Consent is an active agreement; Consent cannot be forced by intimidation, manipulation or threats.
Consent is crucial for mutual pleasure and healthy sexuality. Knowing what a person agrees to when it comes to any sexual activity is your responsibility, and is key in preventing sexual violence, which includes sexual coercion (tricking, manipulating, intimidating or threatening someone to have sex). What a person agrees to can be expressed by words or actions. If it isn’t clear to you, it’s time to check in with your partner(s).
When it comes to sex, or any sexual activity, everyone has the right to decide what they are willing to do, with whom, when, how and where to do it. Both people need to agree willingly and freely to sex or any sexual activity (including kissing, touching, hugging, cuddling or being touched in a sexual way).
What is consent?
Consent is an ongoing process. For example, consent to kissing does not mean consent to other sexual activities. Consenting to sex and then wanting to stop means the person is no longer consenting. Partner(s) must check in with each other to ensure there is ongoing agreement about what’s happening. People are entitled to change their mind about sexual contact at any time.
Consent is never implied and cannot be presumed, even in the context of a relationship.
Anyone who is impaired by alcohol or drugs cannot give legal consent. Affirmative and effective consent cannot be given when someone is incapacitated by drugs and/or alcohol, unconscious, or asleep. Some signs of incapacitation include (but are not limited to) vomiting, slurred speech, decreased motor coordination.
Consent is knowing power differentials and their impact on decision making. When one person is in a position of power over another person (i.e., boss/employee or professor/student) it can be difficult to judge whether it’s influencing any sexual interactions between these two people.
It might be harder to say no to someone in a position of power over you for fear of repercussions.
Each partner must be involved in the decision to have sex.
Why is consent important?
Although both sexual assault and sex involve sexual acts, the similarities stop there. Sexual activity that is forced or without consent is not sex, it’s sexual assault.
Asking for and obtaining consent shows that you have respect for both yourself and your partner.
Communication, respect and honesty are fundamental to better sex and healthy relationships. A positive approach to sex and a healthy sexuality are empowering.
Neither your body nor your sexuality belongs to someone else.
It’s normal and healthy for people engaging in sexual activity to expect to take an active part in the consent process.
Working toward a culture of consent is an important part of laying the groundwork for a more positive sexual culture overall.
Asking for consent
Asking a partner about their sexual needs and desires shows respect and appreciation. Not everyone is used to communicating about sex so the first few times might feel awkward (but practice makes perfect!).
The more often you have these conversations (or quick check-ins) with your partner(s), the more comfortable you will become doing it. There are lots of ways to make asking for consent fun and sexy. And over time, it’ll be a part of what makes sex exciting!
When should you ask? Before you act. The person who is initiating the sexual act is responsible for obtaining clear consent. If you’re unsure whether consent has been given: ASK. Check-in throughout: consent to one thing doesn’t mean consenting to what may follow. Everyone has the right to change their mind and say no, or to stop any sexual activity.
How can you ask? Here are some examples of simple questions you can ask to make sure you have consent from your partner: Is this okay? Is there anything you’d like me to do differently? Are you still into this? Does this feel good? Do you want to keep going?
(*) IMPORTANT: That said, consent is not just about getting a yes or no answer. It’s also about paying attention to how a partner is feeling. Ask open-ended questions. Listen to and respect your partner’s response, whether you hear a yes or a no. It’s important to consider more than words because consent may be withheld many different ways. Sometimes, saying no directly might feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, it feels easier or safer to say let’s just cuddle or giving an excuse to stop an activity like I’m dating someone or I want to go to sleep. Sometimes, lack of consent may look like someone turning away, moving the other person’s hands or stopping any participation in the activity. Some people may freeze if they feel threatened or uncomfortable. Silence or the absence of no should not be interpreted as yes. Pay attention!
Before you have sex, ask yourself…
Am I certain that consent has been given?
Is my potential partner sober enough to decide whether or not to have sex?
Am I sober enough to know that I’ve correctly assessed if my partner(s) gave consent?
The rules of the road
Red: Time to stop
You’re too intoxicated to gauge or give consent
Your partner is asleep, intoxicated or passed out.
You hope your partner will say nothing and go with the flow.
Your partner stops or is not responsive (freezes).
You intend to have sex by any means necessary (like using tactics that mean to trick, cajole, intimidate or force someone into doing something)
Yellow: Time to pause and check in
You are not clear about what the other person wants.
You feel like you are getting mixed signals.
You haven’t talked about what you want to do and/or what your partner is comfortable with.
You just assume that you will do the same things as before.
Green: Keep communicating!
Partners come to a mutual decision about how far to go.
Partners clearly express their comfort with the situation.
You feel comfortable and safe stopping at any time.
Partners are excited and both into it!
Adapted from Columbia University Health Service’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response’s Traffic Lights for Sexual Consent.
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