The topic of consent has rightfully been at the center of many Title IX discussions in recent years, as sexual health professionals have worked to establish a clear definition of consent and procedures for establishing it. Voluntary consent is the starting point for any sexual activity, which makes these discussions important not just for students, but for anyone who wishes to pursue a sexual relationship with another person.
The ways in which we define and talk about consent matter; this is how we ensure its continuation.
- Consent is fundamental. There are several commonly accepted definitions for consent, varying in length and detail but not in their essential meaning. A simple one from 10 Ways to Distinguish Consent reads as follows: “Consent is a clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed in mutually understandable words or actions, to engage in a particular activity.”
Another definition (from the N.Y. “Enough is Enough” Law), tailored towards sexual consent in particular, reads: “Affirmative consent is a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity.”
Consent is an absolutely fundamental starting point – there can be no sexual activity of any kind without it.
- Consent requires communication. When it comes to giving sexual consent, verbal communication is a must. Some people believe that looking to body language for consent is sufficient, but these actions can often be misinterpreted or conflicting.
In order to communicate clearly, you should talk with your partner beforehand about the particulars of sexual experience: your desires, limitations, things that you might expect or not expect to happen, and so on. Not only does this establish consent, it helps to create a safe, mutually beneficial environment for everyone involved, leading to more fulfilling sexual experiences.
- Consent is affirmative. Valid consent is verbal, voluntary, clear, and affirmative. This builds on the previous point – body language is not sufficient for giving consent, nor is the absence of saying “no.” In fact, there are a whole host of indicators that are or have been understood by some to imply consent, such as relationship status, flirtation, and even clothing choice; none of these should be understood as giving consent. If it’s not a clear, affirmative verbal agreement, it is not consent.
- Consent is voluntary. Affirmative consent must be given voluntarily, entirely out of each partner’s free will. Any form of coercion, threat, or demand to give consent immediately invalidates that consent. This means any form of pressure, including physical, emotional, or psychological force. It may be the case that a partner agrees to sexual activity because they are afraid of the possible repercussions of saying no. It is the responsibility of all partners involved, particularly the initiator, to ensure that a safe and open environment is created, where everyone feels able to speak honestly and without fear of the results of their decisions.
- Consent is always retractable. An extremely important point to keep in mind when discussing consent is that giving consent for one type of sexual activity does not extend that consent to all kinds of sexual activity. Affirmative consent must be established at each stage of sexual activity, and it can be retracted at any time.
Maintaining an open line of communication with your partner is essential to this process; talking with them about your wants and limitations before you engage in sexual activity can help in setting your expectations, and ensure against stepping over your partner’s boundaries. Being clear with one another helps create a secure environment, where partners can feel safe in retracting consent if and when they choose to do so.
Voluntary affirmative consent is the most fundamental part of any sexual experience, and communicating openly and honestly with each other is a necessary part of establishing it. Talking with your partner results in a more positive environment for sexual activity, and the trust that you establish makes the experiences enjoyable for everyone involved. Remember: only yes means yes.
Do you have something to add to the discussion? What are some other important points to remember when communicating consent? Share in the comments below.
Source(s): Yes Means Yes, 10 Ways to Distinguish Consent by Connie Kirkland