Dr T: A Guide to Sexual Health & Pleasure
by Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng
Pan Macmillan SA
Renowned doctor and advocate for sexual health, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, popularly known as Dr T, has written a compelling and insightful book titled A Guide to Sexual Health and Pleasure, which hits bookstores this month.
Mofokeng is the founder of Nalane for Reproductive Justice, a subject she is passionate about. In this extract from the book, she talks about the importance of consent.
Consent for any sexual contact or act is when the people involved in that specific contact or act agree to take part in it; whether it’s kissing or touching, oral sex or vaginal sex and, of course, using body parts and other objects such as toys as part of the sexual contact or act that is being agreed upon.
It’s always fascinating to me, especially because of the travelling and the work that I do in terms of sexual pleasure and the sexual pleasure revolution, that there are so many laws that govern sexual contact and consent around the world. Yet the age limits are very different.
South Africa has a very specific Sexual Offences Act, which supplements the Constitution and the right to dignity and freedom to choose.
It’s particularly important to take into consideration the legal framework as one of the problems from the previous laws surrounding this is that children would be criminalised for being peers in the same age group engaging in sexual activities or exploring themselves sexually; whether that’s kissing or full-on sexual contact.
What’s important is how we have the discussion of sexual pleasure within this violent world and society we’re living in, and interrogate what consent then looks like in this environment.
I’ve had a lot of women – survivors of sexual violence – who, for many years, can’t have sex in the way that they want to.
Whether that is as a result of anxiety or a previous trauma, some women are not even aware that their lack of desire for sex is directly linked to a violation that might have happened to them before.
In some cases, when talking to older people, some of them need to “relearn” how to have healthy sex again.
These conversations would be impossible without actually talking about consent and what went “wrong”. But it is also vital for engaging in future healthy sex interactions.
South Africa is rife with the blesser/blessee relationship, which, frankly, for me, stigmatises women and exceptionalising it is something I struggle with.
It is as if millennials have come up with “new” promiscuous ways when, in all honesty, this is no new phenomenon.
All the societies in the world have been designed in such a way that women have always had less power and less economical resources.
Women are still the ones employed in low-paying jobs and so there has always been a predominance of men with power and resources.
Women were (and in many cases still are), at some point in their lives, dependent on men and money.
This is the reason I rather focus on what the drivers and pressures are that young women are facing that make them unable to negotiate safer sex with whomever they are having sex with.
Everyone looks at the blesser/blessee in terms of transactional sex and, of course, the risk of HIV transmission, but no one talks about the fact that many young women are in relationships with men of their own age from their peer groups, and those young women are suffering physical violence and death in some instances.
There is a misconception that if you don’t go out with someone who is older than you and just stick to your peers, you’ll be fine.
The research shows that you won’t be fine. The issue of healthy sex lives and of negotiating healthy sex is a universal thing, not an age thing.
Of course, there could be power dynamics with your peers that you will have to overcome, but we know things are still very much skewed where women have less power.
There are laws that govern who can give consent, who can’t give consent and when consent can happen.
It needs to be completely clear between the people involved and consent has to be actively sought.
In no world does “I took you out for dinner” or “we’ve been chatting on WhatsApp” or “you’ve sent me a nude” or “you’ve been sexting me” mean there is any consent to having sex.
Things such as relationship status do not constitute consent forever.
Some women are married, but it doesn’t mean that, because they are married, they have given consent perpetually to have sex within their marriage.
The issue of consent and sexual violation is so often looked at only with people who are not married or are single, but the issue of marital rape is a huge problem that is not talked about.
So many women who are married are unable to share because there is this idea that married women have a duty to make sure that their partner gets sex.
There is a saying that you need to give your husband or partner sex so that they don’t go and look elsewhere.
There is extreme anxiety and a burden on women that, if they do say no to having sex with their husband and he chooses to have sex with someone else, the wife can’t say anything.
The people involved in sexual experimentation, contact, or acts must be of a legal age, and have the mental ability and capacity to understand and respond.
Some people are mentally unable to fully understand what consent means, perhaps for a medical reason or developmental issue.
Saying that a child, a minor, has “given consent” is a crime. Their age limits them from having the cognitive ability to understand what it is that you want to do to them.
Often people say the child or the young person said it’s “fine”, or they didn’t scream and/or say “no”.
Consent for sexual contact consists of more than a “yes” or a “no”. It must involve the details of condom use, what kind of sexual positions you’ll be using and what body parts are involved.
Often people think that, when they say “let’s have sex”, they just have sex, but often the participants haven’t discussed the actual details of the act.
It’s not just a yes or a no. What about how you want it? How will I know when you’ve had enough?
There’s this obsession with a man’s erection and ejaculation, in that sex starts with his erection and ends with ejaculation.
There is not much else in between that is affirming for women or for the person receiving that penis.
We should get to a point where people are not shy to explain and say what it is that they want as part of that initial request for consent of “do you want to have sex or not?”.
You have to ask whether it’s kissing or hugging, oral sex or foreplay. If you haven’t asked, you don’t have consent.
People say it’s boring when you’re in a relationship with someone because you know each other and you know what they like, but there is a place for learning each other’s language and body language, and it has to be a deliberate step.
You have to talk about the fact that, when I say I want to have sex, I may not say it out loud or I might start touching you or rubbing your ear.
Whatever that detail is, it cannot just be assumed that when you touched her vagina and it was wet, it meant she wanted to have sex. It does not work that way.