Whether you’re in a relationship or not, asking for and giving consent is always required of you. As important as it is, we don’t talk about it enough. So it’s understandable if you’re a little unsure about what it is – and what it isn’t.
You may know that when a person says no, they mean no. But this doesn’t capture what consent should really mean because it puts the responsibility to resist or accept on one person. It also makes consent about what a partner doesn’t want, instead of being able to openly express what they do want.
What is consent?
Consent is letting someone know that you want to be sexual with them. It is making sure both parties agree with the level of intimacy they are engaging in. Some people are worried that talking about consent will be awkward, that it will ruin the mood or that, as your partner, the person is obligated to say yes, which is far from true. If anything, the mood is much more positive when both partners are happy and can freely communicate what they want. Consider having conversations about consent during a time when you’re not being physically intimate.
If you are in the heat of the moment, here are some suggestions of things to say:
- Are you comfortable?
- Is this okay?
- Do you want to slow down?
- Do you want to go any further?
What does consent look like?
Consent can only be possible if the two of you constantly communicate your thoughts to each other. For example, during an intimate moment, ask if it’s okay to kiss your partner and don’t just assume that they are comfortable with it. Respecting that when they don’t say “no,” it doesn’t mean “yes”. It’s only a “yes” when your partner agrees with the level of intimacy.
Break away from gender “rules”. Girls are not the only ones who might want to take it slow. Also, it’s not the guy’s job to initiate the action (or anything else, really).
What consent does NOT look like?
Assuming that dressing sexy, flirting, accepting a ride, accepting a drink, etc. is in any way consenting to anything more. Saying yes (or saying nothing) while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Saying yes or giving into something because you feel too pressured or too afraid to say no.
Get consent every time!
In a healthy relationship, it’s important to discuss and respect each other’s boundaries consistently. It’s not ok to assume that once someone consents to an activity, it means they are consenting to it anytime in the future as well.
Whether it’s the first time or the hundredth time, a date, a committed relationship or even marriage, nobody is ever obligated to give consent just because they have done so in the past.
A person can decide to stop an activity at any time, even if they agreed to it earlier. Above all, everyone has a right to their own body and to feel comfortable with how they use it — no matter what has happened in the past.
Here are some signs that your partner is not respecting consent:
- They pressure or guilt you into doing things you may not want to do.
- They make you feel like you “owe” them — because you’re dating, or they gave you a gift, etc.
- They react negatively (with sadness, anger or resentment) if you say “no” to something, or don’t immediately consent.
- They ignore your wishes and don’t pay attention to nonverbal actions that could show you’re not consenting (ex: pulling/pushing away).