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Consent is a vital part of engaging in any kind of sexual activity. It is an agreement you enter into every single time you want to have sex. Consent can be given verbally or through clear non-verbal cues or gestures. It is not coercion, and it is not using or abusing power or authority to get what you want. Consent is simply a way of communicating with someone in a mutually agreeable, ethical way about sex that respects the physical and emotional boundaries of everyone involved.
It’s important to affirm 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 consent applies to the next time you might want to have sex. Consent can be withdrawn any time, too.
Consent becomes complicated when you’re dealing with someone who might be intoxicated, mentally disabled, or physically or emotionally unable to understand the implications of consent. That’s why many laws in the United States set an “age of consent,” which marks the age someone is legally able to consent, and thereby understand the implications of giving their consent to sexual activity. Still, consent can become complicated in many of these cases.
When you ask for someone’s consent, 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.” Sometimes people freeze in sexual situations, in some cases this could be related to past shame and trauma, if you are unsure if you have consent ask for a verbal “yes.” If you set out to be respectful and aware of your partner’s pleasure and boundaries, consent is a powerful pre-cursor to having mutually enjoyable sex.