There’s been a lot of discussion in the news lately about when a person can and can’t consent. Unfortunately, most people aren’t taught about consent and communication when they receive sex-ed in high school. You might have been taught how your genitals work and how to protect them, but you probably weren’t taught about how to talk to your partner(s). If you were lucky, you were taught “no means no”.
However, there’s so much more to negotiating consent than “no means no”. If someone doesn’t say “yes” and say it with enthusiasm, then that means “no”!
Maybe means no.
Not right now means no.
I’m too drunk means no.
Silence means no.
Can we just [do this]? means no.
So, how do you know if someone is saying “yes”? Ask them! It doesn’t have to be as awkward or outright as “Do you want to have sex?” but asking along the way “Do you like that?” or “Do you want to use a condom?” or “Do you want me to do [this] to you?” will ensure that you’re on the same page.
As well, watch for non-verbal cues. Do they seem hesitant? That would be a good time to ask something like “Do you like when I do [this]?” or “Do you want me to do [this]?” And if you sense hesitancy, be sure to give your partner(s) an out: Make it clear to them that you won’t continue without their explicit consent using statements like, “We can stop if you like” or “I’m happy just to make out/cuddle/hang out.”
Remember to never assume that you have consent. Just because someone has previously consented to a sexual activity doesn’t mean that they automatically consent to it again. Just because they have given you explicit and enthusiastic consent to do one sexual act doesn’t mean that they consent to other ones. Just because a former partner consented to certain acts doesn’t mean that a new partner will or should be expected to. Always ask and never assume.
And take refusals seriously! If you’re asking for consent, don’t dismiss or mock your partner’s concerns or hesitancy when they voice it. If they say they don’t want to do a certain act, ask if they want you to continue what you are doing or if they want to do something different. It’s also important that you be honest with your partner about what your boundaries are. Do not be afraid to say “no”, or “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that”, or “I don’t think I’m ready for that”. Try not to be judgmental or dismissive of your partner and their desires though, as this may prevent them from being honest with you in the future. If you think you and your partner(s) are experiencing desire discrepancy, you can consult our previous blog on the topic for some tips on navigating that.
Basically, enthusiastic consent means that there is active communication between participants. A bonus of asking your partner for consent throughout is that they are more likely to tell you what they do and do not like about any sexual acts or techniques. Actively checking in your partner not only means that you’ve received consent, but it also means that you’re showing your dedication to being a good and generous partner.
Communicating with your partner(s) isn’t an easy task. It takes practice, especially if you haven’t been brought up with friends or family that communicated openly and honestly. It’s not like there’s much to learn from TV or movies, either — our lives aren’t pre-scripted and our embarrassing moments aren’t edited out. Your partner(s) will react differently than your on-screen crushes and idols, and your partners will react differently from each other. Approach all conversations with an open mind and honest responses, and hopefully your partner(s) will do the same.
This blog is being run in conjunction with the Sexual Health Resource Centre, located in the JDUC, room 223. Follow them on Twitter @shrckingston.
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