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6 things you need to know about sexual consent

Becky Moss

04 May 2018

You’re dreaming of exciting, mind-blowing, fun, sweet, heart-pumping sex with someone... but hold on, what’s sexual consent? And how does it work ‘in the moment’?

Two hands grasping each other on top of a black bed sheet
Photos are used for illustrative purposes. They do not imply health status or behaviour. Credit: iStock/nemke

1. “Yes, yes, YEEEEEES! That’s good!”

So let’s get this clear: when you say “YES” to sex you’re giving your consent to sexual activity RIGHT NOW, not for ever into the future.

Giving consent for a type of sexual activity, one time, doesn’t mean giving consent for doing that activity again – or any other sexual activity for that matter. And it applies to whatever type of sex you’re having, not just penetrative vaginal or anal sex.

No one can give an overall “YES” to all sexual activity when you don’t know exactly what your partner is thinking, or what you’re saying yes to. You wouldn’t do it for anything else, so why sex?

Remember too that sex is emotional and you may also suddenly feel like stopping – that’s YOUR RIGHT! You can change your mind ‘in the moment’ and you don’t have to have a reason.

2. When you’re ‘in the moment’, keep communicating

Be careful not to make any assumptions about what’s okay for the other person. Don’t have expectations about what they will do. Whether you’re getting closer and about to start having sex or you’re already ‘in the moment’, consent is all about good communication.

Getting consent when you don’t know someone very well is sometimes a bit awkward - it can feel like you’re changing the mood… and with regular partners we can forget to check. But the only way to really know what you’re both agreeing to is to keep communicating – it can be fun and even more of a turn on to talk about what you’re doing!

3. Sexual consent IS clear and positive

Sexual consent can be given in lots of different ways, but it’s clear and it’s positive.

It might be asking the other person when you want to do something new, for example saying, “Is this okay?” or “Is this good for you?” and getting a clear and positive response.

Or it might be clearly agreeing to certain activities, either by giving an enthusiastic “YES!” or something else that’s positive, like “Yes, I’m open to trying,” or “I’d like to see how it feels.”

Using clear physical cues – like letting out a sigh, reciprocating with a similar touch, looking your partner in the eye and smiling – to let them know that you’re comfortable taking things to the next level is another form of consent.

4. Sexual consent is NEVER about pressuring or taking advantage

Sexual consent is definitely not:

  • refusing to hear when someone says “NO” and carrying on
  • assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for more
  • taking advantage of someone who is so far gone on drugs or alcohol that they can’t make a clear choice
  • pressuring someone to have sex by intimidating them or making them feel scared
  • assuming you have consent to start or carry on because someone has given it in the past.

And if someone is under the legal age of consent then there can be no sexual consent. Period.

5. Don’t ever assume the other person wants to have sex with you

Just because you’re in a relationship with someone, or married to them, it doesn’t give them the right to do what they want to you – or you to them. It’s no different to sex with anyone else – you must both be up for it (whatever it is), each time.

There are lots of ways to say no without necessarily using the world “NO”. It’s the same with consent – someone may say it in other ways, like “not right now”, “I’m not sure”, or they might just stay silent. Their body language might also signal “NO” – you can tell because they might turn away, curl up, or not respond positively to being touched for example. They may just not be ready for sex.

What if you think, or can feel, that your partner is turned on? Sometimes we can be turned on but we don’t want to be touched – it’s certainly not an automatic invitation to sex. Our minds may want the opposite of what our bodies are doing which can be confusing and uncomfortable. Just communicate!

6. Consensual sex + safer sex = great sex!

And remember consensual sex is even better when it’s safer sex. You’ll feel more relaxed and comfortable, and more confident when having sex.

Condoms are still the best way to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancies, but there are other options too like PrEP, so make sure you’re clued up.

And one last thing… if you’re drinking alcohol or taking drugs, just be aware that you might make decisions that you wouldn’t normally, like going to the next level with someone or even deciding to have sex at all.

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