Why Consent Is So ImportantDating Advice
September is National Consent Month, a topic that is more prevalent than ever in society today with an increasing number of conversations around the #MeToo Movement. Yet, it’s a conversation that isn’t always comfortable to have and a topic that we may not know how to bring up. Oftentimes, there is a misunderstanding around the evolution of consent and the fact that it can evolve just as the relationship and the people in it do over time. In fact, consent is considered by some as a health issue that is impacting many but rarely talked about.
Whether you’re starting a new relationship, are casually dating, just hooking up, or are in a long-term established one, communication is a key element and the topic of consent should be discussed openly and frequently. Yet, oftentimes talking about the specifics related to consent can be complicated and uncomfortable. Questions float in our heads, like how do you start this conversation? Is consent just about sexual activity? Is it a one-and-done discussion? Will it “ruin the mood?” We’ve got answers to those questions, as well as tips for how to bring up consent when you’re in the moment, consent under the influence, and the importance that both men and women give consent.
What does consent mean, exactly?
According to Planned Parenthood, sexual consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. Consenting and asking for consent is all about setting personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner. This also includes checking in if things aren’t clear. And, both people must agree to sex — every single time — for it to be consensual. Without consent, sexual activity (including oral sex, genital touching, and vaginal or anal penetration) is sexual assault or rape.
In a recent Self.com article, Natasha Bhuyan, M.D., a family medicine physician with One Medical, explains “When it comes down to it, consent is all about respect for another person’s bodily autonomy: when you want to touch another person or have sex with them, you should ask first (verbally) and continue to give and receive consent in this way throughout a sexual encounter. That doesn’t necessarily mean running through a monotone checklist of “can I…,” but it does mean paying attention to the physical and verbal cues of the person you’re with while maintaining clear and open communication.”
In fact, Planned Parenthood shares that consent is as easy as FRIES:
- Freely Given. You make the decision, in sound mind, meaning free of pressure or manipulation, and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Reversible. You can change your mind at any time, even if you’ve done this sexual activity together before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
- Informed. You can only consent to something if you both follow through with what you agreed upon. For example, if your partner says they’ll use a condom, but then they don’t. That’s not full consent.
- Enthusiastic. This is all about doing only the things you want to do, and not feeling pressure or expectations from your partner.
- Specific. Make your voice heard. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex).
Giving consent one time for one activity doesn’t mean that “yes” cannot turn into a “no.”
It’s up to you to determine how consent plays out in your life, but one thing you need to know for sure is that you can change your mind at any time. You always get the final say over what does or doesn’t happen to your body. Giving consent for one activity, one time does not mean giving consent for increased or recurring sexual contact.
According to RAINN, (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, positive consent should look like this:
- Communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this OK?”
- Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
- Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level
RAINN shares that consent does NOT look like this:
- Refusing to acknowledge “no”
- Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more
- Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state
- Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
- Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation
- Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past
Approaching consent when you’re in the moment. How to do it.
In the age of Bumble, Tinder, Grinder, and HER chances are many of us are looking for hookups or casually dating where dates or meetups lead to more than a dinner and a drink. So how do you bring up consent when you’re ready to take the next step, whether that be a kiss or sex. Here are some suggestions.
Don’t beat around the bush and just ask:
- Can I kiss you?
- Can I take this off? What about these?
- Can I [fill in the blank]?
- Do you want to have sex or are you only comfortable going as far as we have today?
Use consent as part of foreplay:
- I love it when you [fill in the blank]. Could you do this?
- Can I kiss you here? And here? And here?
- I think it’s hot when we [fill in the blank]. Do you want to do this?
- You know what really turns me on [fill in the blank]. Can we do this?
Or, if you’re already halfway to the bedroom, try asking questions as you get hot and heavy:
- Are you comfortable with me doing this?
- Do you want me to stop?
- Should I put on a condom?
Consent under the influence is tricky for many reasons.
Whenever drugs and alcohol are involved relationships and sex can get tricky, whether both parties are intoxicated or just one. Studies show a direct relationship between excessive alcohol consumption and the risk of committing sexual assault. In fact, half of sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the person who’s been assaulted, or both.
According to an article on Healthline.com, the person initiating sexual activity is the one responsible for obtaining consent from their partner. If both of you are under the influence, making sure that consent is clear, ongoing, coherent, and voluntary is especially important. Remember, signs such as stumbling, incoherent talk, passing out, or throwing up are signs that they aren’t in the right state of mind to give proper consent, meaning you shouldn’t engage in any sexual activity.
If you know the person you’re hooking up with (or about to hook up with) has been imbibing alcohol or drugs, there are things you can ask to ensure consent is still happening. For example, The Good Men Project recommends asking something like: “Do you feel clear enough to be making decisions about sex?” Remember, no matter what your partner’s response to your questions, if you still don’t feel good about it, then just stop. You can always pick things back up another time when you’re both sober and making sound decisions.
Consent is equally important for both women and men to give
Research recently published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shared that 1 in 16 women reported experiencing forced sexual initiation, usually in their teen years and usually with someone a few years older. While this research is focused on women, this is something that affects men, too. In fact, 1 in 6 men in the United States experiences sexual violence in their lifetime.
One way to help men and women understand how important the topic of consent is from the start is for parents to have those conversations with their kids. According to a recent article by Patrick A. Coleman a writer for Fatherly.com, “No parent wants their child becoming a victim or a perpetrator of sexual assault. And that makes early lessons about consent absolutely crucial. But that doesn’t mean the lessons need to be frightening or panic-inducing. In fact, those discussions don’t even need to be about sex. Because, essentially, consent is about boundaries.” One of the first ways to talk about consent in this situation is to discuss physical boundaries. This can be as simple as no means no, and that you can never touch another person without their permission.
At the end of the day, consent always comes down to you and your body, and you should only do what you feel 100% comfortable with. Remember, you can make these decisions based on emotions, too. There are no right or wrong ways to make your personal choices when it comes to consent. As September is National Consent Month, there’s no better time to tell your partner “we need to talk” (make sure to clarify it’s not the dreaded “we need to talk” breakup talk) and have the conversation. If you are someone who has been taken advantage of without your personal consent, please talk to a family member or friend, or call RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) to speak with someone who can help.