Consent: What It Is And What It’s Not

2 minute read

If you are sexually active, or thinking about becoming sexually active for the first time, it’s so important to be clear on consent: what it is, what it isn’t, how to get consent, and why it matters so much. Without consent, a sexual act is considered assault. Learning about consent, and being sure to get an enthusiastic “yes” before sexual activity is the best way to ensure you have safe and enjoyable sex.

What is consent?

Sexual consent is the voluntary and freely given agreement to participate in sexual activities. Consent must be obtained every time sex occurs, and is specific ie. a person may consent to one sexual activity, but not another. It is also okay to withdraw consent, as in, to say yes to something, but then realize you don’t want to do it anymore. Practice consent by checking in with questions like “Do you want ___?", “Would you like more ___?”, and “How does that feel?”

What is the age of consent?

The age of consent is the age at which a person can legally agree to have sex. Under the age of consent, it is deemed that even if a person says “yes,” they are not mature enough to understand the risks and consequences, and therefore can not legally consent to sex. Sex with a minor is statutory rape. The age of consent varies between states and countries but is commonly in the mid or late teen years.

What is considered sexual assault?

Sexual assault involves sexual contact that a person does not want and has not consented to. Sexual assault may involve inappropriate touching over or under clothing and unwanted sex acts including, but not limited to, rape (where there is penetration).

What is rape?

Rape is a type of sexual assault that involves penetration (with a penis, finger or object) that a person does not consent to. Sexual assault is a broader term that includes rape as well as other kinds of non-consensual sexual contact.

Understanding consent — what it is and what it’s not — is essential if you are sexually active or plan to be. Getting consent and ensuring you and your partner are comfortable throughout a sexual experience can make things that much more enjoyable and safe. Remember that consent can be given or withdrawn at any time before and during sex.

Louise Bourchier, MPH

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Louise Bourchier is a sex educator and sex researcher with 8 years experience in the field. She teaches about sexual health, sexual pleasure, and communication in relationships through workshops, live-streams, and with written content. Using a sex-positive approach, a dash of humour, and bag full of fun props, Louise’s style of sex education for adults is not what you got in high school! Since 2011 she has taught over a hundred workshops to a wide range of audiences, from university students, to refugees, to medical professionals, to adult store clientele. She has a Masters of Public Health, and is currently a PhD candidate.

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