What is consent anyway?
When I first started at UBC 4 years ago, I had never even heard of “consent”. I thought that you had to get some kind of a “yes” to engage in sexual activity with someone, but I honestly had no idea that that “yes” had to be verbal and freely given, or that you have the right to change your mind and retract your consent at any time. It’s actually terrifying to think that I could have been pressured into sexual activity , simply because I didn’t know how to say “no”, or didn’t realize that it was my right to change my mind, even if I was already hooking up with someone.
Like a lot of people I would imagine, I actually thought that coercion was a normal part of sexual activity. Laci Green a popular Youtuber with a Sex Ed channel, explains that sexual activity that has been coerced or forced is actually assault, and should not be normalized or tolerated.
In her video called Consent 101 Laci dispels a lot of myths about what consent is and is NOT:
- Consent is NOT present If there is coercion, which is one person convincing, manipulating, or guilt-tripping the other person into sexual activity of any kind.
- Sexual activity is never owed to someone, even if you’ve hooked up before, you’re flirting, bought them dinner or a gift, they said they would in advance, or even if you’re dating/in a relationship.
- Consent is NOT present if someone stops participating in the sexual activity
- This can be verbally or physically, or both. If someone is no longer communicating via verbal affirmation (that feels good, YES, keep going, don’t stop) or their body language shows discomfort or disengagement, then consent is no longer present.
- Silence/lack of a “no” does NOT equal consent
- Hesitation, discomfort, not participating all = no.
- Consent is NOT present if alcohol involved
- Sex is an act between 2 (or more) parties, it is not one-sided. Therefore, if alcohol interferes with the ability to ask for consent and/or give consent (enthusiastic freely given “YES!”) and continue to communicate throughout the activity, then it’s a no-go.
Another piece from the “Consent 101” video is that consent needs to be ongoing. The practice of this ongoing good consent involves:
- Checking in and keeping lines of communication open.
- Giving confirmation, both verbally and with body language= tell your partner when you like something, or when you don’t.
Keeping communication open during sexual activity allows you and your partner to both feel safe and tell each other what you want, like, and enjoy, and also what you don’t. Consent is an ongoing process and must be continually negotiated and revisited and it’s always a good idea to check in.
Consent is not just a question; it’s a conversation. Like any conversation, it requires mutual respect and good communication. If we keep these lines of communication open, we can create a culture where consent, along with respect, trust, and safety, are normalized. Beyond that, consent communication during sexual activity is not only necessary, but makes the experience more enjoyable for both parties. It’s much more fun and exciting knowing that you and your partner are both comfortable, safe, and respect each other. That sounds like good sex to me!