What is sexual consent?
Sexual consent means you and your partner give each other permission to touch, kiss or have sex with one another. To give and receive consent, you need to have open and honest conversations with your partner about what you are and aren’t OK with. Keep reading to learn how to ask for consent, why it’s important and what to do if someone doesn’t respect your boundaries.
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How do you know if you have sexual consent?
There’s only one way to get someone’s consent: They need to tell you. Ask and be specific. For example, you could ask, “Can I kiss you on the lips?” or “Do you want to have sex with me?”
Even if you’ve given or received consent in the past, it’s not implied in the future. Always clearly communicate and ask for consent before every physical encounter. Just because someone hasn’t said no doesn’t mean you have their permission to act.
It’s essential to pay attention to your partner’s body language. If they say yes, but seem uncomfortable, you should stop and ask them if they’re OK with the activity and remind them they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do.
One helpful way to understand consent is to remember Planned Parenthood’s acronym “FRIES.” Consent should be:
- Freely given
Remember, just because you have done something before does not mean you have to do it again. You can change your mind.
Consent is NOT:
- Giving in to pressure or manipulation
- Saying yes under pressure or force
- Assuming someone wants to do something because they’ve done it before
- Someone flirting, dressing in a sexy way, or accepting a ride or a drink
- Saying yes while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Assuming someone would say yes, but they can’t because they’re asleep, mentally incapacitated or unconscious
- Saying yes while under the age of consent
Drugs, alcohol and consent
If someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they are not legally able to give sexual consent. It is considered sexual assault or rape to engage in sexual activity with someone who can’t or doesn’t consent to that activity.
Consent and age
The Age of Consent is the age at which a person is considered legally old enough to consent to sexual activity. This age can differ from state to state, but typically ranges between 16 and 18 years old. Age of Consent laws apply to all genders. Find out your state’s laws.
Why is consent important?
Consent is about listening to and respecting your partner. Every person deserves to be treated with respect, especially by a sexual partner. Having conversations about what you are and aren’t comfortable with is a normal part of a healthy relationship.
When you ignore someone’s boundaries, you are hurting them and breaking their trust. You may also be breaking the law. If you have sexual contact with someone without their explicit consent, it is considered sexual assault or rape, which are serious crimes. Examples of this include:
- Unwanted sexual touching
- Attempting sex without consent
- Forcing the victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetration of the perpetrator’s body
- Penetrating the victim’s body without consent (rape)
What to do if your partner doesn’t respect your boundaries
It is never OK for someone to disrespect your physical boundaries. Clearly communicate to your partner what you are and aren’t comfortable with. If they won’t listen, avoid situations of physical affection and consider if you should continue the relationship.
If you have been sexually assaulted or raped
If you’ve been sexually assaulted or raped, it’s important to know that it is not your fault. Talk to a trusted adult – like a parent, teacher, coach, guidance counselor, doctor or school nurse – about your experience as soon as possible.
If the attack occurred recently, find a safe place from the person who hurt you. If possible, try to preserve the physical evidence of the attack by not showering, changing clothing or cleaning up the area where the assault happened. Seek medical care as soon as possible (such as the emergency room). You may also want to consider reporting the attack to the police or asking someone you trust to do so.
If the attack occurred a while ago, it’s never too late to get help or report the assault. Report all of the details you can remember to the police or someone you trust.
It can take time to heal both physically and emotionally from sexual assault or rape. Getting support can be helpful in the healing process. You can get help from a counselor, your local sexual assault center or the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673).
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