The LGBT Health & Development Program

Youth Blog–How Do I Know I Have Received Sexual Consent?

Posted on December 17th, 2015 by Darnell in Featured, Sexual Health, Youth Blog. No Comments

"Flirting is not Consent" written in sidewalk chalk

Image credit: Wolfram Burner, “Flirting is not consent,” May 7, 2014

Seeking sexual consent means confirming that your sexual partner has agreed to engage in whatever behavior you are doing together. Clear consent ensures that all partners can feel comfortable and enjoy what is happening.

However, there are many myths which make consent confusing.

  • Myth 1:  Men cannot be raped. There is a belief that men always desire sex and therefore their consent may not be needed [1]. However, every person has the right to refuse to engage in sexual acts. Not wanting to have sex doesn’t make someone less of a man, just as wanting to have sex doesn’t make someone less of a woman.
  • Myth 2:  If a person is sexually aroused, they’ve given sexual consent. Our bodies respond to sexual attention in ways that are not always congruent with what we are thinking. Sexual touch may cause physical arousal, but that does not mean the person desires to have sex.
  • Myth 3:  Having done sexual things in the past means that my partner will be open to those things again. As with any of our preferences, they may differ from day to day. Accordingly, even for acts that we’ve done with our partners before, it is worth it to make sure that they are open to it now. There may be any number of reasons they are not interested this time.
  • Myth 4:  If we are already doing sexual things, I have permission to do more sexual things. While people may not verbally check in before every additional sexual act, it is important to recognize that a partner can give you permission to do some things and not others. Also, a partner can always withdraw their consent.

Here are some important things to remember as you ensure that you have your partner’s consent.

  • It’s your responsibility to know if you have consent. It is not your partner’s responsibility to tell you “no.” It is important to realize there are a lot of reasons someone might be unable to say “no” [2]. For example, a partner may fear saying “no” or may feel pressured not to say “no.” As such, regular communication with sexual partners is essential.
  • Only yes means yes. Sometimes a partner will say “maybe” or offer an ambiguous answer to if they are open to particular acts. Those answers can’t be taken as consent. Accordingly, be careful about trying to pursue those acts, because the person may clarify that you do not have consent.
  • There are questions you can ask to check for consent. While some people fear that discussing consent will ruin the sexual mood, there are ways to ask questions that ensure consent while maintaining the vibe.
    • “Would you like me to stop?”
    • “Are you comfortable?”
    • “How far do you want to go?”
    • “Does that feel good?”

A useful resource for understanding consent is this video which uses a metaphor of drinking tea.

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[1] Jozkowski, K.N. & Peterson, Z.D. (2013). College students and sexual consent: Unique insights. Journal of Sex Research, 50(6), 517-523. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2012.700739.

[2] Fantasia, H.C. (2011). Really not even a decision any more: Late adolescent narratives of implied sexual consent. Journal of Forensic Nursing, 7(3), 120-129. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-3938.2011.01108.x

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