Consent is important. But ...what is it?

When you're in the heat of the moment signals can be misunderstood, and you might think one thing when the other person has a totally different take on what's going on...

In a perfect world, when someone wanted to have sex they'd announce "I hereby agree to partake in a consensual act of a sexual nature with the aforementioned..." But that usually isn't how things work. When you're in a relationship, or you've had a few drinks, or just don't want to kill the mood, you can assume or convince yourself that someone's ok with something when they're not.

What does consent look and sound like?

Putting it plainly, consent is a verbal, physical, and emotional agreement that happens without manipulation, threats, or head games:

  • Consent is mutual – everyone has to agree.
  • Consent must be continuous – anyone can stop at any time, and can change their mind.
  • Consent isn't all encompassing – just because someone's into, for example, giving or getting head, doesn't mean they're signing up for everything.
  • Consent is definite – it isn't a 'maybe' or an 'I think so'.
  • Consent can only be given voluntarily – so don't be trying the old 'You would if you loved me', 'Everyone else is' or 'But I want it so bad it huuuuurts...' Consent can't be given through pressuring someone, or any bargaining or threats matter how lame they are!

What's sometimes called 'enthusiastic consent' can happen when you're 100% sure you're getting obvious cues to show they want to have sex, like nodding or getting into position to do something. All right, they might not stand up, put their hand on their heart and give the whole, "I hereby agree to partake..." thing, but you still need to be sure, without a doubt, that you're getting a definite 'Yes' to questions like...

  • "Feel like...?"
  • "Do you want to try...?" (...whatever – all sexual acts require consent)
  • "How about...?"

If someone gives a clear 'yes' without being pressured, then that's all good. But there are also ways people can signal they don't want to have sex (without actually saying as much), that aren't necessarily that clear cut, like:

  • Not reacting enthusiastically to what you're doing.
  • Just lying still or rigid and not saying or doing much ('Well, she didn't fight me off...' is never a comeback).
  • Turning away, covering themselves up or moving away from you.
  • Going quiet or crying (...kind of obvious?).

And of course you need to stop if you hear anything like...

  • "I'm not sure about this..."
  • "Can we take a break for a bit...?"
  • "I don't think I'm ready..."
  • "I don't want to..."
  • "Dude, put that thing away!"

Just remember, there needs to be some kind of clear confirmation that everybody's happy with what's going on. You're only going to come across better for asking, "Just want to check you're cool with this?" But jumping into things and hoping the other person doesn't say no can end up way beyond awkward - Have a look at the 'Is this consent? ...Two perspectives' article for an example of this. And if you want to know more about the specific laws around consent in each state check out 'Laws around consent', so you can be sure you're not crossing the line...

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