What is consent?
Defining consent is difficult, as there are a lot of concepts and misinformation out there around the topic. My favorite definition of the term is from Scarleteen who says consent is, “ An active process of willingly and freely choosing to participate in sex of any kind with someone else, and a shared responsibility for everyone engaging in, or who wants to engage in, any kind of sexual interaction with someone. When there is a question or invitation about sex of any kind, when consent is mutually given or affirmed, the answer on everyone’s part is an enthusiastic yes.” (1)
We can also define consent from a legal standpoint. This varies from state to state, but Cornel Law defines the term as, “When a person voluntarily and willfully agrees to undertake an action that another person suggests. The consenting person must possess sufficient mental capacity.” (2) Since we got into the first part of this definition already, lets get into the second part: The consenting person must possess sufficient mental capacity. So in what situations can someone not consent? First, someone cannot consent if they are under the legal age of consent (you can find your state laws here). There are also many other situations in which someone cannot consent, for example: while drugged, intoxicated, with certain disabilities, while unconscious, when physically forced, etc.
Remember, just because someone initially consented to something doesn’t mean they want something else or that they cannot withdraw consent. Consent can be withdrawn for any reason and at anytime, and when it is withdrawn and you do not stop that is sexual assault.
Safe Words and safe actions are another important part of sexual encounters and consent. These are commonly used in BDSM, but are something everything should consider employing. Sometimes, things just go too far or something happens that hurts and it needs to be shut down. Discussing a safe word with your partner(s) prior to engaging in any sexual acts can help make sure that they know your consent has been revoked. It is also a good idea to have some sort of action as a stand in for a safe word for certain activities. Maybe when you drop an object you were holding or hit the bedpost, this will signal to your partner that you have revoked your consent. Discussing your limits as well as your safe word beforehand protects everyone involved.
Don’t know how to ask? Here are some helpful tips:
What is not consent?
Since sometimes consent can seem like a gray area, it is just as important to discuss what isn’t consent as what is. Saying nothing is not consent. Coercion is not consent. “Maybe” or “I don’t know” is not consent. Wearing a revealing outfit is not consent. When you ask for consent, you want an enthusiastic yes or some variation of it.
Now remember, consent isn’t just sexy… it is mandatory.