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The 4 C's: 
Conversations about sex

28th Dec 2021
Darren Tendler

Thinking about having a conversation about sex or sexual health? Before diving in, it is important for everyone involved to understand the value of the four C's – Context, Consent, Confidentiality and Comfortability. Keeping in mind these four C's will help create a safe, respectful and constructive conversation for everyone joining in the chat.

First, let's break down what the four C's mean:

1. Context - the situation in which the conversation is being had. This will always vary, but is essential to consider when working out the other C's. Everyone participating in the discussion should be aware of who the talk involves and what it is about!

2. Consent - getting a voluntary and enthusiastic yes from everyone who wants to be part of the chat.

 

3. Confidentiality - the degree of privacy assigned to the conversation.

 

4. Comfortability - ensuring everyone feels safe and respected in the situation, and can withdraw from the talk at any stage without fear of judgement.

So, what do the four C's look like in practice?

The following examples demonstrate how we can best manage these conversations, because whether you are someone trying to navigate a new relationship, or a parent wanting to talk to their child, these are important to consider for everyone!

Example 1: A Conversation about Sexual Health

Context: Let's say a doctor is talking with a teenager in a medical clinic about their sexual health.

Consent: The doctor has asked their patient if it is OK to have the conversation about their sexual health at that given time, and the teenager said yes.

Confidentiality: This is a private conversation between the general practitioner and the patient, bound by patient-doctor confidentiality legal requirements.

Comfortability: The doctor should check in with the teenager to ensure they feel comfortable, secure in the knowledge their sexual health matters are kept private, and that if at any point they begin to feel uncomfortable, they can pause the conversation.

Now, when the context changes, so too do the three other C's:

Context: A doctor has been invited by a school to talk to a cohort of teenagers about sexual health...

Consent: The school has explained to the group what is to be expected from the presentation and all students have expressed their desire to listen to the talk.

Confidentiality: The doctor has encouraged the teenagers to share the information with their friends and family. Therefore, the public nature of this conversation allows for the transfer of knowledge from a medical expert to the wider community.

Comfortability: Anyone who might feel uncomfortable with this topic should be provided the opportunity to leave the environment, without fear of judgement.

Example 2: A Conversation about Masturbation

Context: Let’s say a parent and their teenage child are having a discussion about masturbation...

Consent: The parent and child have agreed to have this important conversation together.

Confidentiality: They have both ensured each other that such a discussion is private, and will stay between the two of them only.

Comfortability: The parent might be explaining to their teenager that self-masturbation is an activity that can be carried out in the privacy of their bedroom, and that the parent will never enter without knocking/asking first, when the door is shut. While this discussion can present a challenge and be uncomfortable for some, particularly due to cultural and/or religious influences, it is an important one to have. The conversation should not shame the child for masturbating, but rather be framed in a way that assures the child that to explore their sexuality is normal, healthy and safe.

The teenager and parent should be confident knowing they can pause this chat for a later time, whenever they want.

 

Now, let’s change up the context again:

Context: Someone is talking about masturbation in their stand-up comedy routine.

Consent: The content expressed in the comedy routine could be disclosed in the programming, or at least a note that the material is 'adult content', so those who wish to attend the performance know they might hear some talk that is of a mature nature.

Confidentiality: This performance is public by nature.

Comfortability: Those in attendance have the right to leave if they are not enjoying the subject matter being discussed.

Example 3: A Conversation about Sexual Consent

Context: Let's say you are talking about sexual consent with a partner.

Consent: Prior to the chat, you should both be on board with the discussion.

Confidentiality: If you feel it is important that such a conversation stays private between the two of you, then it is important to agree to that being the case.

Comfortability: You should both feel at ease that you have the ability to stop the talk at any point and pick it up again some other time.

Context change!

Context: You and your sexual partner may be inclined to share your discussion about sexual consent with an audience (e.g. on Instagram or YouTube), as you feel it will benefit others to illustrate how awesome you are at consent.

Consent: Make sure you are both in positive agreement when it comes to disclosing what was previously a private conversation.

Confidentiality: Be clear on what it is exactly that you wish to share about your sexual consent conversation with the general public.

Comfortability: Similar to your degree of confidentiality, check in with one another to make sure you know what you are comfortable sharing from your conversation, and feel free to change your mind at any stage (to prepare, you might want to write a script together).

Let's wrap this up!

Understanding and appreciating the dynamics of the four C's when chatting about sexual issues will help to ensure all people involved in the talks are being considerate, inclusive and constructive.

Being aware that people (including you!) can change their minds about how comfortable they feel about talking about certain issues will also hold you in a great position to navigate these mature discussions. And remember, the more you practice consent, the more comfortable and empowered you will feel when having conversations about sex, and when engaging in safe sexual activities!

If this article brought up any concerns for you, please reach out to 1800Respect – a national sexual assault helpline, available 24/7 on 1800 737 732