Consent is important. But... what is it?
In a perfect world, everyone would be empathetic enough and equipped to understand and recognise what is and isn’t consensual. But that often isn't how things work out.
When you're in a relationship, or you think you know what the other person’s thinking, or you just don't want to kill the mood, you might 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 an agreement that happens without manipulation, threats, or head games:
- Consent is mutual – everyone has to agree, regardless of their gender.
- Consent must be continuous – anyone can stop at any time and can change their mind at any point.
- Consent isn't all-encompassing – just because someone's into one thing 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... even if you think those tactics might lead to you getting what you want.
What's called 'enthusiastic consent' can only 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 – or straight out hearing them give you verbal consent! 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.
- Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, to the point that they cannot freely consent.
- Just lying still or rigid and not saying or doing much (‘Well, she didn't say ‘no’... ’ 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. If you don't check in, the risks of hurting someone (and potentially breaking the law) are actually really high.
Also, the laws around consent differ depending on your age, your partner’s age and which state or territory you live in – so if you want to know more about the laws relating to consent in your state visit Youth Law Australia.
If you want to talk to someone about an experience where you may have acted without someone’s consent, or where someone may have acted without your consent visit 1800RESPECT.