Consent is an ongoing process that involves voluntarily, actively agreeing and giving permission for sexual activity with partners to ensure everyone involved is comfortable, safe, on the same page and respectful of one another’s boundaries. It’s important to note that consent doesn’t have to be sexual. People should be learning about consent and the autonomy of their bodies from a young age, understanding that your body is yours, and you have the power of making choices for your body. Asking for consent starts as early as childhood. For example, “Can I give you a hug?”, “Would you like to talk about this?”, “Can I help you with that?.” However, for this piece, we will be focusing on sexual consent.
7 must-haves that make up sexual consent:
- Freely given – it’s autonomous, aligns with your wants, and it’s your choice. No one else is making this decision for you.
- Enthusiastic – can be expressed through verbal or non-verbal cues, whether you’re excited and talking about it or using positive body language such as smiling, maintaining eye contact, or nodding yes.
- Well-informed – partners are aware of each others’ STI status, agree with methods of birth control being used, and are comfortable with the environment they are in.
- Specific – Just because someone consents to one set of actions and activities does not mean consent has been given for other sexual acts. Communicate with your partner(s) what it is you are consenting to.
- An ongoing conversation – it is not a one-time question and answer. Keep checking in on each other. Just because someone was interested and consensual sex, last weekend does not mean they will consent for all future encounters.
- Reversible – you are allowed to withdraw your consent at ANY time. Your body, your choice.
- ALWAYS needed – if it’s a one-night stand with a stranger, a third date, or your lifelong partner…no matter the setting, you need each other’s consent.
In movies, TV shows, and porn, it’s pretty common to see sexual interactions happen quickly; no lead-up and no communication. They seem to be missing those realistic aspects – the awkwardness, the laughter, the fumbling, the sweat, and lastly, consent. You may be thinking: “Well, I’ve been with my partner for ten years, we don’t need to ask for consent.”
or “Asking for consent is sort of a buzz kill.”
or “How the heck do I work consent into my sexual relationships?!”
Asking for consent doesn’t need to “ruin the mood.” Communication around consent can be fun, flirty, and empowering. Try getting comfortable asking questions, checking in and making it ongoing through your sexual experiences:
- “How does this feel?”
- “Do you like it when I do this?”
- “Do you like that?”
- “Can I touch or kiss you here?”
- “Do you want me to take these off?”
- “Can we try this…?”
- “Have you ever fantasized about…?”
- “Do you want me to keep going?”
- “Do you want me to stop?”
- “Are you horny?”
- “Tell me how you like it?”
- “Can you put on protection, first?”
- “Should I put on protection now?”
What IS NOT consent
Someone not giving consent can look or sound a lot more than just “no.” It is common for people to refrain from using the phrase “no” out of fear of sounding blunt and receiving backlash from refusal. Instead, people may try a different phrase in the hope of softening the rejection. Remember, sexual activity without consent is sexual assault, which is a crime.
Verbally not consenting may sound like:
- “I’m not really in the mood.”
- “I don’t feel like it.”
- “Not right now.”
- “I don’t know.”
- “I’m not sure.”
- “Slow down.”
- “I’m too tired.”
- “I’m too drunk.”
- “Maybe another time.”
- “I have work early tomorrow.”
Non-verbal cues when not consenting may look like:
- Silent or saying nothing
- Turning or backing away
- Avoiding bodily contact
- Closing knees/crossing legs
- Head shaking no
- Pushing someone away
Other factors where consent cannot be freely given may look like:
- If someone is impaired by drugs or alcohol
- If someone is asleep
- If someone is unconscious
- If someone is underage (the legal age of consent in Canada is 16)
- If someone is being forced, pressured, threatened, or intimidated
- If someone is offered rewards to do something sexual
“Note: Physiological responses like an erection, lubrication, arousal, or orgasm are involuntary, meaning your body might react one way even when you are not consenting to the activity. Sometimes perpetrators will use the fact that these physiological responses occur to maintain secrecy or minimize a survivor’s experience by using phrases such as, “You know you liked it.” In no way does a physiological response mean that you consented to what happened. If you have been sexually abused or assaulted, it is not your fault.” – RAINN
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted or is experiencing sexual violence, please reach out now:
- If you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety, please call 911
- Click here for Canada’s list of sexual assault centers, crisis lines, and support services
Written by: Jaime