A couple standing close together and smiling while discussing the definition of consent.

Clear communication is the backbone of consent

Being enthusiastic about sexual activity with someone who’s enthusiastic about sexual activity with you is one of life’s great pleasures. When you’re on the same page as your partner – about what you want, about what they want, about what you want to do together – it makes for a great experience.

Learn the definition of consent and what it looks like in the bedroom

The definition of consent is clearly communicating with your partner, by being honest and saying “yes” to what you want and “no” to what you don’t. Body language can also contribute to your answer.

Clear communication with your sexual partner is something you should do in every sexual encounter, whether you’ve just met someone and are fooling around for the first time or you’ve been married for a decade and know every inch of your partner’s body. This is because wants and desires can change from year to year, day to day, even minute to minute. This is normal and totally okay, so it’s important to keep checking in about what you want and what your partner wants.

Ask the right questions

When you’re actually getting busy – from moving to the bedroom to removing clothes to getting even more physical – there’s a lot you can do to make sure that you’re both consenting to the activity. Asking questions can be extremely helpful to get on the same page, like, “What do you want to do next?” “Can I touch you here?” “Are you comfortable with this?” or “Do you like this?” Being honest about what you want and really clear in your communication – like saying “yes” to the specific sexual activity that you want to engage in and “no” to what you don’t – is also immensely important.

Non-verbal communication counts

Non-verbal communication is just as important. What someone doesn’t say can speak volumes, so it’s important that sexual partners can be attuned to each other’s body language. If you’re really listening – with your ears, with your body, with all of your attention – then you probably know when someone is giving you an enthusiastic “yes.” Things like someone not kissing back, pulling away, or pushing the other person away should be clear signs that the other person might not want to be engaging in a certain sexual activity.

In a moment like this when someone seems uncomfortable – or if there’s any doubt that they’re feeling less than enthusiastic about the sexual activity – the other person should stop what they’re doing. This is a time to check in, find out how the other person is feeling, and understand what they want. Asking “What do you want?” outright is a great first step. Questions like “Do you want me to stop doing this?” “Should we stop? or “Do you want me to slow down?” can be really helpful too.

Maybe means no

If consent is ever unclear – like some gives an uneasy “Maybe…” or is quiet, just doesn’t seem enthusiastic or seems uncomfortable – don’t hesitate to ask about it. “Maybe” isn’t a yes, and silence isn’t a “yes” – and when you’re engaged in sexual activity, you definitely want to make sure that both you and your partner are feeling positive about the whole experience.

Consenting to one sexual activity, like kissing, doesn’t automatically mean consenting to another sexual activity, like oral sex. Consenting to a sexual activity on one occasion also doesn’t automatically mean consenting to it in the future. No one should ever be expected to do anything they don’t want to do, be guilted or manipulated into sexual activity, feel pressure to say “yes,” or feel intimidated or afraid to say “no.” No one is ever owed sex. Everyone knows what they want and are comfortable with and is entitled to have their desires and boundaries respected. You should never be expected to do anything you don’t want to do, and the same goes for your sexual partner.

Talk it out

So remember, talk, communicate, ask questions, and listen. The best sex happens when everyone is communicating clearly about what they want and need. And just as much as you want your partner to listen to what you want and don’t want, what you’re comfortable with and uncomfortable with, do remember to listen to them too.

Sexual activity without consent is sexual assault or rape. You can learn more about that here. And if you’ve think you’re a victim of assault or rape, you can find help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or chatting online at online.rainn.org.

Read more
  • “Sexual Consent.” Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. Retrieved February 18 2019. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sex-and-relationships/sexual-consent.
  • “What Consent Looks Like.” RAINN. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Retrieved February 18 2019. https://www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent
  • “What is Consent?” Sex And U. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. Retrieved February 18 2019. https://www.sexandu.ca/consent/what-is-consent/

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