by deb kozak
Sexual consent? Sure, we see people talking about sex on everything from movies, to reality tv shows like The Bachelorette or Jersey Shore. While it might seem like sex is everywhere, conversations about consent are not. In fact, we’re more likely to hear about consent in media and in our communities only after a sex act has occurred and there’s some doubt about whether everyone involved wanted it to happen.
So what exactly is consent? Quite simply, it is the voluntary, sober, and mutual agreement we make with other people to be sexually active together.
That means any time we’re being sexual active with other people – doing things like deep kissing, touching genitals, oral sex, anal sex, or intercourse – every one of us has the right to decide at any time that we want to stop what’s happening. That’s right, at any time.
Consent to one kind of sexual contact with someone does not mean we agree to doing any other sexual act with them. Having sex on one occasion – or several occasions – does not mean we’re okay with having sex with that person at any other time. No matter what our relationship is to our sex partner – if we’re married, living together, dating casually or exclusively, just hooking up, or working in the sex trade – no one is ever obligated to have sex when they don’t want to. Consent means that every sexual act with every sexual partner requires their agreement, every single time.
Why does consent matter so much? Consider this fact: under the law, sexual activity without consent of the other person is defined as sexual assault, even if it doesn’t involve force, threats or violence.
The law also says that it’s impossible for anyone to consent to sex when we’re not mentally or physically able to make the choice to do so. That means someone who is drunk or high or too sick to say “Yes, I want to do this.” in a clear way can’t legally give their consent. Even if they seem eager, having sex under these circumstances may still legally be considered sexual assault. “Whoa“ you may say, “This is sounding kind of complicated! How can anyone know when it’s really okay to have sex with someone else?”
The answer is simple. The best way to ensure consent between sex partners is ask in an on-going conversation that explores each other’s sexual desires, needs, likes and dislikes. “Can I touch you like this?” “Do you want to keep going?” “What do you think about _____? Would you like to try it sometime?”
Equally simple – and most important: if your partner asks you to stop what you’re doing, – or gets quiet, or changes their body language – STOP. If you’re not sure what they want in the moment, ask “Do you want to stop this?” and STOP.
Some people worry that talking about sexual consent like means our sexy times can’t ever be spontaneous or that the conversation will sound scripted or unnatural. While it may not be easy at first, talking about consent definitely gets easier with a little practice. It helps to remember that talking about sexual interests is a natural part of getting to know our partners… and ourselves! Talking about consent can happen anywhere – in the bedroom while exploring and expressing our sexual selves or when we’re completely dressed and having coffee. Wherever they happen, conversations about consent are important, necessary, and can help each of us enjoy ethical, respectful, safe, and mutually satisfying relationships that may sometimes include sex (when we and our partners agree to it) and sometimes not (if that’s what we choose).
Next in our Smart Sex/Great Sex series, we’ll talk about when sex happens without consent.
Note: If you’re concerned about a sexual encounter that happened without your consent, know that it is not your fault . If you have been sexually assaulted – or think you have been and you’re not quite sure – call the Klinic Sexual Assault line at 204.786.8631 (in Winnipeg) or 1.888.292.7565 (toll-free outside Winnipeg).