Consent is fundamental in all relationships and knowing what it means is worthwhile for yourself and your partner, so sex is fun, safe and feels good for all involved! There are verbal and physical cues as well as things you can say if you want things to slow down or stop. When under the influence of alcohol and drugs, it can be very difficult to give genuine consent. In a nutshell, have a proper conversation and don’t pressure someone if they don’t feel ready or change their mind at any time.
Consent laws vary by jurisdictions. You can learn more about age of consent and other consent laws in the ACT by visiting Youth Law Australia.
If you or someone you know has had a negative experience where sexual activity was imposed without permission, you should read the section on sexual assault
Why you should keep reading:
- Find out more about consent and whether you’re ready
- How to tell if someone is consenting
- How to slow down or stop sexual activity
Why is consent important?
Wait… What is sexual consent?
Each time you engage in sexual activity (kissing, touching, sexting, having sex, etc.), you need to make sure that you and your partner are both freely and actively agreeing to an activity. There’s no point assuming the other person is as into it as you are. It’s an ongoing conversation that is a responsibility of both partners. So be sure to check before, during and after sex that the other person you’re with is happy and willing, because any non-consensual sexual activity is harmful and against the law.
Not only is sex without consent a crime but being coerced or forced into a sexual situation you’re not consenting of is rape, sexual assault and abuse. And this can be violating and cause lasting emotional trauma for the victim/survivor. So, you really must ask and be 100% sure that there is enthusiastic “Yes” from both parties.
Remember, it’s always OK to say no or change your mind at any time, for any reason or no reason at all. Saying “yes” initially doesn’t mean you or your partner are saying yes to other sexual activities. It’s not enough to get consent just once – you need consent every time.
Silence is not consent. “I don’t know” is not consent.
Everyone has different comfort zones, so it is important to find and set expectations and boundaries before and during sex. The only way to do this is through transparent communication – ask and listen.
The person initiating is responsible for obtaining clear consent. This is also the perfect time to finding out about each other’s boundaries. If you’re not sure whether your partner is enthusiastic about something then ask!
Initial consent doesn’t mean consenting to what may follow. Everyone has the right to change their mind and say no, or to stop any sexual activity. Making sure you check in with your partner is a great way of showing care and respect.
Check whether your partner had a good time.
How to ask?
- Be direct by naming or describing the act clearly.
- Frame it as a question of preference.
Here are some examples:
- Would you like it if…?
- Can I kiss/touch/whatever you?
- Is there anything you’d like me to do differently?
- What do you want to do?
- Are you still into this?
- Does this feel good?
- Do you want to keep going?
For more examples of questions you can ask see Asking for what you want: 27 alternatives to asking is this okay and The Line: 6 hella hot ways to do consent.
What does consent look like?
To be able to give consent to do something, you and your partner should:
- Feel happy and confident in your voluntary decision, and certain that you have not been pressured or deceived in any way.
- Are both of sound mind and legal age.
- Can withdraw consent at any time.
- Under no influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Aren’t at all incapacitated. Sober, awake and conscious.
Examples of “Yes!”:
- Keep doing that
- I want to
- I’m excited
Remember, someone keen at one time doesn’t mean they’ll feel that way later whether it be a week later or even 5 minutes later. Check in regularly!
Planned Parenthood: When someone definitely wants to have sex
If you get a “no”, then everything stops there. Accept it and don’t proceed or pressure the other person. Be glad that they trust you tell you what they really want.
Examples of “No”:
- Feeling pressured
- Being made to feel stupid or bad for saying “no”
- Being encouraged to consume alcohol or take drugs to “get in the mood”
- Feeling manipulated
- Declining the sexual act
- Change of decision.
- “Not now”
- “Maybe” or “maybe later”
- “That hurts”
- [no praise]
Planned Parenthood: When someone doesn’t want to have sex
Check out this booklet from Griffith University Sex, Love and Dating.
To see more examples of common verbal signals of consent and non-consent, see Scarleteen: Driver’s ed for the sexual superhighway – Navigating consent.
Play this game by Teen Talk to practice asking for consent.
Read this story on The Line to understand what can happen when two people don’t communicate about consent.