Consent: How to know the difference between yes and no

I’m going to level with you, sex is great, but not everyone is in favour of getting frisky. It might be their sexual preference to keep things above the belt, or they may not be up to get down at the moment. There’s only one way to figure out where your partner stands for sure, and that’s by asking for consent.

According to Fanshawe’s sexual violence prevention advisor Leah Marshall, consent encompasses these key things.

“It’s non-coerced, it’s voluntary, it’s sober and it’s enthusiastic whether that’s through actions or through words.”

Perhaps the most important of these factors is that it can’t be given under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Even if your partner agrees to get frisky while drunk, they are not in the right state of mind to be making these decisions.

The other factors, voluntary and enthusiastic consent, seem like no brainers but there is a final aspect that is sometimes overlooked, consent has to be continuous. Many people mistake it as a static notion where saying yes just once covers the entire length of time. Just because you may have been with someone for a number of months doesn’t mean they’re obliged to entertain your desires whenever you wish. Not only that, but the desires themselves can change from day to day and week to week. Things that might have been enticing yesterday could make your partner uneasy tomorrow.

While it’s important to ask for consent before starting anything, it’s also important to check in with your partner during the experience itself. People can fall into different mindsets while being intimate and a yes can easily turn into a no. Marshall explained that if you’re the initiating party, “You want to check in with that person throughout the experience to make sure it’s something that they actually want to do, not just something that you’re doing to them. Sex should be a partnership and an interaction between two people opposed to someone just doing something to someone.”

There’s a paradigm shift happening as people embrace the idea that sex should be accompanied with a dialogue. Without consistent communication there’s an implicit distance between partners in bed. Having a dialogue before, during and after the experience ensures that both parties can continually voice their desires and limits in a safe and non-judgemental environment.

At the end of the day we need to acknowledge that people are sometimes going to say no when they ask for consent, and we have to accept that without being aggravated. Marshalls was clear that no one owes anybody anything and no one is ever asking for it.

“When we go into a sexual encounter we have to be understanding and accepting of the fact that our partner may say no. We have to be willing to say no and to accept no. Just because we like someone or just because we have other pieces of a relationship with them doesn’t mean we’re obligated to do specific things with them with regards to sexual interaction or intimacy.”

Yes means yes, no means no, and we need to respect that in all its forms.