When someone gives consent, they're giving permission for something to happen or agreeing to do something. It can be verbal or nonverbal, but must be clear, specific, and ongoing. The key to consent is open communication. Talk to your partner about your respective boundaries, and honor each other’s boundaries without question.
When and How to Ask for Consent
Ask for consent before engaging in any type of physical contact including touching, kissing, and any form of sexual activity. A mutual and explicit agreement must be made each time, even if your partner has consented in the past. Communicate when changing the type or degree of activity in a non-forceful way that implies no pressure. Use verbal and/or physical cues to affirm consent. Consent must be clear, specific, voluntary, ongoing, and coherent.
- “Is this okay?”
- “Are you comfortable?”
- “Can we ____?”
- “Do you want to cuddle?”
- “Can I kiss you?”
- “Is it okay if I touch you here?”
- “Can I unbutton your pants?”
- “Tell me to stop whenever you want.”
- “We don’t have to do something you’re not comfortable with.”
- “I only want this if you want this.”
- “You can say no.”
- “Do you want to keep going?”
- “Do you want to slow down?”
- “Can I take your shirt off now?”
- “I know we’ve done this before, but do you want to do it now?”
- “Are you sober?”
- “Are you sure you’re comfortable with this?”
- “We can stop at any time.”
What Non-consent Looks Like
If your partner appears unsure, uncomfortable, intoxicated, or explicitly rejects your advances, that is non-consent. Your partner may use verbal and/or non-verbal ways to not consent. These include:
- “I don’t know”/“Um…I guess”/“Maybe”/“No”
- Pulling away, tensing up, and/or flinching
- Becoming silent, failing to respond, and/or laughing nervously
- Saying “yes” under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
If your partner seems unsure, check in with them. Ask question such as:
- “Do you want to stop/take a break?”
- “Are you okay?”
- “Do you want to try this another time?”
- “Do you want to watch TV or do something else?”
If you sense your partner is uncomfortable, they most likely are.
You, and only you, have rights to your body. You are free to consent only when YOU want, and you are free to withdraw that consent at any time. This is true for your partner and others around you.
How to Hear No – Respectfully
It’s okay for your partner to say no, even if they have said yes in the past. Many factors can influence a person’s decision to engage or not engage in sexual activity, and they have the power to make that decision independent of your desires. Sincerely respect your partner’s boundaries and be appreciative of their honesty, and express that to your partner. Reassure them that you honor their boundaries and are grateful for their ability to be honest with you.
Smartphones, social media, and constant web access make can make communication faster and easier than ever. That means that the progression of relationships can also seem to move at a quicker pace. When that happens, it can be easy to forget the importance of consent.
Be particularly mindful of consent when interacting through social media, cell phones, or online. Today’s culture is driven by technology, so know how to ask for and how to give or not give digital consent when it shows up.
How Digital Consent Shows Up and How to Handle It
Texting/Talking on the Phone
Your cell phone is always available, but your partner might not be - and that’s okay.
- Talk to your partner about how often you want to text or talk on the phone.
- Figure out a reasonable amount of time to respond - some people need a few minutes while others need a few hours.
- Discuss the times when you or your partner are unavailable such as work, family dinners, personal time, etc.
Social media and the web are not spaces for privacy. You and your partner should decide what is appropriate for sharing and what you prefer to be kept private.
- Discuss your partner’s feelings on sharing and tagging photos of them, and on posting about your relationship online.
- Ask your partner if they’d prefer to see the photo or post before you share, or if they are comfortable with you not checking in first.
Sending sexual photos, videos, or messages to your partner can be part of your relationship, but it doesn’t have to be.
- Ask your partner if they feel comfortable sexting, and be respectful if they say no. It’s valid to be concerned about sharing private content through your phone or computer.
- If your partner is comfortable sexting, check in with them before sending anything. Digital consent must also be ongoing.
- Never send unwanted sexts.
Digital sexual interactions should feel safe, comfortable, and voluntary.
- If your request for a nude photo is rejected, respect their choice.
- Never pressure or guilt someone into sending something they’re not comfortable with.
- Never share someone’s nude photo with anyone else. This could be illegal.
- Storing or sharing nude photos of someone under 18 could also be illegal, even if you are also under 18.