What is consent?

We require consent for a number of things in our everyday lives. You鈥檒l need consent in the workplace, at University, and in many social scenarios too.

In short, consent is obtaining the permission or approval of something before you follow through. We鈥檒l be discussing how consent applies to intimate relationships and sexual activity, what it looks like and most importantly, what behaviour doesn't equate to consent.

What is consensual sex?

Consensual sex is where both parties feel they are in a confident, comfortable and trusting situation. But some people may not understand or know if they have acquired consent.

Communication is key

Talk to one another to understand your expectations of what is about to happen, and what each individual is comfortable with. Different people have different boundaries, so always bear this in mind.

Communication cues are not always verbal either; look out for signs coming from each other’s body language – before and during sexual activity. For example, if someone is frozen, motionless or doesn’t seem to be responding verbally in an enthusiastic manner, they’re unlikely to be enjoying themselves and you need to check in to see if they want to continue.

Don’t assume

Just because the situation is enjoyable for you, it’s not an excuse to get carried away and assume your partner is enjoying themselves as well. Remember, porn is not an accurate account, it's an exaggerated act often with immediate gratification. Real sex and consent takes time and effort, which is why you need to ask before you act.

Continue to ask your partner throughout if they’re okay, and if what you are doing is alright and feels good for them.

If they don’t say ‘yes’, pause in their response or show any other signals which suggests they are not enjoying themselves, stop what you’re doing. An unenthusiastic or even neutral response could suggest they want the act to be over with as soon as possible, which suggests they are not having an enjoyable experience. 

Sex is about pleasure and not pressure

Sex should be a fun experience, but some people may be more vulnerable when it comes to sexual activity, so be patient and don’t pressure your partner into anything. It might be their first time ever, their first time with a different person, or they might have had a bad sexual experience previously.

Ask questions and say statements such as “Is this okay?”, “Tell me to stop or slow down if anything I do makes you feel uncomfortable”, and “Does this feel good for you?”. Someone who feels forced, coerced or manipulated into sexual activity may not be able to talk clearly because their brain is telling them they are in danger, so ensure you are looking out for physical cues too. 

Consent DOES NOT look like

  • Engaging in sexual activity with someone who is unconscious, asleep, or intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.
  • Pressuring or coercing someone into a sexual act(s).
  • Continuing with sexual activity despite your partner changing their mind part-way through, whether it’s by showing physical signs or verbally saying they’re not comfortable or enjoying it anymore. 
  • Checking consent for one sexual act, but not obtaining consent about other sexual acts you want to do.
  • Ignoring cues from your partner eg them pushing you away, or choosing to not stay to the agreed expectations and limitations discussed prior.

Consent Collective TV

To learn more about consent and other important issues about sex, relationships and sexual harassment, sign up to Consent Collective TV. It’s available to all students and staff using your University email address.