Consent is a verbal and enthusiastic agreement about how and when people are comfortable engaging in a sexual act with their partner(s). This agreement can be made through a quick check-in, or a longer conversation – and a “sexual act” can mean anything from kissing to having sex.
Every person that you encounter in and out of the sack with will be radically different, and you have no way of knowing what turns them on or off. When it comes to sex, there is not a universal “on” switch. Each one of us has a different body with its own unique landscape of desires and responses. And what feels good to one body might not feel good to another. That’s what makes sex so fun and exciting! Skip the anxiety and wondering and start talking about your desires out loud!
Part of good sex and communication is also asking your partner about their own desires and comfort levels. This action is coined “consent”!
WHAT IS CONSENT?
The truth is, we are all practicing consent in our daily lives, in almost every moment:
- “You have something in your hair, can I get it out for you?”
- “Would you like a glass of water?”
- “Do you need a ride to the store? I would love to drive!”
- “Do you want a hug?”
Sexual consent is just a broad term that encompasses willing agreements between people to engage in any sexual activity. Consent is a crucial ingredient in all healthy relationships. Through practicing consent, you can understand your partner’s desires and needs as well as communicate your own.
BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “PRACTICE CONSENT”?
Practicing consent is a process of asking questions to a partner and communicating your own wishes. Asking questions does not need to be awkward, in fact, questions lead to more respectful and pleasurable interactions. Questions are sexy!
- “Where do you want to be touched? Where don’t you?”
- “How can I make you feel good?”
- “What are you comfortable with?”
- “What do you want to do tonight?”
- “What words do you like to hear about yourself?”
Answers can fall along a spectrum of yes, no, maybe, sometimes, etc. You can also let someone know what you want (or don’t want) to do with phrases like:
- “I’m not really feeling that, but maybe we can do this…”
- “Hang on, I want to take a break for a second.”
- “I really want to try that gravity-defying thing I showed you on the Internet.”
Remember that consent is a conversation! This means that good consent involves listening to your partner, asking questions if you’re not sure, and checking in throughout the process. You need to check in and be receptive to your partner before moving forward with any act, from kissing to penetration. It is important to not only ask the questions, but listen to the answers.
WHAT IF SOMEONE DOESN’T STATE THEIR DESIRES?
We know that consent looks like an enthusiastic and verbal “YES!” from everyone involved. Otherwise, it is important to recognize other signs that someone is uncomfortable, in pain, feeling pressured into sex, or not able to give consent. Here are some indications that some one does NOT consent:
- The absence of a verbal & enthusiastic “yes”
- Head shaking
- Pushing/pulling away
- Reluctance or hesitation before performing a physical act
- Being too high or drunk (slurred speech, going in and out of consciousness, hallucinating or dissociating, being passed out or blackout drunk)
- Being legally too young to consent to sex (laws vary by State)
- Pressuring someone to engage in sexual activity (not consent) can come in many forms.
- Physical force
- Badgering or yelling at you
- Threatening to hurt them/others if they do not have sex
- Using guilt to claim they “owe” you their body/ sexual favors (Becasue you’re in a relationship, have had sex before, they spent money on you, etc)
- Using a position of power (boss, elder, teacher, etc.) to demand sexual favors
- Reacting negatively (anger, sadness, or resentment) if you say no or don’t immediately agree
- Ignoring “no” or requests to stop
If you see one or more of these signs, stop immediately and make sure your partner feels safe and respected. Failure to do so is assault.
Consent can also change at any time before or during an interaction. Just because you felt comfortable with something one day, does not mean you have to engage with it the next. Sexual desire is ever evolving and fun and it is ok to change your mind about what feels good as you go!
ASKING FOR CONSENT DOESN’T KILL THE MOOD.
“I so admire- and am turned on by- people who make a sturdy effort to make sure all’s clear between us. It floods me with trust and warmth, which I usually like to express by tenderly mauling my partner however they like that best. When a person I like halts me at any point, even when it seems rubber-stamped-notarized that we’re heading somewhere specific, and asks, “Is it okay if I [insert here]?” I am then positive that they are a good [partner]. This is also true of when they let me in on what’s not okay for them. If a person knows and cares enough about how to be good to their partners, it’s all but guaranteed that equal devotion to making you feel A+ will be present in their efforts.”– Amy Rose Spiegal, Action: A Book About Sex
When you have open communication with your partner, there’s no guesswork involved about what your partner likes or wants to do. There’s also no pressure to read your partner’s mind or predict what they’ll like. Practicing good consent leads to more pleasurable sex and healthier relationships.
PRACTICING CONSENT IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT FOR SURVIVORS.
If you’re a sexually active adult, there’s a good chance you’ll have sex with someone who’s experienced sexual assault. Hear survivors speak about this in our video, #SurvivorsDeserve.
“Even when I haven’t had a hunch that someone means me ill, I am my own warden when it comes to preventing people from unintentionally causing me discomfort— and I try to take care of the people I’m having sex with too. You might not know what someone’s history of abuse or trauma might be. It’s imperative that you ask your partner, out loud, if some new act you’re introducing into your physical hangout is okay with them…the more you ask, the better.”– Amy Rose Spiegal, Action: A Book About Sex
- Quotes from Action: A Book about Sex by Amy Rose Spiegel
- Quotes from Learning Good Consent Zine by Thomas Herpick
- Alcohol and Consent video by Laci Green
- Sexual Coercion Resources
- 5 Ways to Navigate Consent with a Partner who has Trouble Setting Boundaries by Miri Mogilevsky
- How to Teach Consent to Kidsby Michelle Dominique Burk
- 7 Ways to Practice Consent Outside of the Bedroom by Suzannah Weiss
Laws around sexual assault and rape vary from state to state. For more information on how consent is defined legally in your state, click here.
“WHAT’S SO HOT, SO EMPOWERING, SO AMAZING ABOUT CONSENT IS THAT THE YES’S REALLY BECOME YES’S. THE FIRST TIME YOU HEAR NO, IT VALIDATES ALL THE YES’S. THE FIRST TIME YOU HEAR NO, IT’S NOT REALLY A REJECTION, A FAILURE OF ANY KIND. IT’S A REASSURANCE THAT WHEN YOU HEAR YES, IT’S A YES, AND THEY’LL TELL YOU OTHERWISE WHEN IT’S NOT. THE YES’S BECOME EROTIC AND THE NO’S ARE THE SIGNS OF THE SAFETY AND THE TRUST THAT HAVE BEEN BUILT, THAT CONSENT ACTUALLY WORKS, THAT WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS WORTH ALL THE WORK, IS RIGHT.”-LEARNING GOOD CONSENT