True consent should sound like a clear, enthusiastic consensual ‘yes’ from both individuals, and they should have the freedom and capacity to give their consent. Here’s our advice on how to gain consent from a sexual partner…
If someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, unconscious or you don’t reasonably believe they want to have sex with you, then you may not have consent. The easiest way to make sure is to ask! This doesn’t have to be awkward or ‘kill the mood’, quite the opposite actually! Having the confidence to ask is sexy!
Consent is an agreement between willing people to engage in sexual activity. There are many ways to give consent, and some of those are discussed below. Consent doesn’t have to be verbal, but verbally agreeing to different sexual activities can help both you and another person respect each other’s boundaries.
How does consent work in real life?
When you’re engaging in sexual activity, consent is about communication. And it should happen every time. Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean giving consent for increased or recurring sexual contact. For example, agreeing to kiss someone doesn’t give that person permission to remove your clothes. Having sex with someone in the past doesn’t give that person permission to have sex with you again in the future.
You can change your mind at any time.
You can withdraw consent at any point if you feel uncomfortable. It’s important to clearly communicate if you are no longer comfortable with this activity and wish to stop. The best way to ensure both parties are comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it.
Positive consent can look like this:
- Communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this OK?”
- Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
- Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level
It does NOT look like this:
- Refusing to acknowledge “no”
- Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more
- Someone being under the legal age of consent
- Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
- Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation
- Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past
Asking for Consent
If you want to be sure that someone has consented to any kind of sexual activity with you then it is helpful to know how to ask.
- How is this? How does that feel?
- What do you like? What would you like me to do?
- Does that feel good or shall I slow it down?
- Are you happy if I do this?
- Do you want this?
It is perhaps not surprising that good sex is a product of two people being up for it. If one party is not as keen, or not feeling great, or feeling quite tense it is not likely to be the best experience. If the time is right and the people involved are whole-heartedly up for it then it is more likely to be a better experience and something that is enjoyable and consensual.
If you want to be 100% sure someone is consenting to sexual contact whole-heartedly, eagerly, enthusiastically and genuinely then you need to be sure the yes is a YES!
Clarity of communication is key
Communication can often be non-verbal… Someone saying nothing does not mean the answer is yes. It is also quite common for people to communicate in a passive way. Most of us do not like to cause offence in social situations and therefore are careful about what we say or do. This is why it is important to hear a YES. Absence of a no does not automatically mean it is a yes. Signs that it might be a no include but are not limited to:
- They are unresponsive to you / your touch
- They are extremely quiet
- They hold a defensive posture (arms in the way, turning to face away from you, crossing their arms, turning their face away)
- Their muscles go tense
- They saying, ‘I’m tired’, ‘Can we leave it for now’, ‘I have to get up early’, ‘I’m sleepy’
- They are too intoxicated to speak properly
- They are ambiguously nodding or non-verbal about whether they are enjoying things
Verbal ‘yes’ but really.. a ‘no’
- Yeah, whatever you want
- I suppose
- Yeah, I guess
- Go on then
- Yeah, can do
- Hmm, yeah
Signs that it is a genuine yes:
- Yes, definitely, don’t stop
- Yes, right now
- Yes please
Imagine consent on a continuum. Where are you happy to be?
Set your boundaries
Why stop thinking about it after a yes? Why not set what you are happy to do and not do. Understanding and establishing your boundaries can lead to a more pleasurable, intimate, and safe time. Part of knowing whether someone is up for it is also about knowing what they like, what they don’t like and knowing what they are comfortable with. Thinking about what someone else wants from the sexual contact can ensure it is an enjoyable experience. If you are in it for yourself then you may not get the same level of participation from the other person.
It is ok to be unsure about something, it does not mean you have to go along with it. Could you ask yourself some of the following to help you decide?
- Do I really want this?
- Am I in the right place to think about this clearly?
- How would I feel about it tomorrow?
- Do I really have to go along with something that I am not sure about?
- Am I feeling pressured in to this… if so it is probably not the best plan
- Are there other things I am more comfortable with?
- Do I want a one-night stand?
- Am I doing this for another reason? E.g. to feel good about myself… will that feeling last?
Slowing things down
Wanting to slow down is nothing to be ashamed of. If anything, it shows that you do not want to rush a potentially great thing.
- Can we slow it down please?
- I would prefer not to do that right now
- I would prefer to… ‘stay like this’
- Can I just have a minute please
- I am not quite ready for that now
Everyone has the right to say no to sex or any kind of sexual or intimate contact. This is regardless of whether you said yes to the contact yesterday, or 2 minutes ago and regardless of whether you have shown interest before. We can all change our mind about things so it is good to be sure of how you might communicate it:
- I do not want to do this
- I don’t want to go any further
- I would like this to stop now
- This doesn’t feel right
- I am not ready for this
- I need to go to the toilet
- I am going to be sick
- I am not ok with this
Telling a little lie in this instance is certainly something that you can do if it helps give you a moment to think about what you want and to get out of the situation.
In a long-term relationship?
Regardless of whether you are in a long-term relationship or not, consent is always mandatory. Especially with the established intimacy of a long-term relationship, the ability to communicate about sex is important and should be able to happen. Consent is not simply a legal matter, be a case of consideration and respect for your partner and their desires and boundaries.
Drunk or High?
It is not as simple as having a drink drive limit where we know how many units someone has to have consumed to be over the limit… or could it be? If you wouldn’t be willing to get in a car with someone who was over the limit then is that a good guideline for having sex too? Is sex that enjoyable with someone who is that drunk or high? Or maybe the best question is – can you be sure that they are consenting whole-heartedly and that it isn’t a result of making a decision that is influenced by a substance. This brings us back to the question of what makes good sex, which is about two people participating and being sober enough to communicate their consent, their boundaries and what they want.
Currently our culture has a certain stereotype of gender that is unequal. Based on the standard stereotypes we could believe that… ‘Males can be as promiscuous as they like’, which makes them a ‘lad’. Females who sleep around are stereotypically labelled as ‘easy’ and should ‘behave’. This is not the view of everyone but it does contribute towards some of the following views:
- ‘They are a slag and were asking for it’
- ‘They were dressed like that so what do they expect’
- ‘They were all over them, of course they were up for it’
Should someone’s sexual history, what they wear, or whether they were flirty or not really help us decide whether they are a victim or whether ‘deserved’ to be raped? Whatever the gender, however someone chooses to express themselves sexually, this is not an invitation to rape.
WE KNOW, violence and abuse affects our students. IT’S NOT ON, and we are addressing it. WE CAN HELP, our Disclosure Response Team offer practical support. YOU CAN HELP, recognise the signs, tell us if you know a student is at risk.
WE CAN HELP
If you have experienced violence or abuse of any kind, you are entitled to free, non-judgmental support. Please don’t be afraid to reach out to us.
The Disclosure Response Team:
Let us know using the online disclosure tool.
hours: Monday to Friday, 09:00 – 16:30
phone: 029 2087 4844
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search: ‘Violence and Abuse‘ on the student Intranet for more.
YOU CAN HELP
As an individual, you have the power to affect real change by leading by example. You can play your part by:
- Recognise the signs of violence and abuse and signpost the survivor onto support services.
- Practice being a good listener if someone discloses an incident of violence or abuse to you.
- Consciously challenge your stereotypical beliefs on sex, gender, and traditional roles associated with both
- Speak up for what you believe in!
- Become an empowered bystander. The Bystander Effect states that we are less likely to intervene and help someone when part of a crowd. As the number of people present increase, the responsibility is diffused and often this results in someone being left helpless.
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Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Team.
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