Consent: Compliance in or approval of what is done or proposed by another; agreement as to action or opinion —Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Sexual consent is clear and enthusiastic agreement or permission given freely by a person to their partner during or prior to participating in sexual activity. Regardless of the nature of the relationship between two people, it is the responsibility of the person who initiates the sexual activity to make sure the other person agrees every time. Consent that was given in the past does not apply to the present. Consent must be ongoing and may be withdrawn at any time during the activity.
Asking for another’s consent means asking questions like…
- “I want to kiss you… may I?”
- “Do you like this? Should I keep going?”
- “I would like it if you touched me here. Would you be comfortable doing that?”
- “You don’t seem comfortable. Do you want me to stop?”
We might also look deeply into someone’s eyes, move closer to them or take their hand and observe whether they react positively (i.e., by smiling) or seem uncomfortable (if they look away or draw back, for example). It is important to pay close attention to the other person’s facial expressions when we initiate sexual activity and throughout.
It is always preferable, however, to explicitly ask for consent and obtain a verbal response.
A person must be able to give their informed consent freely. Consent is not valid if the person…
- is unconscious or under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- is forced to participate in sexual activity through intimidation, manipulation or threats
- is under 18 and there is a relationship of trust, authority or dependence between them and the person initiating the sexual activity.
Validity of consent is defined by law in Canada. Without the other’s consent, any sexual act is considered to be sexual assault.
Consent is not considered to have been obtained in situations of…
- emotional manipulation: “If you really loved me, you’d do what I’m asking you to do.”
- blackmail: “If you don’t do what I want, I’ll post nude videos of you on Facebook.”
- intimidation: “Everyone knows me here—who do you think they’ll believe?”
- threat: “If you try to stop me, I’ll hit you.”