Consent has been a hot-button topic since the #MeToo movement went global, but many people still don’t really understand what it is. It’s not quite as simple as just saying “Yes” to a sexual request; there are certain conditions that must be met for consent to be valid, both legally and morally.
Specifically, valid consent must be informed, uncoerced, and revocable. Let’s discuss what each of those terms actually means in this context…
Q. What is informed consent?
A. A person cannot meaningfully consent if they don’t even know what it is that they’re consenting to. This is why it’s a good idea to pre-negotiate what you plan on doing, especially if you’ll be participating in kinky activities that carry extra risks.
You don’t necessarily have to pre-plan every single thing – “First I’ll kiss you, then I’ll touch your breasts, then I’ll take your shirt off,” etc. – but you and your partner(s) should have at least a rough idea of what will happen.
You should also inform your date of any relevant information that could potentially change how they feel about having sex with you – such as whether you’ve been tested for STIs recently (and what your results were), whether you’re looking for a relationship or just a hookup, or whether you’ve taken any intoxicants recently.
Q. What is uncoerced consent?
A. There are many reasons why you might feel pressured into sex – and any element of sexual coercion is suspect at best and abusive at worst. If your date is physically intimidating you or emotionally manipulating you into sex, your “yes” isn’t based on true consent. This includes issuing ultimatums (“We have to have sex right now or I’m breaking up with you”), shaming (“Why don’t you want to have sex? You’re such a prude”), and other such tactics.
Various altered states can make you more coercible. For example, being drunk, high, or tired may lead you to say yes to sex you wouldn’t otherwise want. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to consent in those states, depending on their severity – but you should tread carefully when these altered states are involved, focusing only on sexual activities you’ve done before and that you know you and your partner like, if you choose to have sex at those times.
Q. What is revocable consent?
A. Without the ability to say “no,” there can be no meaningful “yes.” For consent to be valid, you must be able to withdraw your consent at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all.
You are never obligated to finish a sex act just because you said yes to it initially. Anyone who makes you feel otherwise is potentially dangerous and untrustworthy.
Some people use “blue balls” and other forms of sexual frustration as justification for pressuring a partner to continue having sex. However, someone else’s sexual frustration is not your responsibility to deal with, and they can always masturbate if they’re really that bothered by it.
Q. Wait – doesn’t consent have to be enthusiastic, too?
A. It’s true that “enthusiastic consent” is often held up as the gold standard, and that many people only feel comfortable having sex when their partners are enthusiastically consenting. That’s a reasonable stance to take, but it’s important to remember that there are plenty of situations where consent can lack enthusiasm while still being valid.
For instance, it might be difficult to summon enthusiasm for sex if you are stressed, ill, asexual, or a sex worker providing services to a client – but your consent in those cases can still be given from a place of agency and awareness, and therefore can still be valid.
Now that you understand consent better, you’re more equipped to have safe, healthy, and consensual sexual encounters going forward!