Guide To Consent: How To Give It, How To Ask For It & Why It's Okay To Withdraw It
Warning: This article contains depictions of sexual coercion and references to rape that some may find upsetting.
You’ve been out on a date/to a party/in a bar and you’ve met someone - or maybe you’re hanging out with someone you already know. They seem nice but you’re not sure; either way, you’ve ended back at their place or in a private space. They’re pushing for sex - or something like it. You’re not vibing.
Do you say a firm “thanks, but no thanks” as loudly and clearly as you can OR do you just give in and go with the flow because you’re just not sure whether this person is the type of person who doesn’t take no for an answer and you would rather feel as if you did something - even something you don’t really want to do - than have something done to you against your will?
The best answer is obviously (a) tell them to take a hike; however, it’s not always easy to find the confidence to dish out that option. IMPORTANT TEA! This is not your fault. Going with something out of fear of saying no is NOT giving consent.
In the most dangerous situations, not giving consent is clear. But what about those times when you’re a little iffy on whether or not you gave consent, or the person misunderstood what you said, or if you somehow ‘owed’ the person something just because you’d said ‘yes’ countless times before? Consent shouldn’t be as murky as a swamp; it should be as clear as the ocean in the Maldives. And that sh*t is clear!
How to give consent
Sex can be a fun, intimate, loving or wild experience (delete as appropriate, depending on what you’re into). But no matter what type of bedroom kinks you’re down with, knowing how to give enthusiastic consent is important. If only one person is excited about it, it’s not consent. You want to be vocal. Tell the person you’re with that you like it like that or hell, sing them a song. However you choose to verbalize what you want and don’t want, the vocalization of consent is the clearest and most affirmative way to let someone know that they have the greenlight.
Body language isn’t always as clear, but there are things you can do if you don’t want to use your voice to say yes over and over again. Staring deeply into your lover’s eyes while actively touching them — we’ll let you imagine where — can be a surefire way to let them know that you are definitely picking up on what they’re throwing down. Smiling, being relaxed, or moaning are also great non-verbal ways to let them know that you’re into it.
This applies to every type of sexual encounter. Say you and your partner have been discussing opening up a relationship or having a third join the party. You both have to agree. Your partner can’t just bring home a stray sex friend without you saying it’s okay to do so. The same can be said for BDSM and toys. Start with communication when it comes to these things so that you’re both on the same page about what’s acceptable and know that at any time you can change your mind.
How to ask for consent
On the flipside of things, you also want to know that the person you’re with is actually into it as much as you are. There’s this glaringly inaccurate myth going around that womxn can have sex with whoever they want, whenever they want. If you heard the Price Is Right ‘LOSER’ buzzer in your head just now, you know what we’re talking about. Because sometimes, people who like to have sex with womxn just aren’t in the mood. Everyone needs to be aboard the sex train before it leaves the station. Some may think that it kills the passion to ask for consent, but they too get the buzzer.
Consent is sexy because it’s f*cking hot being with someone you want at the same time as them wanting you. Using verbal inquiry can go a long way in finding out if your partner is ready and willing, and it can even be used to amp up the passion. You could say something like, “I want you right now. Do you want me, too?” Easy peasy way to find out what they’re after. If they metaphorically give you two very enthusiastic thumbs up with a “Heck yeah!” (if they’re from the Midwest…), the coast is clear to begin.
If they’re really enthusiastic then they might be showing you with their body language. Whether it be long gazes, exploratory hands, pulling you closer, or all of the above, that verbal yes is then backed up by their physical actions.
If they say something like, “Uhh...sure,” you need to slow down. Take a breath. That is not consent. That is uncertainty and you’re going to have to make sure that you’re not pushing someone into something they don’t want to do. Reassure the person by saying things like “It’s okay if you don’t want to.” And then go about your regular scheduled programming. By this I mean shows about sex on HBO, not sex itself.
Their body language will give off an air of discomfort, too. So, even words that sound like they are - or might be - into it, such as ‘okay’, ‘um…yeah’, or ‘I want to but maybe later’ are not the resounding YES’s that we’re after. If they’re looking down and away, fidgeting, or crossing their arms, they’re probably just not into it. It’s all good. You’re still cool and hot and whatever. You’re just not getting any today/night.
Remember, you’re looking for enthusiasm and if there is no enthusiasm, there shouldn’t be any sex. Period.
Can consent be revoked?
F*ck yes, consent can be revoked! At any time. During any encounter. We have the right to stop any sexual experience right there at the edge of climax if we want to and there’s not a thing that anyone can say differently.
Think about it this way—you go to brunch, order a sandwich. Maybe you’ve had the sandwich before, maybe you haven’t, but this time, halfway through, you realize it’s just not what you wanted for lunch. You have the freedom to stop eating that damn sandwich. That ‘yes’ has now turned into a ‘no’ and there’s nothing else to be said about it.
How to withdraw sexual consent
Having the right to withdraw doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a good time or an easy experience. Many people unfortunately know this first-hand. But there are things you can do to take sex off the table, whether you’ve had it with that person a million times before, whether you’re just getting started, or even if you’re halfway through the act and just, like, over it.
This is where verbal communication comes in. It’s kind of hard to tell someone you’re done with body language alone when withdrawing consent, especially in the instance that the curtain has already been drawn. Tell them you’re done. It’s over. You want them to stop or you don’t want to do it with them anymore. That’s it. It might be awkward but it’s better than doing something you don’t want to do.
Every single sexual encounter requires consent. You could be in a long-term relationship, married, or just dating - it doesn’t matter. Consent is the most important part of sexual intimacy. If you feel as though you may have (or definitely have) been sexually assaulted you can contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline. It’s completely free and confidential so you can get the help you need without having to put your whole story out there.
Clarifying consent shouldn’t be a conversation that we need to have in 2021 - but unfortunately, it really is. As womxn, we need to make sure that we stand together so that no one is ever left wondering how to give it, how to ask for it, or that it’s okay to withdraw it.