Written By Stephanie Locke, SSAIC Counsellor, MSW/RSW
Everyone is talking about it, but what exactly is consent?
- (noun) permission for something to happen or agreement to do something
- (verb) give permission for something to happen or to agree to do something¹
Consent is agreement or approval for something proposed by another person. ‘Person A’ asks for what they want, and ‘Person B’ willingly gives permission for it to happen. Easy right? But there’s more. When it comes to sex, consent is a conversation that takes place before, during, and after any sexual activity.
Did you know that consent is an essential element of sex?
The Criminal Code of Canada defines consent as “the voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question” and without consent, a sexual offence has taken place.
According to the Canadian Criminal Code, consent CANNOT be given under the following conditions:
- The “yes” is provided by someone else
- Sex is obtained through an abuse of power, trust, or authority
- One person does not say “yes” or says or implies “no” through words or actions
- One of the partners has changed their mind
- One person is unable to give consent (unconscious, sleeping, or intoxicated)²
Cartoon by Kirkham, A. (2015).
The consent conversation is an ongoing dialogue between people who are sexually active with each other. It’s a two-part process that involves ‘Person A’ obtaining consent and ‘Person B’ providing consent. Our next post will discuss specific tips for obtaining and providing enthusiastic consent, so stay tuned. Consent is often talked about in terms of “enthusiasm” because it’s important that the person giving consent does so willingly and passionately. Consent that is not given in earnest is moving down a slippery slope toward coercion.
Here are some facts and myths about consent that might help clear up any questions:
- Fact: The definition of consent is about agreement and permission. Ultimately consent is about saying “yes”. It’s about making sure that your partner is a willing participant in whatever sexual activity you take part in.
Myth: Consent is all about saying “no”.
- Fact: It is the responsibility of the person who is seeking to engage in a specific sexual activity to obtain consent before moving on to that activity, regardless of their sex or gender. Consent isn’t a heteronormative concept; it applies to all people, all genders, all sexualities.
Myth: It’s a man’s job to get consent from a woman.
- Fact: Consent is an ongoing conversation. Permission is required before moving to a different sexual act, whether that’s kissing, feeling, penetration, or otherwise. Permission is also required each time you want to engage in that act again. Permission once isn’t permission forever.
Myth: You only have to ask once.
- Fact: Sexual assault will definitely “ruin the mood”. In fact, consider that if asking for consent will “ruin the mood”, you may be the only person IN the mood to begin with.
Myth: Asking for consent might ruin the ‘mood’.
Finally, if you’re feeling iffy about all of this consent business, consider this:
If you can’t talk to your partner about sex, should you even being doing it with them in the first place?
- Google Dictionary. (2018). Consent.
- Government of Canada. (2019). Justice Laws Website.