What is sexual consent?

Knowing why consent is important is really worthwhile when starting a sexual relationship. There are verbal and physical cues as well as things you can say if you want things to slow down or stop. When alcohol and drugs are involved it can be very difficult to give genuine consent, so the bottom line is to have a conversation and not to pressure someone if they don’t feel ready.

This might help if you:

  • Want to know more about consent
  • You’re not sure how to tell if someone is consenting
  • You want to know how to slow down or stop sexual intercourse
couple huggin

Why is consent important?

Whenever you have sex, you need to make sure that your partner is just as enthusiastic about having sex. In other words, that they give their full consent.

It's important that you are 100% sure that the person you're with is happy and willing because non-consensual sexual activity (even kissing and touching) is actually against the law.

Not only is sex without consent a crime, but being pressured or forced into a sexual situation you’re not ready for (also known as rape and sexual assault) can do lasting emotional damage. It’s not enough to just assume someone wants sex as much as you, you really have to ask.

How do you know if the person you're with has given their consent?

The only way to know for sure if someone has given consent is if they tell you. Sometimes the person you're with might look like they're happy doing something but on the inside they're not.

One of the best ways to determine if someone is uncomfortable with any situation, especially with a sexual one, is to simply ask. Here are some examples of the questions you might ask:

  • Are you happy with this?
  • Do you want to stop?
  • Do you want to go further?

The look on someone's face and their body language is also a way of communicating and often has more meaning then the words that come out of their mouth. Ways you can tell if a person is not feeling sure about sex include:

  • Not responding to your touch
  • Pushing you away
  • Holding their arms tightly around their bodies
  • Turning away from you or hiding their face
  • Stiffening muscles

If you get a negative or non-committal answer to any of these questions or if your partner's body language is like any of the above examples then you should stop what you are doing and talk to them about it.

Slowing things down

Taking your time, making sure you are both comfortable and talking about how far you want to go will make the time you spend together a lot more satisfying and enjoyable for both of you. 

Some things you can say to slow things down if you feel that things are going too quickly:

  • I don't want to go any further than kissing, hugging, touching.
  • Can we stay like this for while?
  • Can we slow down?

Stopping

You always have the right to say 'no' and you always have the right to change your mind at any time regardless of how far things have gone. Below are some things you can say or do if you want to stop:

  • No.
  • Say 'I want to stop'.
  • Say 'I need to go to the toilet'.
  • In a situation where the other person isn't listening to you and you feel unsafe, you could pretend you are going to vomit (it's amazing how quickly someone moves away from you if they think you are going to be sick).

When drugs or alcohol are involved

Drugs and alcohol can affect people's ability to make decisions, including whether or not they want to be sexual with someone else. This means that if someone is really drunk or high, they cannot give consent. Being with them in a sexual way when they don't know what's going on is equal to rape, because they cannot give informed consent.

The bottom line

The key to pleasurable sex for everyone involved is to know that you’re both as enthusiastic as each other. If you’re not sure, or it doesn’t feel right, don’t keep going. Don’t pressure someone if they’re not sure, just wait and if the time is right, the time is right.

What can I do now?

  • Always make sure that your partner is comfortable with what’s going on.
  • Make sure you talk to your partner before moving forward.
  • Don’t pressure someone if they don’t feel ready.
Last reviewed: 07 August, 2015
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