- Mutual: everyone wants what is happening and no one feels pressured or coerced.
- Continuous: ask for consent every step of the way to ensure an enjoyable experience. Consent is a process and can be withdrawn at any time; consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity.
- Clear: there should be no ambiguity when it comes to consent. If it’s ambiguous you need to check in with your partner(s) verbally to ensure you’re reading the signs correctly.
- Active: the person initiating an act continuously checks in for consent and does not assume the other person is okay with something.
Consent is NOT:
- Assumed: it cannot be implied from silence, passivity, or lack of physical resistance.
- Automatic: the existence of a current or previous dating, marital or sexual relationship does not constitute consent to additional sexual activity, it has to be negotiated each time.
- Coerced: it cannot be gained through intimidation, manipulation, blackmail, force, or the abuse of a position of trust, power, or authority.
- Impaired: it cannot be gained if the individual(s) is incapacitated by alcohol, drugs, and/or prescription medication, or is unconscious or asleep.
Consent is an affirmative decision to engage in mutually agreed upon sexual activity and is given by clear words and/or actions. It is an active process and it is the responsibility of anyone initiating an action to gain the consent of the other(s) involved before moving forward.
Ask, Listen, Respect
The best way to know if consent is present is to ASK. After asking, it is imperative to LISTEN to the response of the person(s) and RESPECT their choice. Know, however, that non-consent is not always communicated as a verbal “No.” Non-verbal cues, generally known as body language, include facial expressions, gestures, posture and body movements. If a person is verbally saying “Yes,” but their body language is indicating “No,” or discomfort, it is imperative to STOP and CHECK IN with them.
Below are some of the principal body language signals that a person is uncomfortable in a situation, or is not consenting. This list is not exhaustive. Please note that some of these signs of non-consent may not be universal and/or may not apply to every cultural context.
- Their body is turned away from the person(s) engaging them.
- They have crossed their arms and/or are displaying otherwise closed-off body language.
- They are completely still or are not moving much.
- They are not looking at the person(s) engaging them but around the room or at other people.
- They are answering the person(s) engaging them in short phrases or are not engaging in conversation with them at all.
These nonverbal cues are an important component of how people communicate with each other. Recognizing nonverbal cues can help you understand the expressed feelings of the person(s) you are engaging.
Note: Many people engage in sexual activity when they have used alcohol and/or drugs. These substances can change the way a person makes decisions and will affect their ability to ASK, LISTEN and RESPECT. A person's own intoxication cannot be used as a defence against failing to get consent. If you are unsure if someone can give their consent, then there is no consent. Sexual Assault is a criminal offence in Canada. Consent in a sexual context between adults is defined in section 273.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada.