Why does consent matter?
Consent is when someone agrees to do something sexual with you — whether it’s kissing, touching, oral sex, vaginal sex, or anal sex. Before doing any of those things, it needs to be totally clear that both people involved want it.
That means if you want to do something sexual with someone, you need to ask first. If you don’t ask first before you touch, kiss, or do anything sexual with someone, and they don’t say yes, then you don’t have that person’s consent, and what you’re doing to them may be rape or sexual assault. That’s why consent matters.
Asking for consent isn’t hard or awkward. In fact, it makes doing sexy stuff less awkward and less confusing because when there’s clear consent, you know for sure that the person you’re with is down to do the same thing you are.
- Freely given. It’s not okay to pressure, trick, or threaten someone into saying yes. And you can’t give consent if you’re drunk, high, or passed out.
- Reversible. It’s okay to say yes and then change your mind — at any time! Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
- Informed. You can only consent to something if you have all the facts. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.
- Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should do stuff you WANT to do, not things people expect you to do. If someone doesn’t seem enthusiastic (meaning happy, excited, or energized), stop and check in.
- Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’re saying yes to other things (like having sex).
There are laws about who’s able to consent. If the person you’re with is…
- Drunk or high
- Asleep or passed out
- Below the legal age of consent or much younger than you
- Disabled in a way that affects their ability to understand you
…then they can’t consent, and it’s not okay for you to do anything sexual with them.
What does consent look like?
Consent is a clear, happy, excited “yes!” Anything else is NOT consent.
So, how do you get that? Ask. Asking for consent is a piece of cake: state what you want to do, and ask if they want to do that too.
Example: I really want to kiss you. Do you want me to?
- If they say “yes” and seem happy, that means they’re consenting, and you can kiss them. Party on!
- If they say “yes” but don’t seem unsure or worried about it, they are NOT consenting. Check in again by saying “Are you sure? We don’t have to do that.”
- If they say “no,” or “I don’t know,” or don’t say anything, they’re not consenting, and you need to stop and ask what they’re feeling/thinking.
- Remember: consent for 1 sexual thing doesn’t mean consent for all sexual things.
- It’s okay for you or the person you’re with to say “stop” at any time. Pay attention to what you partner says, and how happy they seem about it.
Let’s say you hooked up with someone, and everything went great. A few weeks later you think you and that person might hook up again. You need to ask for consent all over again. It’s not enough to get consent just once — consent needs to happen every time.
You also have the right to say “no” to anything at any time, even if you’ve done it in the past. Even if you’re seriously dating someone and you’ve done something a bunch of times, it’s still important to ask for consent, and to check in with each other.
If you ask for consent and someone says no, try not to take it too personally. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person doesn’t like you, either. Different people have different boundaries.
But once you know a person isn’t cool with what you’re asking, stop asking. Don’t try to make them feel bad for saying no to you, or try to convince them that they’re wrong or missing out. That’s disrespectful, and not fun at all.
If someone asks for your consent to do something sexual, and you want to do it, consenting is easy. All you have to do is say “yes!” You might also consider “omg totally,” “please do that,” “yes, and…” or your own sexy version of “I’m into this.”
But what if you don’t want to consent to something sexual? If the person you’re with asks for your consent, it’s easier to say no. But unfortunately, lots of people don’t ask for consent before they start touching, kissing, undressing, or doing other sexual things to your body. And telling someone you don’t want to do something can sometimes feel hard. It’s normal to worry about disappointing them, especially if you like them. But you don’t have to apologize or explain yourself. Just saying “no,” or “stop” is enough.
Here are some other ways to say “no.”
- I don’t like that.
- I’m not into that.
- I’m not ready for that.
- I don’t feel like it today.
- I really like you, but I don’t want to do that right now.
- I’ll only do that if we use a condom.
- How about we do ____ instead?
If the person you’re with pressures you to try something, it means they don’t know how to respect your boundaries, and that’s not cool.
If you say “no” or “stop” to someone, and they keep doing that thing, that’s sexual assault. It’s NEVER okay for someone to touch you in a sexual way without your permission, and it’s not your fault if they do. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, abused, or raped, help is available.