Affirmative Consent and Drug Use (Part 2)
Having sex and using drugs? Strategies and practices to ensure consent.
Content warning: This blog mentions sexual violence in a general way.
In a separate post, we outlined recent changes to consent laws in New South Wales. In this blog we share some strategies and tips to ensure consent in the context of sexualised drug use. We also invite you to reflect on your own practice. This content was developed in consultation with community members and the ACON team and informed by research conducted about the experiences of people from sexuality and gender diverse communities who use GHB.
Whether we call it sexualised drug use, chemsex, party and play or just ‘partying’… the use of any drugs (including alcohol) in the context of sex is a common practice across people of all genders and sexualities. We might use drugs for sex for several reasons. Maybe drugs facilitate, and enhance an experience of emotional and physical connection with our partners? Perhaps they decrease our inhibitions? Or maybe they help us to access sexual experiences that we really want and enjoy!
If using drugs to push sexual limits in any direction, it’s especially important to respect our own and our partners’ sexual boundaries. It’s also important that we know what the law says about sexual consent and that our practice reflects principles of affirmative and continuous consent and that we’re not violating consent by coercing partners into sex or initiating sex when someone is incapacitated.
Some strategies that can be used to obtain affirmative and ongoing consent:
- Conversations online: Set up a framework for sexual activity by discussing sexual interests, fetishes, kinks etc. Talking about what you’re into can be a fun and sexy way to get a sense that you are your sexual partner/s are on the same page, even before you meet. Remember that conversations had prior to meeting up does not guarantee consent. Sometimes a person may change their mind or realise they actually don’t want to do something once they are face-to-face. This is ok too, and their changing boundaries need to be respected.
- Incorporate consent into dirty talk: Do you like it when I touch you here? Tell me what you want? What is your fantasy? Does this feel good? Do you want to try XYZ? Do you want me to keep going? Or if you are receiving: Don’t stop! Faster/harder/softer/slower, I like it when you do XYZ and so on and so forth. You don’t need a script to check in about consent, but these can certainly help.
- Setting your own boundaries: Reflect on your own limits and boundaries ahead of time and make them known. Boundaries and the use of safe sex strategies are best spoken about before sexual acts commence. To see if your partner is comfortable switching it up just ask – would you like to try XYZ…?
- Non-verbal cues: In settings like beats, dance parties or sex on premises venues where it may be harder to talk about consent, you can use clear hand gestures, eye contact, or other gestures to indicate your interest and receive a clear yes or no. If a person you are hooking up with freezes up, does not reciprocate, looks upset, goes very quiet or cries – these are all signs they are not okay, and you need to stop and have a check in to see what you can do to help them.
- Keep it playful: If you are a bit unsure about bringing consent up or you are feeling shy around it – consider using questionnaires or games that allow you to communicate boundaries and fantasies! This questionnaire by autostraddle is great, particularly for trans and gender diverse folk, otherwise this game or this quiz are good quick options (although, they are unfortunately quite binary). These can be a great way to build sexual tension and learn more about your sexual partner/s.
Recognising when someone cannot consent
Having sex on drugs means that things can change quickly. You might start having sex with someone who consented, but they could start to lose the capacity to consent while you’re having sex. If you’re having sex with someone, keep checking in with them. Changes in their voice or body language like slurring, or changes in the control they have over their body movements are all signs that they may be unable to consent to the sex they are having.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are having sex with someone and you’re not sure if they’re able to consent it is your responsibility to stop. Go get the two of you some water and start again when you are both certain they are ready.
To all those who have been impacted by sexual violence, we want to acknowledge your experiences and remind you that help is available. We hope that by talking about sexual violence you might feel a little less alone on the harder days, and a little more able to reach out if and when you need help.
If you have experienced a sexual encounter that made you feel uncomfortable here are some organisations that offer support to all LGBTQ+ folks:
- QLife (3pm-12am)
Ph: 1800 184 527
Webchat available here
- Rainbow Sexual, Domestic and Family Violence Helpline (24/7)
Ph: 1800 497 212
- ACON NSW (9am-5pm)
Ph: 02 9206 2000
- 1800RESPECT (24/7)
Ph: 131415 if you need an interpreter
Additionally, ACON’s Say It Out Loud website has an LGBTQ+ Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Toolkit available for anyone who may know someone who has, or has themselves, experienced sexual violence. You can also read more about the law and consent or how to establish consent on dating apps through the Say It Out Loud website. TransHub additionally has resources for trans and gender diverse people experiencing sexual assault or coercion.