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What is Sexual Consent? Understanding Yes & No

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Consent is an absolutely vital part of any kind of sexual behavior, regardless of gender, orientation, or status of relationship. Understanding and respecting consent is necessary to being healthy, safe, and even legal.

Luckily, consent isn’t difficult to understand. It means to agree, give permission, or say “yes” to sexual activity with another person. Consent must be voluntary and mutual between partners.

Sounds easy, right? So why does consent still get violated or misunderstood? Sometimes, it is out of malicious intention to harm another person. Often, however, it is a problem of “assumption.”

Consent should NOT be assumed by:

  • Body language, Appearance, or Non-Verbal Communication: One should never assume by the way a person dresses, smiles, looks or acts, that they want to have sex with you.
  • Dating Relationships or Previous Sexual Activity: Simply because two people are dating or have had sex in the past does not mean that they are consenting to have sex with you. Also, consent to engage in one sexual activity at one time is not consent to engage in a different sexual activity or to engage in the same sexual activity on a later occasion.
  • Marriage: Even in marriage, a person should not assume they have consent for sexual activity. Marital rape is as serious as any other sexual assault.
  • Silence, Passivity, Lack of Resistance, or Immobility: A person’s silence should not be considered consent. A person who does not respond to attempts to engage in sexual activity, even if they do not verbally say no or resist physically, is not clearly agreeing to sexual activity. The absence of a “no” does not equal “yes.”
  • Incapacitation: Alcohol consumption or use of other drugs can cause a person to be incapable of giving consent. Alcohol is often used as a weapon to target individuals and is used by perpetrators to excuse their own actions.

There are a couple of other key things to know when it comes to consent. One important factor to keep in mind is that there are serious legal ramifications for engaging in sexual activity with anyone under age, whether it is mutually consensual or not. Know the law, keep the law, or reap the consequences. And secondly, remember: consent can be withdrawn at any time. No means no, and each person has the right to change their mind even after sexual activity has begun.

Let’s talk about what positive consent DOES look like in the moment:

  • Communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this okay?”
  • Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
  • Using obvious physical cues (head nods, two thumbs up, etc.) to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level.

Consistent, open communication about consent is key to keeping yourself safe. If you or someone that you know has not had their consent respected, we want to help. Please visit our clinic or give us a call today.

Like anything with relationships, the best thing to do if you’re not sure is to just ask. You got this!

Sources for this article are available upon request.

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