Guide to Consent: giving it, getting it, respecting it

It’s time to get everyone on the same page when it comes to consent.

What is Consent?

Consent is a voluntary, enthusiastic, and clear agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity. 

There is no room for different views on what consent is. People incapacitated by drugs or alcohol cannot consent.

If clear, voluntary, coherent, and ongoing consent is not given by all participants, it’s sexual assault. There’s no room for ambiguity or assumptions when it comes to consent, and there aren’t different rules for people who’ve hooked up before.

Nonconsensual sex is rape.

How do I know if it’s consensual sex?

During sexual activity, everyone present must agree willingly to everything that’s happening as you go. Here’s what enthusiastic consent looks like:

  1. each person is of age, awake and aware and feels free to make their own choices

  2. each person wants to do each activity and is actively participating

  3. each person asks for consent to do each activity

  4. each person gives consent through words and actions

It’s important to remember things like silence or a nod are not enough to establish consent.

It is not consensual if a person:

  • says out loud or indicates with their body language, “no”

  • changes their mind from a “yes” to a “no” with their words/actions

  • says “yes” to one thing but “no” to another

  • is impaired by alcohol or drugs

  • is unconscious or sleeping

  • is intimidated, pressured, threatened or coerced

  • is under the age of 16 or does not fit the “close in age” rule

  • is in a position of trust or authority (e.g. a teacher, coach, employer, etc.) with a young person under the age of 18

  • seems unsure (e.g. looks nervous, pulls away, etc.)

Keep in mind that:

  • saying “yes” to one thing doesn’t imply “yes” to something else

  • if you move on to something else, each person needs to consent again

  • pressuring someone to change their mind is not consent

And importantly:

  • it’s not consensual if someone can’t give consent (e.g. because of substance use, unconsciousness, age, etc.), even if they say “yes”

Why is consent so important?

Without consent, sexual activity is sexual violence. 

It’s crucial to ask for consent before engaging in sexual activity. Talking openly about what you both want and setting boundaries is important in any relationship, regardless of whether it’s casual or long term.

Sexual or nonsexual activity that occurs because of fear, guilt, or pressure is coercion — and it’s a form of sexual assault. If you’re engaging in sexual activity and the person declines to go further or seems hesitant, stop for a moment and ask them if they’re comfortable doing that activity or if they want to take a break.

Let them know you don’t want to do anything they don’t feel 100 percent comfortable with, and that there’s no harm in waiting and doing something else.

How do I know if it’s sexual violence?

For example, it’s sexual violence if:

  • you don’t ask and obtain clear permission before you attempt to have sex

  • you take a picture of a classmate who passed out with their shirt lifted up

  • your coach insists you give them a massage after the other players leave the locker room

  • your partner tells you to touch them or they’ll break up with you

No one has the right to touch you without your permission.

Talking to your kids about consent

It is absolutely imperative that your teen knows what it means to give consent. They need to know that if any attention is unwanted, it needs to stop. Teaching this lesson to your child will not only empower them with confidence, but also make them aware of and help protect them from sexual predators.

Emphasize that your children should be treated with respect and dignity everywhere.