3 minute read

Consent is a crucial part of engaging in any kind of sexual activity. It means that two (or more) people are actively agreeing to sexual activity with each other. Consent is about your sexual partner saying, “Yes! I want to do ___ with you!” and it is an agreement you enter into every single time you want to have sex.

What Consent Is (And Isn’t)

You can give consent verbally or through clear, non-verbal cues or gestures. Consent is not coercion, and it is not using or abusing power or authority to get what you want. Instead, consent is about freely agreeing to be sexual together. When sexual activity occurs without consent then it becomes sexual assault or rape.

Consent is about your sexual partner saying “Yes! I want to do ___ with you!”

It’s important to note that consent is not a blank check to do whatever you want. Just because you give consent to kiss someone doesn’t mean that you give consent to have sex with them. And just because someone gives you consent one time to have sex doesn’t mean they give consent to have sex a second time. Consent can also be withdrawn at any time if you change your mind and realize you’re actually not up for something that you had thought you were interested in.

How Do You Do Consent?

Consent might sound like a complex concept at first—for many people it’s not an everyday word!—but all it really involves is communicating about what you do and don’t want to do sexually, and respecting the other person’s wishes. That communication may be a little different depending on whether you are having sex with somebody new for the first time and just getting to know each other, or if you’ve been with your partner for a long time. Regardless of your familiarity-level, however, consent is always important.

To practice good consent, ask your partner questions like:

  • “Can I kiss you?”
  • “Are you feeling like having sex?”
  • “Do you want me to touch your ___ ?”
  • “Are you ready for ___?”
  • “Would you like to stop now or keep going?

Pay Attention To Their Response

When you ask for someone’s consent, listen for their answer. The best way to know if you’re respecting their boundaries is to get a clear, affirmative response. In consent, “yes means yes,” and “no means no,” and silence or no response means “no.” It’s also important to know that sometimes people freeze in sexual situations, so if you are unsure that you have consent, ask for a verbal “yes” before continuing. 

Complicated Consent Situations

There are times when consent can be tricky, such as when you’re dealing with someone who is intoxicated, intellectually disabled, or in an emotional state where they don’t fully understand the implications of consent. In cases where it’s unclear if your potential partner is able to give consent, take extra time to ask questions and assess the situation. If you’re still not sure, don’t engage in sexual activity with them. 

Legal Age Of Consent

States and countries have laws that set an “age of consent,” which marks the age at which someone is legally able to consent to sex. Below this age a child or young person is not legally able to give consent for sex, as they are not seen as mature enough to understand the implications of it. Over the age of consent a person is considered mature enough to understand what consenting to sex involves and to cope with the physical and emotional experience of being sexual with another person.

In cases where it’s unclear if your potential partner is able to give consent, take extra time to ask questions and assess the situation. If you’re still not sure, don’t engage in sexual activity with them.

If you set out to be respectful and aware of your partner’s pleasure and boundaries, consent is a powerful precursor to having mutually enjoyable sex.

Related Articles:

What To Know About Having Sex For The First Time

How To Talk About A Past Sexual Assault With Your Partner

Supporting Survivors

How To Define The Relationship You Want

How To Flirt


Video transcript

- Communication before, during and after is the most important part of any kind of sex act, really. You have a safe container and then within that container you can have a lot of fun.

- Consent is clear, continuous, conscious, and coercion-free.

- Consent means that everyone agrees, one hundred percent, to an activity. Everyone's informed, they know what's going on and they say, "Yes, I'm in."

- Consent is ongoing. Meaning that it can be revoked. It can be paused. Just because I tell you that I want to engage in a certain type of sexual activity on Tuesday at 2pm, and then Tuesday at 1:59 rolls around and I change my mind. That's ok. I can do that. I'm completely within my right to change my mind at any time.

- The conversation about substances isn't as simple as saying that you can only say yes when you're sober. Substances impact our expectations and our ability to read body language. They impact our judgement, they impact our skills, and they impact our reactions. Consenting while under the influence requires the same type of work that consenting while sober does but often with fewer tools. So if sober you knows that and has thought about it, then the rest is up to you.

- Coercion can take many forms. Someone can be coerced into something physically or emotionally, financially or socially or even psychologically. If you are trying to convince someone to do something that they don't want to do by themselves, then you basically don't really have their consent.

- Consent is about agency. It's about respecting other people's control and autonomy over their own bodies. Because everyone is the boss of their own body. And so consent is a practice of making sure that anything that we do involving someone else, that you're doing things with respect to the agency they have over their own bodies.