When it comes to consent we need a happy, positive ‘yes’!
There’s only one real rule for sex: you need to get your partner’s clear, enthusiastic consent.
A big, strong ‘yes’.
You don’t have to hear the word ‘no’ for someone to not want sex with you.
If you haven’t heard an active ‘yes’ from your partner about the idea of sex, you cannot be sure you are having consensual sex.
This means you don’t have consent, even if there hasn’t been an explicit ‘no’. So make sure you’ve had a hearty ‘yes’ from everyone involved before you proceed.
This isn’t just a case of politeness, it is actually the law. If you don’t get enthusiastic consent from your partner before you have sex, you’re breaking the law.
Okay, now that’s clear, on with the show!
Personal experience: body language can say ‘no’
When it comes to consent, no always means no. But is this idea enough? Sometimes one person’s ‘no’ doesn’t translate.
Concerningly, I’ve been in situations where my personal “no” hasn’t always been acknowledged.
Examples of ‘no’ in this situation: I expressed it by moving my face away from someone’s kiss, by turning my body over or removing their hands. These are all signs that consent for sex is not there.
Instead, this particular partner continued to try to initiate sex multiple times over an hour. Eventually I finally vocalised my lack of consent with an unambiguous, “look, I don’t want to sex with you”.
Having been in this situation, I’ve come to see that ‘no means no’ isn’t good enough – my partner should have understood that my body language expressed a lack of consent and should not have continued what he was doing to the point that I had to say “no”.
He should have read that I didn’t want to participate – and stopped.
The idea that someone is consenting unless they say a vocal “no” doesn’t suffice. So, let’s change our approach: not only does no mean no, but yes means yes.
If you don’t have a yes, there isn’t consent. This “yes” is called enthusiastic consent.
What is enthusiastic consent?
Enthusiastic consent is saying through your body language, words and expressions, that you are enjoying sex, you want it to continue, and are therefore consenting.
Enthusiastic consent means saying yes freely and without feeling pressured.
Enthusiastic consent levels the playing field, encouraging both partners to pay attention to and respond to both the verbal and non-verbal expressions of their partner, and to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves.
Do I need to say “yes” and what I’m thinking aloud?
Communication is an important part of sex, and it is important to feel comfortable enough with your partner that you can talk about what you want or don’t want in sex.
However, sometimes it can feel unnatural or unnecessary to explicitly vocalise your consent or your lack of it.
This is where body language comes in, and it’s really important to pay attention to each other’s body language and understand the signs.
However, body language and consent can be a tricky area.
What one person does with their body to indicate their thoughts may not always be clear to their partner.
So how do I know if my partner is enthusiastically consenting?
To practise enthusiastic consent, listen to your partner and ask if they want to continue.
It’s also important to think about your actions and your partner’s, and to understand their body language:
- Is your partner happy and relaxed? Are they engaging in the activity and reciprocating?
- Or are they showing stiff body language and avoiding eye contact?
If the answer is “yes” to (a), those are signs that your partner is enjoying what is happening.
If the answer to (a) is “no” however, and the answer to (b) is “yes”, they are likely to be showing through their body language that they are not enjoying the activity.
In this case, ask them.
Most importantly, do not force them to go further than they want to or continue trying to initiate contact where it is not reciprocated.
To sum up…
The key thing to remember is that sex should be enjoyed by everyone involved, and there are lots of ways to show that you’re enjoying yourself and want to continue.
Of course, there are lots of ways you or your partner will express that they don’t want to continue.
Learn to pay attention to physical and verbal communication – ask questions, make sure your partner is happy and comfortable. And remember to express what you’re thinking or feeling too!
Try to make sure you give and have received enthusiastic consent before engaging in sexual activities or trying something new – and most importantly, have fun!
For more information about dealing with sexual pressure, you can take a look at this fantastic article from sexual health charity Brook.