In this new episode of our series dedicated to Sex Education, we're learning consent, toxic behaviuor and how to spot an unhealthy relationship.
First things first-let's make sure we understand exactly what consent is. Consent is an un-coerced, enthusiastic verbal agreement to engage in an activity. It is absolutely necessary, and there is no scenario under which you would not need active vocalised consent.
If someone is not enthusiastic and seems unsure, it’s important to check in with them and see if they still want to continue. Always put your partner in a position where it is possible for them to say no. You should always ensure consent is communicated; silence is never consent. You cannot legally consent under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If someone has agreed to have sex with you at a certain point, they can then change their mind at any time. Likewise, if someone agreed to have sex with you previously, that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to have sex with you again.
You have to ask before you engage in other activity even during sex such as choking or spanking, as this can be very traumatic when unsolicited. If you continue having sex with them after they have made their discomfort clear or said they want to stop, you are committing rape.
Spotting an unhealthy relationship isn’t always easy. Denial can make you ignore the signs of emotional abuse and manipulation when it comes to your own relationship, however there are some red flags to look out that indicate toxic relationships.
And how does this relate to consent? If you’re coerced or convinced to do things you don’t want to do, or if your boundaries aren’t being respected properly in a relationship, this is a clear indication of a toxic relationship.
A sign of an unhealthy relationship could be a power imbalance created by factors such as a big age difference, if they physically intimidate you, financial dependency on your partner, experience (whether this is being more sexually experienced or having more life experience such as living alone, having previous relationships) or even co-dependency.
One partner can utilise their upper hand and this imbalance to manipulate the other person in the relationship, this over time can lead to an unhealthy relationship and sometimes have negative physical and psychological effects. In a co-dependent relationship, one partner often wields power over the other; this could be because of an addiction, or previous abuse, which has led them to have a lower sense of self and so they seek their value through others. This can later come out as toxic traits and create really unhealthy, and sometimes abusive, behaviour.
Unhealthy power dynamics can also skew your sense of self and agency in a relationship, sometimes causing you to feel lonely or isolated as you feel you don’t have control over your own choices.
Mutual respect is the foundation for any healthy relationship. Do they create an environment where you feel comfortable expressing yourself and communicating your desires? If your partner doesn’t respect you, if they don’t take your feelings into consideration when making decisions that affect both of you, if they constantly put you down to build themselves up; this is a real warning sign of an unhealthy relationship. If they constantly prioritise themselves and make you meet their needs whilst disregarding yours, this could be another indicator. Your partner should always respect your boundaries, feelings and needs.
What is this exactly? Gaslighting is a form of manipulation where someone convinces you to question yourself or reality through lying, denying everything you say, changing facts, or telling you you’re crazy.
This is a tactic used to gain power by undermining the other person in the relationship and is incredibly toxic behaviour. Gaslighting is common in romantic relationships but can happen between friends, co-workers, and family, anywhere there is an imbalance of power.
It’s likely most of us have been gaslighted at some point in our lives, so it’s crucial we learn how to spot it, shut it down, and minimise its impact on our wellbeing. Being gaslighted might lead you to blame yourself and feel guilty for things that are actually your partner’s fault. Being undermined emotionally can cause you to feel deflated and insecure, as well as making you become even more attached to the gaslighter through constantly seeking their approval and validation.
Robin Stern, PhD, notes that “The gaslighter is typically a man and the gaslightee is typically a woman. In my clinical experience, many women are socialized to doubt themselves and continually apologize for disagreeing or upsetting their partners. Men are not”.
Respect, consent, and trust all lay the foundations for a good relationship. It’s not always easy to spot toxic traits in our partners, but you have to always prioritise your wellbeing, yourself first and remember that you are a wonderful, valuable individual deserving of love and care. If someone is treating you poorly, do what you can to exit the situation, get the help you need and look after yourself.