Ten Things You Need to Know About Consent
More and more people are becoming aware of the term ‘consent’, especially in the context of romantic relationships. But do you know what it really means?
The dictionary definition of consent is this: ‘Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.’ In the context of sexual relationships, Somerset & Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support defines it like this: ‘sexual consent means a person willingly agrees to have sex or engage in a sexual activity – and they are free and able to make their own decision.’
When you’re in an intimate relationship with someone, it’s important to know what is okay with the other person and what isn’t. Consent helps you – and your partner – to understand what you both want, what you’re happy to do, and what you’re not happy to do. It eliminates unclear boundaries, which will help to protect both you and the other person.
Here are a few things you need to know about consent:
Consent means checking in with your partner every step of the way.
It’s easy to forget to check with the other person that they’re comfortable and happy. It’s really important to do so. Keep communicating, and never just presume the other person is happy with how things are going.
You can withdraw consent whenever you like.
You are totally free to change your mind. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done the same thing with that person before – you can still change your mind. Neither person is obligated to do anything, even if they’ve given consent to it before.
Consent has nothing to do with the way a person is dressed.
If a person dresses in a certain way, it doesn’t mean they’re giving consent. Flirting doesn’t mean they’re giving consent. If they have kissed someone, it doesn’t mean they’re giving consent to anything else.
No means no.
No means no – no matter how much the other person may want it. It is not okay to try to pressure or coerce someone to do something they have said no to.
Silence is not consent.
Just because someone doesn’t say ‘no’, doesn’t mean they’re actually saying ‘yes’. Similarly, if they say ‘maybe’, it doesn’t mean they’re saying ‘yes’. If you’re not sure - ask. Always give someone the opportunity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
An example of a few questions you could ask are:
‘Are you sure about this?’
‘Do you want to …?’
‘Is this okay?’
All of the above questions will give the other person the chance to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Both parties must have the mental capacity to consent.
Both people must be able to understand fully what they are consenting to, and they must be able to understand any and all of the factors involved (including the risks involved and potential consequences). Alcohol and drugs diminish this mental capacity, and can inhibit a person from being able to communicate clearly. It impairs our ability to make decisions – someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs will be less able to make a rational, informed choice. If someone is unable to have a clear, coherent conversation, especially if they’re acting out of character, they cannot give consent. If you’re unsure, you should leave it and not engage in any form of sexual activity.
It isn’t just drugs or alcohol – age and/or maturity can also affect someone’s mental capacity to consent. Under UK law, the age of consent is 16 – anyone under this age cannot legally give consent.
Consent is important for both men and women.
Men and women sometimes experience different pressures when it comes to sex. Everyone has the right to say no, in any situation.
If you feel uncomfortable with a situation or you feel pressured, there are things you can do. You could speak to someone you trust about the situation (we always recommend speaking with a trusted adult, like a parent, carer, or teacher). Consider thinking of a back-up plan if you ever get into a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable.
It may be uncomfortable – but talking about consent is important.
It can be really tough to talk about this stuff – it’s understandable if you feel awkward or nervous. However, it is so important. Part of being ready to have an intimate relationship with someone is being prepared to talk about it together. Clear communication helps everyone to feel happy and safe – and helps to reduce the likelihood of a person doing something that they may later regret.
Be aware of warning signs.
Does your partner respect consent? Be aware of some of the signs that they don’t. These could include:
· Expecting you to do something you don’t want to do because you ‘owe’ them
· Manipulating or pressuring you to do something you don’t want to do
· Making you feel guilty or upset if you don’t want to do something
In a healthy relationship, partners respect each other’s boundaries.
What can you do if you feel you, or someone you know, is in an unhealthy relationship? Always remember that you can leave a relationship if you don’t feel the other person is respecting your boundaries – it’s really important to remember that you have the right to leave at any time.
Again, speaking to a trusted adult is a good idea – they can help support you through it.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, Childline may be able to help.
Everyone has the right to control over their own bodies.
Consent helps to give everyone the power to decide what they do with their own bodies. You have the right to choose what you’re comfortable with – if you’re in a relationship, ask yourself if you feel happy with the way things are going – and remember you have the right to change your mind. Don’t feel you have to struggle alone – if you are having issues around boundaries and consent, or you have spotted the warning signs in someone else, seek out a trusted adult to speak to about it.
At Revealed Projects, we cover consent and a range of related topics in our workshops about healthy relationships. To find the full range of what we cover, click here.