Sexual Consent

Young women's version of this guide

Everyone who wants to deserves to have great sex- and sexual consent is an important part of that. This guide will talk about what consent is, how to ask for it, and who can give it. This guide is meant for all adolescents and young adults, including those with diverse gender identities, sexual orientations, sexual practices, physical abilities, and intellectual abilities.

What is Sexual Consent?

Sexual consent is an agreement between two or more people for a specific sexual act. Consent is needed for all types of sexual activity (like kissing, making out, touching, vaginal sex, and anal sex). Consent is needed every time– consenting once is not consent for the future.

Sexual consent is always needed regardless of the type of relationship (a hook up, dating relationship, marriage, or other sexual relationship). All sexual partners are responsible for asking for and giving consent. Someone who is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs or substances cannot consent to sexual activity. Someone who is passed out, sleeping, or unconscious cannot consent to sexual activity.

Taking the time to better understand sexual consent will help you and your partner(s) have a healthy and enjoyable sex life. So let’s break it down into 5 main parts:

Consent is…
A choice
  • Consent is given without the use of force, control, threats, or manipulation. If it takes convincing, it is not consent.
  • When a partner has authority or power over the other (like a boss and an employee or a teacher and a student), it can be hard to give consent freely. For example, if someone is concerned about saying no because their boss said they might be fired, it is not consent.
  • Everyone deserves emotional and physical respect and has the right to make decisions about their own body. Consent should be guilt-free, willing, and clear.
A conversation
  • Sexual partners should talk about consent, sexual preferences, and boundaries before sexual contact. Remember, these may change, so partners should have these conversations multiple times as the sexual relationship changes.
  • It is important to use words that all partners understand.
  • Consent is clear and understood by everyone involved.
  • “Yes” means yes. Hearing someone say they want to do a sexual act is the best way to know a partner is giving consent.
  • Silence does not mean consent.
  • Consent is required for each type of sexual act. For example, saying yes to making out, doesn’t mean a person is saying yes to sex.
  • Anyone can change their mind at any time for any reason- even during a sexual encounter.
  •  “No” always means no. Saying “No” should be accepted immediately in every situation without the need for an explanation.

Who can give consent?

 There are laws about the age of sexual consent, meaning how old a person needs to be in order to consent to sex. These laws vary by country to country and region to region. These laws exist to protect minors (people younger than 18 years old) from someone older than them (adults) pressuring or forcing them to do sexual acts. In the United States, the legal age of consent is between 16-18 years old, depending on the state. In general, this means an adult having sex with someone younger than 16-18 years old is considered sexual assault or rape. To learn more about the specific consent laws in your state, visit this website.

It is important to know that some disabilities may affect a person’s ability to communicate consent, understand consent, or consent freely. For example, a person with a disability may rely on another person for assistance. This relationship may make it hard for a person with a disability to say “No” to a sexual act, if they are concerned the person will stop helping them in the future. There are laws that exist in some states in the US that discuss the ability of people with disabilities to consent to sexual acts. To learn more about consent and people with disabilities, visit this website.

How do I ask for consent?

Asking for consent doesn’t need to kill the mood. Consent can be sexy. Knowing your partner(s) is/are into what you are doing can help you have a satisfying sexual encounter. Making consent an expectation in your sexual relationship (dating, hook ups, or other relationship) will also set the tone for a respectful and healthy sexual relationship.

Here are some examples of asking for consent:

  • Do you want me to [FILL IN THE BLANK]?
  • Would you like it if [FILL IN THE BLANK]?

How do I know if my partner is or is not giving consent?

 The key to knowing if a partner consents is an enthusiastic “yes” or similar statement saying they agree or want to do a sexual act. If your partner says “no” or stays silent, this is not consent.

What about body language? Body language is an important part of communication. For example, if your partner says yes, but then seems uncomfortable, this is a great time to check-in before continuing or going further. Make it clear to your partner(s) that you only want to do something that you both/all will enjoy. Your partner(s) may give you non-verbal cues, such as reaching for a condom after you ask, “Do you want to have sex?” If there is any confusion with body language or non-verbal cues, it is important to pause to ask. Try saying “it seems like you want to [FILL IN THE BLANK], but before we do I want to make sure you consent.”

How can I show my partner I do or do not consent?

 Answering out loud is the best way to show your partner(s) you consent to a sexual act. Non-verbal cues or body language can be helpful to show you are into what you are doing, but should not replace saying “yes” (or something similar) out loud. That way there is no question if you consent.

Saying “No” out loud is the best way to show you don’t agree to a sexual act. If you say no, your partner(s) should stop right away without the need for explanation. Remember, you can always say “No”, even if you already consented. If you don’t want to do one sexual act, but want to keep doing others, try saying “I don’t want to [FILL IN THE BLANK], but would like it if you [FILL IN THE BLANK].” In a healthy sexual relationship, your partner(s) will respect your boundaries and shouldn’t hold a grudge if you don’t consent.

What if I did not give or get consent?

 Everybody deserves respect and to feel safe in their sexual relationships. If you have had sexual contact without consent, this is a form of sexual assault and rape.  Sexual assault and rape do not have to be violent or leave a physical mark. Sexual assault and rape can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, intellectual ability, and physical ability, and it is never your fault. Sexual assault or rape can be committed by a stranger, friend, dating partner, or a spouse. If you have experienced sexual assault or rape, you are not alone. Visit our guide to learn more.

Where can I learn more about sexual consent?