To make sure consent is understood and meaningful, here are some guidelines to help you navigate sexual consent.
- Mutual: everyone wants what is happening and no one feels pressured or coerced. Consent is all about respecting someone else's desires and needs as well as your own.
- Continuous: asking for consent every step of the way is away to communicate with your partner and ensure an enjoyable experience. This is especially important if you're changing what you're doing. Consent is a process and can be withdrawn at any time; consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity.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: if the verbal or non-verbal cues of your partner(s) are ambiguous then there is a good chance you need to check in with your partner(s) verbally to ensure you’re reading the signs correctly.
- Active: the person initiating an act (i.e., going to kiss someone, etc) is continuously checking 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 the voluntary affirmation that someone is in agreement with what is happening and wants to engage in mutually agreed upon sexual activity. It can be verbal or non-verbal. The absence of no does not imply consent. Sexual exploration requires a lot of attention to all participants’ needs and desires, and is an ongoing process. Consent goes beyond yes and no.
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.