We negotiate consent all the time in everyday life — from your housemate asking to borrow some milk, to you and your friends deciding which bar to go to — but when it comes to sex a lot of people think it’s simple: no means no, but anything other than a no means yes.
The reality is that having consensual sex means having an open dialogue with your partner about what it is they want. Here are some top tips to bear in mind when engaging in sexual contact:
- No means no. It’s not an invitation to negotiate with them or try again in five minutes. If someone says no, stop what you’re doing and don’t do it again unless they explicitly ask you to.
- Understand that saying no can sometimes be difficult. Some people find it hard to vocalise their feelings during sex and sometimes people can be worried about the consequences of saying no. That’s why it’s important that you look for affirmative consent — that’s an enthusiastic and freely given ‘yes!’ — rather than assuming that the absence of a no means yes. It’s also important to recognise that in some situations people are unable to give affirmative consent including when they are asleep, unconscious or intoxicated, and in these circumstances you should not continue with sexual contact.
- Non-verbal cues are important. Sex should be a positive experience for everyone involved, so if your partner looks unhappy, uncomfortable, or is pushing you away, it’s important you stop what you’re doing and check in with them.
- Consent can be withdrawn at any time. That means that whether you’re making out, already naked, have had sex before, or are in a long-term relationship you still need get affirmative consent before engaging in sexual contact and must stop if your partner looks uncomfortable or says no.
In some situations — for example, if you are engaging in sex work or if you or your partner identify as asexual — consent may look a little different. The important thing is to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the situation and that any boundaries that have been negotiated in advance are respected.