Consent, only seven letters and yet the word often leaves people with confusion. Broken down to its simplest form, it is permission. Permission is something we are taught at a young age – we need permission for many things; however, we are not taught about permission when it comes to our actual bodies. When it comes to sex, we need consent in order to engage in any type of sexual activity with partners; without consent it isn’t sex, it’s sexual assault.
Let’s break this down further.
Consent means conscious, affirmative, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.
It is an enthusiastic yes! We want our partners to want to engage in sexual activities with us, because sex should be an enjoyable experience for all people involved, and one that is free of coercion, manipulation, and guilt.
The absence of a no does not mean a yes; just because someone has not verbally said ‘no’ does not mean they are consenting.
Consent can be revoked at any time, even during the middle of a sexual act.
Consenting to one thing does not mean consent to everything. A person may only want to engage in one type of activity, and consenting to that one activity does not mean they are consenting to everything.
Consenting one time does not mean consent every time. Consent is something that is required every time someone wants to engage in any type of sexual activity, even if they had previously received consent.
Consent is a conversation. It is an ongoing conversation with a partner regarding sexual activities. Ultimately, being able to communicate about our needs and wants during sex opens up a conversation around what our boundaries are and how we can navigate sex together.
It is important to note that there are nuances of consent. When a person is consenting to the physical act of sex, are they also consenting to the emotional and social outcomes of sex? These outcomes can be positive and/or negative, but are equally important to think about. This is part of the conversation that has to happen – because someone may be consenting to the physical act, but may not realize the other possible outcomes that they are not consenting to. Consent ultimately comes down to being able to have open and honest conversations with our partners in order to know where we are at on a physical, emotional, and mental level.
How do we get consent?
The simplest way to get someone’s permission is to ask! You ask your partner if they want to engage in any type of sex with you. Then, you wait for their answer. And finally, you respect their decision. It is the responsibility of the person who wants to engage in sexual activities to ask their partner if they would like to have sex – and vice versa! It is each person’s responsibility to obtain consent from their partner. This doesn’t have to be boring! In fact, it should be a fun part of the conversation. Of course, sometimes our partners may so no, and that is their right. Rejection can absolutely sting, but by respecting their decision we are telling our partners we respect them.
Why is this important?
Consent is important because it establishes what people are and are not comfortable with when it comes to any type of sexual activity. Sex is an intimate act, and one that should involve discussions around boundaries. What is even more important is talking about consent with children at younger ages. This does not mean in regards to sex, but it’s teaching children they have bodily autonomy and can learn to establish and assert their boundaries. It is also teaching them to respect the bodies of others and learn to accept no – because sometimes we do get a no. By doing this, we are providing our children with the skills and abilities to grow into sexually healthy adults, so that when they are ready to engage it’s an enthusiastic yes.
By Sarah Diamond, Prevention & Education Coordinator at CCS