QJSex: It's all about consent

As our last blog outlined, sex can mean different things to different people. One thing that every definition of sex has in common is that it must be consensual. Without consent, sex doesn’t exist. But what exactly is consent?

Most people have heard of the baseball analogy for sex, with first base, second base, etc. At the SHRC, we like to use a different analogy: pizza.

Ordering pizza can be a lot like sex. Sometimes you eat pizza alone, sometimes you eat it with a friend and sometimes, with two friends. Sometimes you eat with a whole party!

But one step always happens before you eat pizza. You ask your friend(s) what they want on it. The conversation might be simple:

"Same as last time?” “Yeah.”

Or perhaps:

“There’s a special on Hawaiian this week, sound good?” “Yeah.”

Or maybe a more in depth one including special rules:

“I don’t want anchovies to touch my side of the pizza; I want hot peppers and salami.”
“Okay fine, we will get hot peppers and salami on all of it, but only anchovies on my side.”
“I swear to god, if anchovies touch my side I am fucking done.”
“Got it.”

In all of these conversations, the pizza-eating companions are making their boundaries clear and expressing what they want. They are consenting to eating a specific kind of pizza, and that kind of pizza alone. If pizza shows up with anchovies all over it, the one friend can’t be forced to eat that pizza - they made it very clear that they didn’t want the anchovies. It’s important to note that just because a friend ate a certain kind of pizza one time, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll want to eat it again.

These examples demonstrate a lot about consent. Consent must be informed, enthusiastic, willingly given and sober.

Informed, meaning that the risks and benefits must be understood by all involved. An example might be consenting to have sex with a partner wearing a condom. You know what you are getting into (sex with a condom on), but if your partner removed the condom during sex, consent would be revoked because you didn’t agree to sex without a condom. The risks of sex without a condom weren’t consented to: this would be sexual assault.

Consent must be enthusiastic. This means an enthusiastic “yes!” Consent can’t be unclear, non-verbal , “no”, “maybe”, “not right now,” or anything that isn’t a clear, enthusiastic response.

Consent must be willingly given. This means that it can’t involve blackmailing or manipulation, coercion or involve power relations.

Consent must be sober. Unlike pizza, which is delicious while drunk or high, consent can’t legally be given while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The risks and benefits of an activity can’t fully be understood if your mind is clouded, and consent can’t be enthusiastic if your judgment is impaired.

Lastly, consent can be revoked at any time. Just because you eat pizza one day doesn’t mean you want to eat it every single day. Consent isn’t constant and everyone has a right to change their mind. So check in with your partner and make sure they’re enjoying it.

If you’re about to engage in sexual activity with someone else, take the time to ask questions, establish boundaries and if you receive consent, enjoy yourself! Pizza is always better when you get exactly what you want on it.

Author’s note: The Sexual Health Resource Centre is a volunteer run service, nothing read in these blogs should be taken to be legal advice.

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