Consent: A Previously Foreign Term Before Coming to Australia.

Talking about one’s sexual experiences has been an increasingly frequent topic amongst students. But, when and how do we talk about sexual consent? 

I spoke to three girls to find out.

Consent was never a widely-contested topic for Scarlett, Erica and Kimberly before their life in Melbourne. We’ve changed their names as per their request to stay anonymous. 

Although they grew up in different parts of Asia, the girls experienced similar upbringings when it comes to how their families approach the topic of relationships and consent. 

We talked about what consent is and some tips when you’re in the scenario. It’s very important for both partners to understand and listen to each other before engaging in sex. 

Scarlett described consent as when “both people clearly said yes without external pressure and do have the choice to say no.” 

“Saying yes can be expressed through verbal and non-verbal cues,” she added.

However, The concept was fresh to the Burmese student before studying in Melbourne. The only knowledge she had previously heard from was YouTube podcasts that she listened to in her teenage years.

It’s because the University of Melbourne student explained that in Myanmar, Buddhism practice frowns upon sex before marriage and is considered a sin to a certain extent. 

Erica’s experience wasn’t different. Though her high school had a sex education module, they only talked about reproductive organs and for the girls—pads and mensuration. 

If sex was not allowed, then talks about consent was not needed. 

But upon arriving in Melbourne, the girls faced a 180° change in society’s attitude towards sex and relationship.

Kimberly, who came from Hong Kong, attended multiple orientation camps in a bid to fully immerse herself in university and the local culture.

She was shocked, however when Before the camp started, the group leaders handed out condoms and advised camp goers about consent, a topic that Kimberly hardly heard from back home. 

Growing up in a society where sex was a taboo topic to discuss, Kimberly never knew consent was even a term.  

“Back then, sex was either a yes I want to or no I don’t want to,” she explained. 

She also mentioned how parents assumed that their children weren’t going to have sex and didn’t see the need in educating them further on this topic. 

Similarly, Erica grew to learn about consent when she had her first proper relationship in Melbourne. At first, she struggled between her desire and religion.  

Her first experience taught her a lot. “The experience I had with my partner was good…asking for consent, not pushy and very accepting. That may be the building block of how I learn about consent,” she commented.  

For Scarlett, coming to Melbourne has opened her eyes to the idea of consensual relationships. It evolved from just going with the flow and engaging in activities that she might not have fully consented to in the past to getting better at drawing boundaries and a line about what she likes and doesn’t like.

“If they are ever in a position where a person is coercing them into something they are not fully willing to do, they 100% have a right to leave,” Scarlett said. 

She now knows that it is more than okay to tell her partner to stop if she feels uncomfortable, even if it might have started out consensual. 

But Scarlett also acknowledged the difficulty of practicing consent even when being familiar with the concept. “When you are in the middle of a situation you might find it very hard to say no. It is very tricky when you are actually in the situation,” she understood.  

It’s not a one time yes or no in consent. “There is no black and white about it which makes consent a tricky concept to grasp. People can change their minds and it’s okay to stop in the middle even if you initially wanted it.” She hoped that she’s able to tell the verbal and non-verbal cues of consent when the time comes.

The girls all remembered completing a module on consent that was required prior to starting their university degree. However, the girls agreed that they learned little to none from the module.

When asked if there should be more education in Universities surrounding this topic, Kimberly wished she instead learned it when she was younger. 

“If we had more education about consent (in Indonesia)… I would have made better decisions when I first came to Melbourne,” Erica chimed.

Scarlett agreed with Kimberly, because she learned mostly after people around her experienced a non-consensual incident. 

“If we could take on awareness and preventive methods of education, it would be better,” Scarlett stressed.

The girls had a resounded ‘no means no’ attitude when it came to consent. “If you change your mind, it is okay to tell them to stop,” Scarlett added.    

Kimberly encouraged everyone to try and understand the local culture. “There is no right or wrong if you still think you belong to your own culture more but always try to understand the differences in this country even if you don’t adapt to it. On sex and on everything,” she concluded.

Where did you learn about consent? Was it through your friends, a school module, or from experience? share with us in the comment below!

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services provides sexual assault support services. You can visit their website here or call the support hotline at 1800 806 292. 

In the case of an emergency, call the Australian emergency telphone number at 000. below are a list of organisations that may be of help:

  • Family Planning Victoria – comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for people of all ages Tel. 1800 013 952 or (03) 9257 0100
  • Melbourne Sexual Health Centre – Tel. (03) 9341 6200 or 1800 032 017 or TTY (for people with a hearing impairment) (03) 9347 8619
  • Thorne Harbour Health –  For information about LGBTI and sexual health Tel. (03) 9865 6700 or 1800 134 840

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