If you are sexually active, or thinking about becoming sexually active for the first time, it’s so important to be clear on consent: what it is, what it isn’t, how to get consent, and why it matters so much. Without consent, a sexual act is considered assault. Learning about consent, and being sure to get an enthusiastic “yes” before sexual activity is the best way to ensure you have safe and enjoyable sex.
Sexual consent is the voluntary and freely given agreement to participate in sexual activities. Consent must be obtained every time sex occurs, and is specific ie. a person may consent to one sexual activity, but not another. It is also okay to withdraw consent, as in, to say yes to something, but then realize you don’t want to do it anymore. Practice consent by checking in with questions like “Do you want ___?", “Would you like more ___?”, and “How does that feel?”
The age of consent is the age at which a person can legally agree to have sex. Under the age of consent, it is deemed that even if a person says “yes,” they are not mature enough to understand the risks and consequences, and therefore can not legally consent to sex. Sex with a minor is statutory rape. The age of consent varies between states and countries but is commonly in the mid or late teen years.
Sexual assault involves sexual contact that a person does not want and has not consented to. Sexual assault may involve inappropriate touching over or under clothing and unwanted sex acts including, but not limited to, rape (where there is penetration).
Rape is a type of sexual assault that involves penetration (with a penis, finger or object) that a person does not consent to. Sexual assault is a broader term that includes rape as well as other kinds of non-consensual sexual contact.
Understanding consent — what it is and what it’s not — is essential if you are sexually active or plan to be. Getting consent and ensuring you and your partner are comfortable throughout a sexual experience can make things that much more enjoyable and safe. Remember that consent can be given or withdrawn at any time before and during sex.