Welcome to the final week of back-to-school quickies! If you’re just joining us, be sure to check out the last two weeks for quickies on condoms and on-campus sexual health resources. This week will be a quickie on consent.
In preparing for this week, I considered whether it’s possible to cover a topic as huge as consent in a quickie. Defining consent covers the basics, but this would ideally be accompanied by opportunities to put the theory into practice through examples of how to actively question, give or withhold consent, and how to recognize when someone else is doing the same. Working within the constraints of this column and believing that some education is better than none at all, I hope for this to be a starting point, not a replacement, for your further research and personal reflection.
So, what is consent? While the word might be new to you, the concept isn’t. In simple terms, consent is permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. Consent is not only used around sex. Anytime you agree or disagree to go somewhere, to do a favour for a friend, to be examined by a doctor or anything else, you exercise your right to give or withhold consent.
Consent is implicitly taught from an early age, such as when children are taught to ask before touching others or using items that don’t belong to them. What is really being taught is that one should ask for consent before acting in a way that could potentially cross someone else’s boundaries.
Consent is present in most areas of our lives, but this column is going to focus on consent in the context of sexual activity with another person.
The Canadian Department of Justice defines “consent to sexual activity” as the voluntary agreement to engage in the sexual activity in question. Situations in which consent is not obtained include those in which:
1) consent is expressed through the words or actions of someone other than the person, e.g. “Hey, my friend said she’d sleep with you!”
2) the person involved is incapable of consenting to the activity, e.g. under the age of consent (16 in Quebec), drunk, high, sleeping, passed out, etc.
3) a person abuses a position of trust, power or authority to induce another to engage in an activity, e.g. sex with your babysitter, teacher, parent, camp counsellor, etc.
4) a person expresses, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to engage in an activity, e.g. they say no, they avoid eye contact, seem disinterested or uncomfortable, take a passive or inactive role, pull away, etc.
5) a person, having consented to engage in sexual activity, expresses by words or conduct a lack of agreement to continue, e.g. a person says yes but after starting changes their mind—this clause highlights the idea that consent can be revoked at any time.
With this working definition in mind, what does consent look like in practice? Consent means being told directly by your partner that they want to be fooling around with you.
Consent is a ‘yes,’ a ‘keep going’, a ‘don’t stop,’ and an ‘I like that.’ Consent is enthusiastic, not hesitant. It’s not a “Yeah, I guess we can do that” but a “Fuck yes, let’s do that!”
Above all, consent is respect. Respect for another human being’s agency and their right to refuse to do anything they don’t want to do.
You can make sure you’re engaging in consensual activities through consent-checking—literally, verbally asking if you have consent. “Can I touch your ___?” “Is it okay if I ___?” “Do you want to keep going?” “Is this okay?”
For many people, verbally asking for consent is awkward, partly because it involves making yourself vulnerable to the possibility that your partner will say no. This, however, doesn’t mean that consent-checking is to be shied away from, because the things that make us uncomfortable are often the ones that hold the greatest potential for growth.
For more tools and information on consent, check out consented.ca, visit the on-campus Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SGW, GM-300.27) or the Centre for Gender Advocacy (2110 Mackay St.).
Submit your question anonymously at sex-pancakes.com and check out “Sex & Pancakes” on Facebook. Quick health question? Just need a resource? Text SextEd at 514-700-0445 for a confidential answer within 24 hours!