Consent: a clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed in mutually understandable words or actions, to engage in particular activity.
If you are going to engage in sexual activity, you need to know how to give and get consent. Consent is not an option and is foundational to a healthy relationship. Communicate with you partner and make sure you both are comfortable with what is happening. Sex can be empowering and it is empowering through consent. Make it pleasurable for both you and your partner: ask before going forward! Make sure your partner is enjoying what you are doing. Listen to your partner!
When trying to determine if consent is given, reflect on these ten way to distinguish consent!
- Consent is fundamental – You must obtain consent before engaging in or going further with any sexual activity
- Consent requires communication – Verbal communication before engaging in sexual activity clarifies consent. Discussing your own and your partner’s sexual desires, needs, and limitation provides a basis for a positive experience
- Consent is affirmative – Listen for a clear and positive agreement. These factors don’t count: the absence of “no,” silence, relying solely on body language, flirtation, coercion, martial or relationship status, power differentials, clothing choice, or a person’s past behavior. “Yes!” is a statement of consent
- Consent is voluntary – Consent must be given freely and willingly and may not be valid if one person is being subjected to emotional or psychological pressure, intimidation or fear
- Consent must be unimpaired – A person who is impaired in any way, asleep, or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effects of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent. Using alcohol or drugs may also seriously interfere with the initiator’s judgment about whether consent was sought or given
- Consent is impermanent – Consent at one time does not imply consent for the future; it must be freely given every time
- Consent is always retractable – Consent is subject to change and can be withdrawn at any time. Consent must be clear at each stage of a sexual encounter: consenting to one sexual activity does not imply consent to further activity
- Consent is autonomous – A current or past relationship, such as dating or marriage, does not override the need to obtain consent
- Consent is equitable – Consent is invalid when the initiator holds authority over the partner, such as in an academic or workplace setting or when on participant is under the legal age of consent
- Consent is essential – Sexual contact without consent is sexual assault
Consent is about communication. Please talk to your partner about how they communicate and make sure you set boundaries and expectations you are comfortable with.
These are some ways you may receive or not receive consent, but by no means is this an exhaustive list. This is only some options of what consent may be.
Positive consent can look like this:
- Communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this OK?”
- Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
- Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level
It does NOT look like this:
- Refusing to acknowledge “no”
- Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more
- Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state
- Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
- Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation
- Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past