Consent is respecting boundaries.
Although usually associated with sex, consent is actually something we give and withhold in everyday scenarios all the time. In fact, every time you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a question or request, you are making a decision regarding consent and communicating your boundaries.
Person 1: “Would you like a glass of wine?”
Person 2: “No thank you. I don't drink alcohol.”
This is a perfect example of a non-sex boundary being communicated. The only correct response in this scenario is for Person 1 to accept Person 2’s answer (and perhaps offer them an alternative beverage). Now, if Person 1 wants to be a total jerk, they would try and persuade Person 2 to join them for a boozy bevvy, make them feel silly for not drinking or pull the old FOMO rubbish on them. This would be an example of one person not respecting the other’s boundaries, and consent being coerced (which is rude and entirely disrespectful).
Boundaries should always be respected and no one ever has the right to try and change your decision. People who try to move your boundaries are those who feel inconvenienced by them, and that’s their problem!
Consent and sex.
When it comes to sex, understanding consent is extremely important for everyone invovled because the emotional, physical and legal repercussions from non-consenting sex are HUGE. Non-consenting sex is assault, and that’s absolutely not the goal when it comes to shared intimacy. Having and giving clear consent protects both/all partners and ensures everyone knows what the rules of engagement are.
Consent is an ongoing discussion which should continue throughout your sexy session. Good practice is to confirm consent whenever you embark on a new activity, such as changing position, moving to a new sex act or adding accessories to your playtime. It can be as simple as asking ‘how do you feel about doggy?’ or ‘I’d like to go down on you: how does that sound?’
Boundaries can change.
Boundaries can change within a sex session: for example one of you may decide you’ve changed your mind about having sex, and no longer want to do it (even though you initially said ‘yes’), and that’s your right! Boundaries can also change over time, which is why it is still important to ascertain consent even in a long term relationship. It’s important to never assume that, simply because someone has consented to a particular sex act once before, that they will always be up for it. Maybe your partner consented to anal sex in the past, but that doesn’t mean they always will.
It’s important to remember that consent can be given, withheld or withdrawn at any point for any reason. A person may initially agree to a particular activity, but part way through decide it’s not for them, or may even decide they don’t want to have sex at all any more. This is their right and the only response in this situation is to do exactly as they say, and stop what you are doing. Ignoring a change in boundaries changes the scenario from a shared sexual experience into a rape case. Consent which is non-retractable is not consent.
Consent can also be conditional. For example, a person may agree to have sex as long as a condom is worn. If that condom is intentionally removed during sex without the person’s knowledge (known as ‘stealthing’*), the boundary of consent has not been respected and, again, sexytime just turned into assault.
Consent is clear and freely given.
Consent is something which comes from within. It should be autonomous, independent and without outside influence. It should also be clear-cut and without ambiguity. If it’s not enthusiastic, obvious consent, it’s not consent.
Consent is all about boundaries and decision-making, therefore a person being asked for consent must be capable of making a decision for themselves. If they’re not in a position to make a decision, they are not able to give consent. Scenarios where this may be the case are:
- When a person is under the influence of mind-altering substances (such as alcohol or drugs)
- When a person is under the age of consent (this can vary depending where in the world you are)
- When a person is unconscious/asleep (if a person can’t hold a conversation, they can’t give consent)
- When a person feels afraid or threatened (this can be due to the present situation, or in response to previous trauma)
- When a person is unaware of what they are agreeing to (eg using colloquialisms and slang like ‘first base’ and ‘second base’ can leave opportunity for ambiguity)
Yes means Yes!
One of the key elements of consent is that it should be enthusiastic! Consent should feel eager, excited and fun, and if you’re not entirely sure that’s the response you’re getting, you should definitely check in with the person who’s ‘giving consent’ to make sure they really are comfortable with what they are saying. For many years we’ve heard the phrase ‘no means no’ (which is obviously correct) but, in my eyes, ‘yes means yes’ is more relevant and powerful when discussing consent. The old ‘no means no’ leaves too much room for ‘assumed consent’ in the absence of the word ‘no’ (which is not consent), whereas a keen and enthusiastic ‘YES!’ is undoubtedly consent.
What consent sounds/looks like: What consent doesn’t sound like:
|✓ ‘YES!’||✖ ‘Uhh…’|
|✓ ‘Hell yeah!’||✖ ‘We’ll see’|
|✓ ‘OMG YAAASSSS’||✖ ‘Maybe later’|
|✓ ‘Yes, please!’||✖ ‘If you want to’|
|✓ ‘I can’t wait’||✖ ‘I’m tired’|
|✓ ‘Do it now!’||✖ ‘No’|
|✓ ‘Keep going’||✖ ‘Stop’|
|✓ Grabbing / pulling / trying to be closer to you / good eye contact||✖ Pushing away / avoidant body language / lack of eye contact / frozen still|
If in doubt…
Stop. There should never be any doubt in anyone’s mind as to whether consent has been freely, genuinely and enthusiastically given. If you’re even the slightest bit unsure, stop, and check in with everyone involved. It’s better to stop and possibly pause passion for a moment to make sure everyone’s having a good time, than it is to continue and potentially become a rapist.
What about roleplay? Sometimes she says ‘stop’ but doesn’t really mean it...
This is a question I get asked a lot, particularly from guys who’ve had sex with girls who like to ‘play innocent’ and use words like ‘no’ and ‘stop’ as part of roleplay. If this is something you and your partner are into, it should be clearly discussed before you engage in sex and, if words like ‘no’ and ‘stop’ don’t actually mean ‘no’ or ‘stop’ during your sex play, you must create a safe word to replace those words. Safe words allow you to still explore your kink or roleplay, whilst giving you both a clear and unmistakable way of stopping play, should either of you need to. If you’re sleeping with someone and a safe word hasn’t been set up, you should always assume that ‘no’ means ‘no’, and ‘stop’ means ‘stop’.