Consent is when someone is really excited to do something and they tell their partner. For example, when you tell someone that you really want to kiss, you’re consenting to kissing. With anything from hugging to wild sex, there’s consent when everyone involved is really into doing something.
Understanding and respecting your and your partners’ wants when you’re doing anything sexual is very important. However, it’s also important in other parts of life! Here, we mostly focus on consent in sex, but it can help to get and give consent for all kinds of things, like:
- Giving or getting a hug
- Calling someone a nickname
- Talking about something that’s emotionally intense
- Going on a date with someone
- Inviting someone over
What consent means
For a person to consent to something, they have be free to say yes or no. This means they aren’t being pressured to say “yes” just to satisfy another person. If someone says “yes” because they’re afraid of the consequences of saying “no”, that isn’t consent. It’s never okay to force someone to say “yes” to something they don’t really want to do.
Consent also means that the person saying “yes” is sober (not under the influence of drugs or alcohol). Some people feel comfortable doing things when they are a little bit tipsy or high, but not everyone does. If you or a partner plan to use drugs or alcohol, it’s a good idea to talk about what you don’t want to do, or when something might be too much beforehand. It’s never okay to have sex with someone who’s passed out or doesn’t know what’s happening.
Consent is also ongoing. Someone can be excited about doing one activity, but not another. They can also change their mind in the middle of something they were excited to do. It’s 100% ok to say you’re not into something, even if you were before. To be sure that your partner’s still into something, it also helps to check in with them every so often. You can ask things like “does that feel good?”, “do you like it when I ___?”, or something else that you think of!
Age of consent, assault, and the law
In Canada, there are laws about what’s considered consensual. It’s illegal to have any kind of sexual touching or sex with someone without their consent. This is called sexual assault.
Age of consent laws say how old you and your partners need to be for sex to be consensual. Only people who are 16 years old or older can consent to sex with anyone regardless of age. If you’re 12-16 years old, you can only consent to sex with people who are close to your age. Also, in order to consent to sex with someone in a position of authority (like a teacher, coach, or minister), you need to be over 18 years old.
Canadian laws also say that a person can’t legally agree to being physically injured or assaulted. For more information on these laws, see the resources below.
What does consent look or sound like?
Consent should be as clear as possible. Often this means a verbal, enthusiastic “yes!” or something like it. “I would like to do that!” or “Would you please do this?” can show that someone’s excited about what’s about to happen.
Understanding when a partner is saying “no” or they’re not excited about something is just as important as understanding when they’re saying “yes”. While “yes” is a clear, enthusiastic, excitement about something, “no” can look like anything other than “yes.” It can be saying “no” or “stop”, or it might be…
- shaking their head
- pulling away
- putting their clothes on
It can also be saying things like…
- not now
- I’m not sure
- let’s do something else
If it seems like a partner might not be excited about something, it can help to talk about how they’re feeling and what they want. You might need to stop what you’re doing and find something else that you’re both really into, or switch to something nonsexual.
There’s nothing wrong with saying “yes” or “no” to any kind of sex. A partner should never make you feel guilty or ashamed for saying yes or no. Finally, if you’re not sure if someone is really consenting, it never hurts to ask them again.
What if someone can’t speak?
Not everyone can say “yes” or “no” all the time. Some people may have disabilities that affect their speech. Or, if someone has something in their mouth, it can be hard to talk!
Not being able to talk is okay as long as everyone involved can still understand what is being expressed. In situations like these, some people use body language to show how they’re feeling. They may use sign language, a thumbs up or down, or agree on other signals that mean “stop”, “go ahead”, or “slow down.” If someone won’t be able to speak during sex, it’s a good idea to agree on these signals before you start.
Talking about consent with your partners
Some people might have trouble talking about consent with a partner. Sometimes people worry about spoiling the mood or making things more complicated.
Consent is a big part of any relationship, though. Making sure that you and your partners understand and respect each others’ wants, needs, and limits is important. Having conversations about this can also be a great experience. It can help you feel more comfortable with each other. Talking about what each of you are excited about can also help you figure out new things to try together!
For more on consent and healthy relationships, check out the resources below.