September 24, 2019

Top 10 Things You Need To Know About Consent

Your go-to guide for a quick brush up on sexual consent, what consent is and isn’t, and how to practice it.
Written by
Anna Laird-Barto
Published on
September 24, 2019
Updated on
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The #metoo movement has opened up a world-wide conversation about sexual assault and the culture that normalizes it. The media has served up dramatic examples of celebrities who got it wrong, but there’s still a lot of confusion about what consent—let alone enthusiastic consent—looks, feels, and sounds like. 

Consent is an ongoing agreement between two (or more) people to engage in sexual activity. Enthusiastic consent means everyone is so excited they can hardly wait to rip each other’s clothes off. What could be hotter than that? But how do you know for sure if everyone is 100% on board?

1. Start The Conversation Before Things Get Hot And Heavy

It’s easier to talk about your needs, desires and deal-breakers before you’re flooded with hormones and physical sensations. Some of us — especially if we’ve been socialized to put others’ desires first, or have experienced sexual trauma in the past — may have a difficult time communicating about consent in the heat of the moment. 

2. Consent Is Not Just About Intercourse

Get consent before engaging in any sexual activity. This includes touching, kissing, hugging, grabbing and cuddling.

3. Consent Is Necessary In Any Kind Of Relationship

Whether you’ve been married for thirty years, or just met online, you still need to respect each other’s boundaries.

4. Consent Is Ongoing

Consent needs to be re-negotiated whenever you and your partner change activities. Just because someone consents to kissing, doesn’t mean they consent to taking their clothes off. 

Enthusiastic consent means everyone is so excited they can hardly wait to rip each other’s clothes off.  

5. Past Consent Doesn’t Count As Future Consent

You may have had consensual sex in the past, but that doesn’t give you a blank check going forward. And don’t assume that because their online profile says they’re into BDSM, that they want you to tie them up.

6. Consent Can Be Revoked At Any Time

No reasons or explanations required. Everyone has a right to control over their own bodies.

7. Consent Is Freely Given

Saying “Yes,” under pressure is not consent. No pressure means no begging, badgering, manipulating, “But you got me so turned on..,” or threats of physical or psychological violence (like telling your boss or posting private pictures).

8. You Can’t Get Consent From Someone Who’s Not In A Position To Give It

This applies to minors, and anyone who is too drunk, high, or ill to give clear consent. The same goes for anyone who is asleep or unconscious. If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution.

9. Silence Is Not Consent

Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal communication. Not saying no is not the same as saying “yes.” If your partner says, “yes,” but tenses up or pulls away, stop and ask if they’re okay. For much of history, society hasn’t allowed all people the same ownership over our bodies. This power imbalance can make it scary to speak up about our boundaries and our desires.

10. Consent Doesn’t Have To Be A Buzzkill

Au contraire! After all, what is hotter than knowing your partner wants it just as bad as you do! Once you get the hang of it, talking about consent can actually help get you in the mood. Instead of asking, “Can I do ___”  “Can I touch ___” every step of the way, try phrases like,“You want to help me take my shirt off?” or “I want to touch you so bad, how would you feel about that?” 

Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal communication. 

Consent skills take practice and it’s okay to feel awkward at first. After all, most of us didn’t grow up talking openly about sex. But better to feel awkward than to stay silent and inadvertently cause harm. 

One reason the #metoo movement has been so powerful is that it broke the culture of silence around sexual assault. Getting consent is not only about making sure you and your partners have safe, fun, and maybe even mind-blowing sex—it’s about disrupting the culture of silence and building a culture that empowers everyone’s sexuality.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Anna Laird Barto is a writer and human services professional based in western Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in online in The Establishment, Entropy, What We Seee and elsewhere. Visit her at and @annalairdbarto

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