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All about consent

What does it mean to have consent when it comes to sex?

Teen girl and boy hugging

Let’s talk about it!

Every conversation and interaction we have probably involves some level of consent.

It’s an ongoing process where boundaries are set and expectations are mapped out, but in this article, we are going to focus on consent when it comes to sexual relationships.  

When it comes to seeking consent there are few things you should always look out for. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot more than just saying ‘yes’.  

What does consent look like?

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘no means no’ before, but when it comes to sexual consent this is way too simple. The goal should always be enthusiastic verbal (if giving verbal consent is possible) consent.

What consent IS

  • “YES!” 
  • “Absolutely” 
  • “I’d like to…’  
  • “I want to keep going” 
  • “Let’s do that more”  
  • “Can you please…” 
  • “I’m enjoying this, I’d like to keep going”  

What consent ISN’T

  • “Maybe” 
  • “I’m not sure”  
  • “I don’t want to” 
  • “Can we slow down?”  
  • “Stop” 
  • “I’m not ready”  

Body clues to look out for…

We know that body language is a super important part of communication.

Keep an eye on this when engaging in sexual activity. If someone pulls away, doesn’t respond, or appears uncomfortable, stop, and take a moment to check in. We promise this won’t kill the vibes either, asking for consent is sexy! 

Consent checklist (save me for later!)

  • Ongoing – consent needs to be given before and during sexual activity 
  • Mutual – everyone involved agrees – enthusiastically!  
  • Enthusiastic -it’s wanted by everyone involved 
  • Certain & clear –there’s no mysteries or doubts  
  • Freely given –there’s no pressure, guilt, or threats e.g. “I’ll break up with you if you don’t do this” 
  • Informed –everyone understands what’s happening 
  • Specific – saying yes to one thing doesn’t mean saying yes to another thing, e.g. agreeing to kissing doesn’t mean you have consented to sex 
  • Reversible – you can say no at any time – it’s ok to change your mind 

FAQS about consent

Consent has a lot of layers, let’s unpack them!

“What if they don’t say anything?”

Say it with us: silence is not consent. We know about ‘fight or flight’ responses when it comes to stressful situations but another very real response is the ‘freeze’ response. This response can be common is situations involving fear.

If silence is the ‘answer’, the answer is always no.  

“I said yes to one thing but then they did something during I wasn’t comfortable with”

An example of this is if someone removes a condom during sex without your consent – aka. stealthing. This is illegal and a form of sexual assault. Consent needs to be given throughout the sexual activity, communication should always be super clear.

“I consented when I didn’t really want to…”

Sometimes we can consent to sex by not actually want it. Common reasons why people might do this include: 

  • social pressures around sex - e.g. to have more of it, or try different sex moves 
  • wanting to be 'nice' 
  • wanting to please a partner 
  • a sense of obligation, e.g. feeling like you have to 'finish what you started' 
  • putting pressure on yourself, e.g. wanting to be good at sex, or be seen as sexually adventurous 
  • feeling emotionally pressured by a partner (known as 'coercion' and sometimes described by those who have experienced it as 'consent-ualish' sex) 

Unwanted sex can be a bit of a grey area in consent and can bring up a range of different feelings. If you feel upset or stressed about sex (even if you 'technically' consented) those feelings are still completely valid and worthy of support.

“I said yes but I changed my mind”

Consent is not a lock-in contract. You can change your mind at any time, no matter what. This also means that consenting to one thing doesn’t mean your consent extends to everything. Said yes to kissing but no to anything further? This is totally ok – your partner should be checking in with you regularly and respect your decision if you want to stop.

“How do I know if I’ve got consent?”

Never assume that someone has consented to sex. It doesn’t matter if you’re flirting, wearing certain clothes or even if you’re already dating – you still need always need enthusiastic and clear consent. You need to be absolutely sure every time and if you’re not, the answer is no.  If you’re not sure, just ask!

“My partner told me, ‘No’. What do I do?”

Being sexually intimate with somebody means being vulnerable – let’s be real, this can be scary! When somebody turns us down it can be upsetting but respecting their decision and not pressuring them is super important.  

Having an open mind, honest conversations and respecting your partner’s choice to say ‘no’ requires maturity, but it’s necessary for a healthy relationship. 

“I didn’t consent, but it still happened. What do I do now?”

If you can relate to this, we’re so sorry this happened to you. Remember, it’s not your fault.  

No one deserves to be forced into something they haven’t consented to. It’s super important you have support from a trusted adult or mental health professional to navigate this.  

When you don’t have consent… 

If you don’t have consent, it’s a criminal offence.

It’s against the law to do sexual things, including kissing or touching, to someone if they have NOT given or are UNABLE to give consent. This is called sexual assault and it’s a crime.  

It can feel really scary to acknowledge that something wasn’t consensual. Sometimes we mask sexual assault by telling ourselves it was a ‘bad sexual experience’.  

Pushing down the truth can feel like a coping strategy, but it can be harmful to your mental health. Not acknowledging sexual assault is connected to increased anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Consent and the law 

The law also says that there are some situations where it is NEVER ok for someone to do sexual things with you, even if you consent! These are:

  • If you’re under the age of consent. The legal age for consensual sex varies across each state and territory. To find out more, visit the lawstuff website
  • If the other person holds a position of authority, power, or trust over you (such as a family member, teacher, carer, support worker)

There are also laws about who can consent and who can’t

You can’t give consent if you are:

Severely affected by drugs or alcohol

In a vulnerable position (the other person has power or trust over you) 

If you’re under a certain age and your partner is above a certain age/there is an age gap (this varies from state and territory)

Being forced or afraid that someone will use force

Tricked into thinking the person is someone else

Under the belief that you can’t or have no right to say no

Mistaken or tricked about what you're consenting to

Asleep or passed out

Semi-conscious or unconscious

Made to feel too scared to say no

Afraid you or someone else will be harmed ("If you don't, then I will…")

Pressured, bullied, manipulated or threatened

Not able to understand what you're consenting to

Prevented from leaving - locked in a room or car

Language is really important and when we hear something harmful or problematic it’s powerful to push back.

When it comes to consent and sexual assault, we might come across victim blaming.

We might not realise it’s happening in the moment, but being aware of how it can sneak in to everyday interactions can help us stand up to it! It’s even possible to victim-blame ourselves. 

Why do we do it? Our brain doesn’t like not being in control. If it can find a way to make things like abuse our own fault, it feels like it can prevent it and stay safe.

Let’s get real. Consensual sex can still be bad, have awkward, boring or unpleasant moments. Consensual sex can result in a range of feelings (both positive and negative) that are all completely valid. 

Consent is all about communication!

When both people check in and talk about what they want or don’t want to do, it keeps everyone safe and happy!

If you want to talk about or learn more about consent, give us a call, send us an email or talk to us on WebChat.

This content was last reviewed 29/09/2023

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