Chapter 3 - Situations Subchapter: Consenting to sex

Sex and society

Sex is everywhere!

Sex is in films and TV shows, in videogames and songs and books, in ads and on the internet.

Sex is everywhere, and everybody seems to have an opinion on sex – when you should do it, how you should do it, and who you should do it with.

Sex is so much a part of media and popular culture that people’s ideas about sex are often formed before they’ve even experienced it themselves.


An illustrated character with a thought bubble which says 'Sex'. Around them are pictures of vintage phone, TV, movie reel, picture frame.


External influences

It’s natural to want to model your own behavior on someone, or some situation, that seems popular or cool.

It’s human to look for answers to the big questions wherever you think you might find them but when it comes to sex, it’s really important to be aware of how external influences can shape your thoughts about sex and the way you approach physical intimacy with another person.

Laws: If you aren’t old enough then you can’t legally consent (agree) to sex. In most Australian states and territories, the legal age of consent to sex is 16 years.

Society: media and popular culture can suggest you need to be a certain type of person or act in a certain way to be sexually accomplished when all you really need to be is your best self

Cultural and religious: some cultures and religions have specific rules about sex – when you can have it and with whom.

Family: your upbringing and family values can have a significant influence over the way you approach physical intimacy.

Friends and peers: you might feel pressure to have sex before you’re ready, “c’mon everybody’s doing it”, try not to listen and only do what makes you 100% comfortable.

Alcohol and drugs: alcohol and drugs can take away your ability to properly judge a situation and can lead to you making a decision about sex that you might not have made if you were sober.

Technology: sex should remain a shared experience between you and your partner, but technology and social media can encourage the sharing of intimate images and videos without the other person’s consent.

Power: using coercion or intimidation to get sex means there is no free agreement and no consent.

Gender: gender stereotypes influence our thinking about sex, for example, females want and enjoy sex and don’t need to be persuaded or tricked into having sex. If a female likes a person and are turned on by them, then they will want to have sex with that person. Males don’t always want sex and shouldn’t be assumed to be a yes - sometimes what they want is to say no. Any no should be respected.

Your partner: may also be responding to external influences in their outer world that are affecting their inner worlds, keep checking in with them.


An illustration of someone being disrespectful in how they approach physical intimacy with others


Putting pressure on ourselves

All of these external influences can create unrealistic and even harmful expectations. When we engage with our outer world, we’re often absorbing examples of how to behave and what’s expected in an intimate relationship. These external influences may make a person ‘go along’ with a decision because they think that’s what they should be doing when they aren’t 100% comfortable. They might even think there is something wrong with them for feeling the way they feel.


A person thinking: “Am I ready?”, “Do I want to?”, “I like a different person”, “Everyone else has”, “My mum will be disappointed”, “My friend bet me I won’t”.


Pressures on everyone:

  • to take the relationship to the 'next level' - the assumption that once you are in a relationship having sex is ‘normal’ and ‘expected’, by their partner and others.
  • worry that if they don't have sex then their partner will:
    • be disappointed in them
    • not love them anymore
    • lose interest and maybe leave them
    • think of them differently (negatively)
    • become distant and moody.
  • to enhance or modify their appearance to be more sexually appealing
  • to change their behaviour to be more sexually appealing
  • concern for an unplanned pregnancy – getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant
  • concern for a sexually transmitted infection.

Some pressures are more common for females and some more common for males.


Pressures on females:

  • feeling obliged to have sex because they can physically see their partner's arousal and they feel bad for ‘leading them on’
  • feeling obligated to ‘pay someone back’ with sex in return for a date or gift
  • concerned that if they don't have sex their partner might abuse them
  • worried that even if they say no they won’t be listened to - that they’re just ‘playing hard to get’.


Pressure on males:

  • sex is competitive - if you’re not having sex, you’re somehow lesser
  • worried about their reputation if they are the one saying no to sex
  • being sexually inexperienced is a problem to be fixed
  • engage in risk-taking physical activities including drinking and drug-taking to be more sexually appealing.

None of these pressures are good! They ignore your inner world and don’t take into account your sexual rights or your responsibilities to the other person.