Written By Stephanie Locke, SSAIC Counsellor, MSW/RSW
Now that we know the basics of consent, it’s time to dig deeper so that we can all approach the consent conversation enthusiastically. “Affirmative consent” is an enthusiastic, voluntary, and mutual agreement among all parties to engage in sexual activity.
Consent can be communicated by words or actions; however, actions must provide unquestionable agreement regarding a person’s willingness to participate in the sexual activity¹.
Here are some tips that will help you to have the consent conversation with your partner(s):
Obtaining Enthusiastic Consent
Establish mutual interest before even considering sexual activity
- If you’re flirting with someone, are they giving me eye contact, leaning in, expressing excitement?
- Are you on the same page? (For example, are you looking for a relationship, but they’re looking for a casual hook-up?)
Negotiate consent verbally
- Be explicit in asking for what you want
Yes, this can feel vulnerable, but consider how vulnerable you might leave someone feeling if you act without asking
Negotiate consent non-verbally
- Practice reading your partner’s body language in non-sexual settings and check in with them to make sure you are reading them correctly
- Understand that non-verbal cues can indicate “no” or a withdrawal of consent (E.g. pulling away, turning away, stiffening up)
- Understanding your partner’s non-verbal cues might help you to come to a point in your relationship where you and your partner agree on an ‘only no means no’ approach to consent. This is when your partner permits you to touch their body in anyway within pre-established boundaries unless they explicitly say “no”
Encourage your partner to communicate with you
- Check in with your partner during sex; remind them that they can say “no”. Ask, “Can I ____?”; “Is this okay?”
- Check-in with your partner after sex. Ask, “How are you doing?”; “Would you want to do that again?”; “How was that for you?”; “I would like to try ____ next time, what do you think?”
Be aware of what makes your partner vulnerable
- Avoid partners who are intoxicated; don’t exploit their vulnerabilities
- If your partner has a history of sexualized trauma make it comfortable for them to talk about any relevant triggers and what helps them ground when they react to a trigger
Err on the side of caution
- You won’t ruin the mood by checking in, but you will absolutely ruin any mood if you cross someone’s boundaries!
Providing Affirmative Consent
Communicate your intentions and limitations
- Let your partner know what you are looking for; discuss your
- Don’t assume that you and your partner are on the same page
Discuss the kind of consent that works for you
- Do you want your partner to explicitly ask you before an escalation in intimacy or change in sexual activity? Maybe you use the “only no means no” approach. Some people are somewhere in between
Learn how to say “no” and get comfortable doing it
- Practice saying “no” and setting boundaries in situations that aren’t sexual
- Get to know yourself. Are you a people pleaser? Do you find it hard to say “no”? Consider working with a counsellor to address these tendencies
Provide continuous feedback to your partner
- Give your partner positive feedback. Let them know what they are doing right so they keep giving you more of that!
- Use verbal cues, “I like that”; “Yes!” and non-verbal cues, such as kissing, or pulling your partner closer
Err on the side of caution
- If you are unsure it’s best to say “no” for now. Talk about it further before deciding whether or not to try it (and don’t be afraid to have that conversation outside of the bedroom!)
- In the same way you can always revoke consent and change your mind to a “no”, you can also change your mind to a “yes”
- The State University of New York. (2019). Definition of affirmative consent.