, fulfilling relationships and sexual intimacy if they want with whomever they choose.
This is coupled with the knowledge of how to take care of oneself to enjoy these relationships to the fullest. Knowledge of contraception, what you like and don’t like, understanding how important your emotional wellbeing is and how your contraception among other things may affect that.
On the Family Planning Association website, they wrote “Consent: Yes, yes, yes! will be talking about how consent is about far more than saying ‘No’ to unwanted activity. It’s about listening, negotiating, and enthusiastically agreeing.”
As a former anthropology student when I hear the word consent I think of ‘informed consent’. By which I mean knowing all the options and being given time to weigh them up, to decide for yourself what is the best course of action. Knowing what you are getting yourself into. This is SO relevant when it comes to your sexual health. Listening, negotiating and enthusiastically agreeing with your doctor about appropriate healthcare is key.
Leaving Northern Ireland where as a young person I was taught abstinence or hell fire, or an even worse outcome at that point pregnancy, coming to university I really had to do a lot of the research into contraception myself. With such repressed ‘education’ on sex and sexual health in Northern Ireland many young people are left feeling embarrassed, even guilty, by the whole ordeal.
Shame is interesting in that it is a learned response to societal pressure. Despite how much more empowered women appear in the media, the volume of ‘feminist’ merchandise the high street flogs on us, we deserve better than to feel restricted and embarrassed in taking charge of our sexual selves. I am thankful to have such strong female friends in my life who are not ashamed to talk about their sexual health, were open to questions, chatting about periods, we had a box of condoms in the shared bathroom and we would chum each other to the clinic for screenings.
Now this is the part where things get tricky. “Imaginary female trouble” is a phrase I was reminded of recently thanks to a designer, mental health activist and general good human on Instagram roobs_grlclb. What she says with more poetry than I can manage is that we live in a world where women, even when we try to voice our opinion, when we are trying to make informed choices that affect our bodies we are made to believe we don’t know ourselves.
In my opinion and experience, and the lives of people close to me often when it comes to contraceptive choices we are told that we just need to wait out the side-effects, the hormones will settle down. But what happens as a result of this dismissal is our ability to choose and negotiate is removed. Our feelings are invalidated. Side-effects can interrupt your day-to-day living, your relationships, and strikingly it takes on average 7.5years for an endometriosis diagnosis.
In the past whenever a woman was ill the umbrella term “hysteria” was used to explain away symptoms. For the low down on how this played out through the years, an explanation of the ‘trust gap’, with some excellent illustrations follow the link; The Dark History of Hysteria. This is “imaginary female trouble”. It encompasses plenty of other experiences outside of contraception (think gaslighting) and is directly the result of a patriarchal society and will be felt more acutely in all instances by people of colour and marginalised groups.
To sum this up, I want to re-iterate that consent is so incredibly important in your relationships and in your health and wellbeing. It should be taught from a young age that we all have the right to our own bodies and to treat them, and each other’s with respect in all instances. Doctors have a duty of care, to give you all the options and do not feel ashamed to use your voice to ask questions and be fully informed about your options. Whether is it contraception, pregnancy, abortion, your mental heath, your physical being; own your choices and do what is best for you.
Jenni McCandless. EaRN project assistant.