Everyone who wants to deserves to have great sex- and sexual consent is an important part of that. This guide will talk about what consent is, how to ask for it, and who can give it. This guide is meant for all adolescents and young adults, including those with diverse gender identities, sexual orientations, sexual practices, physical abilities, and intellectual abilities.
What is Sexual Consent?
Sexual consent is an agreement between two or more people for a specific sexual act. Consent is needed for all types of sexual intimacy/activity (like touching, kissing, oral, vaginal, or anal sex, etc.) Consent is needed every time– consenting once to something does not mean you are also consenting to it in the future.
Sexual consent is always needed regardless of the type of relationship (a hook up, significant others, marriage, or other sexual relationship). All partners are responsible to ask for consent and respecting the answer of their partner. Someone who is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs or substances cannot consent to sexual activity. Someone who is passed out, sleeping, or unconscious cannot consent to sexual activity.
Taking the time to better understand sexual consent will help you and your partner(s) have a healthy and enjoyable sex life. So let’s break it down into 5 main parts:
Who can give consent?
There are laws about the age of sexual consent, meaning how old a person needs to be in order to consent to sex and they vary depending on location (city, state, country, etc. The intent of these laws is to protect minors (people younger than 18 years old) from someone older than them (adults) pressuring or forcing them to do sexual acts. In the United States, the legal age of consent is between 16-18 years old, depending on the state. In general, this means an adult having sex with someone younger than 16-18 years old is considered sexual assault or rape. To learn more about the specific consent laws in your state, visit this website.
It is important to know that some disabilities may affect a person’s ability to communicate consent, understand consent, or consent freely. For example, a person with a disability may rely on another person for assistance. This relationship may make it hard for a person with a disability to say “No” to a sexual act, if they are concerned the person will stop helping them in the future. There are laws that exist in some states in the US that discuss the ability of people with disabilities to consent to sexual acts. To learn more about consent and people with disabilities, visit this website.
How do I ask for consent?
You may hear people say that “consent kills the mood,” but you may want to reconsider! Consent helps create a safe and satisfying physical/sexual relationship because it ensures trust, confidence, and a higher chance of sexual pleasure occurring. Expressing desire and what you WANT during sex can be fun, sexy, and help you engage with your partner in a deeper and more sexually satisfying way.
Here are some examples of asking for consent:
- Can I [FILL IN THE BLANK]?
- Do you want me to [FILL IN THE BLANK]?
- Would you like it if [FILL IN THE BLANK]?
- Is this okay? Should I keep [FILL IN THE BLANK]?
- Would you like me to stop?
- What would you think if we [FILL IN THE BLANK]?
How do I know if my partner is or is not giving consent?
The key to knowing if a partner consents is an enthusiastic “yes” or similar statement saying they agree or want to do a sexual act. If your partner says “no” or stays silent, this is not consent. Consent again, is mandatory for every physical/sexual interaction. Receiving consent involves an enthusiastic agreement to participate in a sexual act with someone. What does enthusiasm look like? It is something that is excited, and the other person should be able to offer consent in a relaxed way as well.
Knowing this, body language is important to consider as well when asking for consent. If someone says “yes” but seems unsure, it’s more than okay to stop and check in before continuing or going further. Nonverbal cues can look like body tension, lack of eye contact, stuttering, hesitation, etc. The best rule of thumb is “When in doubt, talk it out!”
You might say:
- You seem unsure, we can stop if you want to, or would you like to keep going?
- I don’t know if I feel comfortable continuing until you seem more relaxed.
How can I show my partner I do or do not consent?
Direct communication is the best way to give consent! Non-verbal cues and body language can emphasize your answer, but being able to say what you want/don’t want to a partner is the sign of a healthy relationship.
Ways to say “yes” could be:
- I like it when you [FILL IN THE BLANK].
- I want to do more of [FILL IN THE BLANK].
- This feels good!
- Let’s keep going!
Ways to say “no” could be:
- I don’t want to do this.
- I don’t feel comfortable right now.
- Hmmmm, I’m not sure…
Important note: It’s important to know that it is the equal responsibility of your partner to listen to you and respect what you want. If it feels intimidating or hard to say what you do/don’t want with a partner, it may be worth reconsidering if you would like to be sexually intimate with them.
What if I did not give or get consent?
Everybody deserves respect and to feel safe in their sexual relationships. If you have had sexual contact without consent, this is a form of sexual assault and rape. Sexual assault and rape do not have to be violent or leave a physical mark. Sexual assault and rape can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, intellectual ability, and physical ability, and it is never your fault. Sexual assault or rape can be committed by a stranger, friend, dating partner, or a spouse. If you have experienced sexual assault or rape, you are not alone. Visit our guide to learn more.
Where can I learn more about sexual consent?