It is important for all people involved in sexual activity to give consent. This reflects the right that all humans have to refuse sex and ensures that their integrity and emotional wellbeing is respected. However, it can be difficult to know how to make sure you have been given sexual consent by the person you’re with.
VERBAL AND PHYSICAL CUES
Often, a person will only consider an explicit ‘no’ or silence from their partner, or negative body language, including pushing away or not responding to your touch, to determine if sexual consent has not been given. This can be confusing as it ignores that the partner may feel pressured or coerced to engage in sexual activity, but uncomfortable or afraid to say ‘no’ or show physically that they are not interested. This can mean that sex unintentionally occurs without consent and may be considered rape.
The only sure way to know that you have been given full sexual consent is through affirmative consent. In fact, the need for affirmative consent has been written into law in some cases, including in California in the United States. Affirmative consent requires your partner to give verbal consent to any sexual activity that takes place, and should be reaffirmed throughout.
Some questions you might ask your partner are:
- Are you okay with this?
- Does this feel good?
- Do you want to go further?
- Do you want to stop?
In this way, affirmative consent takes into account miscommunication that can occur and reduces the chance that your partner has felt pressured or coerced into sexual activity they are not comfortable with. It also rightfully shifts the responsibility from victims of rape – who in the past were expected to express their discomfort – to perpetrators of rape, by requiring that verbal consent needs to be asked and given in return.