Is My Relationship Abusive? Consent, Body Autonomy and the Law

06.24.2022

Is My Relationship Abusive? Consent, Body Autonomy and the Law

When romantic relationships start to get physical, it’s exciting at any age. But when you’re just testing the waters or trying to reset your own boundaries, what to do and when can be confusing and scary. The key is to think ahead of time what you would feel okay with, trust yourself in the moment, communicate with your partner, and listen carefully to your partner for their enthusiastic consent, no matter what you thought they wanted before.

Here’s the bottom line and the absolute expectation: enthusiastic consent should be given every time. A “no” means to stop. Silence in the moment also means to stop. If your partner proceeds, consider whether this person truly cares about you.

Also, secrets that hide physical or emotional hurt are not okay. If you’re afraid or feel threatened, it’s not okay. If there is any kind of uncomfortable touching, it is absolutely not okay. 

“Whether it’s tea or sex, consent is everything.”

When it comes to sexual consent, the “cup of tea” analogy is one easy way to explain this concept to someone.  Watch a video about it below:

Embrace Body Autonomy

If your friends aren’t already talking about it, introduce the idea of body autonomy. One doctor defines the concept as the right for a person to govern what happens to their body without external influence or coercion. This goes for every kind of physical interaction as well as managing one’s own healthcare.

If there’s no consent, then your freedom to choose what happens to your body has been hijacked.

The Law

Sex is a beautiful and healthy thing in consenting, adult relationships, and State laws decide the age when a person is legally capable of consenting to sex. Even if a person initiates sex, and even if the sex is consensual, it might be considered rape and carry significant jail time. For example, in Pennsylvania, people ages 16 years and older can legally consent to sexual activity. Pennsylvania also recognizes that power imbalances in relationships with teachers, coaches, group home supervisors and other authority figures make consent impossible, regardless of age.

 Find more information about your State’s laws at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

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