5 things you need to know about sexual consent

Content warning

This article discusses sexual assault.

If you’re currently in distress, please head to 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) for support.

guy talking to girl

In a nutshell, sexual consent is when you and your sexual partner both agree to have sex or engage in any kind of sexual activity. Sexual consent is all about ongoing communication; you and your partner should be checking in with each other during any sexual activity to make sure you are comfortable with what you are doing.

There’s only one way to know for sure if someone has given their consent: if they tell you. Active consent means that you and your partner give each other a clear and explicit ‘yes’ to the sexual activity. It’s no good just to assume that the other person is as into what you are doing as you are. The absence of a ‘no’ isn’t enough. It’s extremely important to check, because any non-consensual sexual activity (even kissing and touching) is harmful and against the law.

2. You can always change your mind

You or your sexual partner can decide at any time that you don’t want to keep going, even if you have already started having sex. If this happens, both people should stop. If you don’t, that’s sexual assault.

3. It's good to check in with each other

Take notice of your sexual partner’s body language. For example, if they seem tense or uncomfortable, pause and ask them how they’re feeling. But in saying that, if you are uncomfortable with anything you are doing, don’t just rely on your partner to notice your body language - tell them how you are feeling and if you want to stop or take a break.

4. It's fine to slow things down or stop

There’s really no reason or rush to have sex, or do anything sexual, if you’re not feeling it. If things are moving along too quickly for you, you could say something like ‘Can we slow down?’, ‘Can we take a break?’ or ‘Can we stop?’ Your partner should always respect your feelings.

If you’re really drunk or high, you can’t give consent. This is because consent must be given freely. If you are intoxicated, your capacity to make decisions can be affected and your decision might be influenced by drugs and alcohol. And if you’re sexual in any way with someone who's drunk or high and doesn’t know what’s going on and therefore can’t give informed consent, it’s equivalent to sexually assaulting or raping them.

What can I do now?

  • Check that your sexual partner is comfortable with what's going on.

  • Read about safe sex.

  • Read more about sexual assault.