Understanding consent and the role that it plays in healthy sexual relationships is critical for partners of all ages, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. Clearly confirming that you have your partner’s consent before engaging in sexual activity together is crucial every single time, no matter what.
Use the information below to ensure that you fully understand what consent is (and is not) and to help you and your partner create healthy boundaries and a relationship based on trust and respect.
If you have questions about consent or have experienced a situation where consent was not given (sexual assault), the staff at Atwell Centre is available to listen, offer non-judgmental support and guidance, and connect you with resources to help you heal and move forward.
What Is Consent?
Consent is a clear, conscious, and freely given decision to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity. True consent isn’t coerced by force or intimidation and can be withdrawn at any time.
Consent cannot be given by an individual who is underage, asleep or unconscious, intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, or engaged in sexual activity with someone in a position of power (teacher, boss, coach, etc.).
Silence or the absence of protest does not constitute consent.
How Does Consent Work?
Consent is based on clear communication, and it needs to be communicated every time you engage in sexual activity with a partner, no matter the type of sexual activity or the nature of the relationship.
Past consent doesn’t constitute consent in the present moment (you always have the right to change your mind). Consent for one activity (such as making out) doesn’t constitute consent for another activity (such as removing clothing).
If you’re not 100% sure that consent has been given, ask your partner for a clear verbal affirmation. Asking for consent can sound like:
- Would it be alright if I…?
- Does this feel good to you?
- May I…? Is this ok?
- I’m interested in doing…. Would you be into that?
- Do you feel safe and comfortable?
Verbal consent is the most safe and clear form of consent. Verbal consent may sound like:
- That feels great
- I’d like you to…
- Let’s do more
Non-verbal communication can also constitute sexual consent. Non-verbal cues that indicate voluntary agreement may include:
- A clear head nod
- Thumbs up
- Actively pulling a partner closer
- Direct eye contact
- Initiating sexual activity
Non-verbal cues can sometimes be ambiguous or misinterpreted. If you have any doubt about what your partner is trying to communicate, ask for a verbal response.
Consent can be withdrawn at any time using verbal or non-verbal cues. Check-in with your partner prior to changing or escalating sexual activities, and stop immediately if consent is unclear.
What Is Enthusiastic Consent?
Enthusiastic consent is consent that is confirmed through the presence of a clear yes rather than through the absence of a clear no.
What Enthusiastic Consent Looks Like
Enthusiastic consent can look like:
- Asking permission before any type of sexual touching or other sexual contact.
- Clearly expressing that an activity can be stopped at any time.
- Waiting for affirmative consent before changing or escalating sexual behaviour.
What Consent Does NOT Look Like
Consent does NOT look like:
- Saying no or stop
- Unresponsiveness or disengagement
- Visibly being upset
- Pulling away
- Being intoxicated, asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unable to make a clear decision
- Intimidation, threats, or pressuring
Consent plays an incredibly important role in healthy sexual relationships, no matter the age, background, or sexual orientation of the partners involved. To learn more about what consent means or for support around a situation where consent was not given, visit our Halton or Hamilton clinic. We are always ready to welcome you.