Before any sexual encounter, it’s important for partners to agree to what will take place. Doing so fosters respect and establishes boundaries so that everyone involved knows what to expect and can relax and enjoy the experience.
This type of agreement is considered sexual consent. But unfortunately, sexual consent isn’t always easy to understand or interpret.
The easiest way to obtain consent is to simply ask for it. Partners might ask each other:
- Do you want to have sex with me?
- Do you want to engage in this type of sexual activity (e.g., oral sex, anal sex, BDSM)
If the answer is yes, then consent is given. If the partner says no, or hesitates in any way, it is not given.
When discussing consent with your partner, keep these points in mind:
- Consent must be agreed to before every sexual encounter. This may mean having ongoing conversations about it. If one person consents to sex on one occasion, that consent does not “transfer” over to subsequent sexual encounters.
- Consent must be given for each type of sexual activity. For example, a person might agree to vaginal sex, but not want oral sex. Their partner should honor that.
- A person who is incapacitated in any way – such as through drinking, drug use, or disability – cannot give consent.
- Partners should be old enough and mature enough to grant consent.
- Consent should be given freely, without any coercion or pressure.
- If a person says “yes” to sex, but their attitude or body language suggests that they’re not comfortable or not certain, then consent is not granted. Always ask for clarification.
- Partners can change their minds about sexual activity and withdraw consent at any time, for any reason. For example, if one partner has consented to anal sex at the start of the encounter, but then has second thoughts and says they’re not comfortable with it, anal sex should not happen.
Many people have trouble talking about sex, and it’s not unusual to feel a bit awkward when starting a conversation about consent. If you feel uncomfortable about it, be open with your partner. Chances are, they will want to have the discussion too.
Talking about consent can lead to further helpful conversations about sex. You and your partner can talk about what you like or dislike, or what you’ve thought about experimenting with. You might discover that you have interests in common.
Above all, be honest. Don’t answer questions the way you think your partner wants you to. Consent needs to be mutual, and together you can decide what your sexual experiences will be like.
“How do I talk about consent?”
“Understanding Sexual Consent”
(December 15, 2015)
“It Does Not Count As Consent When A Woman Says “I Guess” To Having Sex With You”
(December 6, 2017)
“14 Sex Questions To Ask Your Partner To Ensure Sexual Consent”
(June 2, 2019)