When we examine the issues of sexual assault, it’s important to consider consent. What it means to give consent is integral to discussions on sexual assault and healthy sexuality, and far more education on consent is needed to create a positive social change.
Everyone has the right to sexuality without violence and coercion, and much contemporary discourse on consent is beginning to focus on enthusiastic consent as a positive step.
What is Sexual Consent?
Consent and open communication should be the basis for every sexual encounter, and means that both partners want to participate in a sexual activity. Consent to one activity does not obligate you to consent to other activities, just as consent on one occasion does not obligate you to consent on other occasions. It’s crucial to understand that consent can be revoked at any time if you do not want to go any further, or if you change your mind.
Consent is a mutual verbal, physical, and emotional agreement that happens without manipulation, threats, or head games. Consent is a whole body experience. It is not just a verbal “yes” or “no” – it involves paying attention to your partner as a person and checking in with physical and emotional cues as well. Consent is also mutual (both people have to agree) and must be continuous. You can stop at any time, you can change your mind, and just because you said yes to one thing doesn’t mean you have consented to anything else.
While previously many people have thought about consent as the absence of saying ‘no’, this emphasis is outdated – and, many experts suggest, dangerous. When we define consent in terms of someone’s ability to say no, we set parameters that do not include people who are unable to say no for whatever reason
Their inability to say no is not the same as consent. Which is why many are turning towards the idea of enthusiastic consent – which means getting a positive and definitive YES as opposed to a no – as a more sex-positive, inclusive and healthy definiton.
The idea of enthusiastic consent advocates for enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity, as opposed to passive agreement. Popularised by the book Yes Means Yes! the concept also requires that consent be given to each sexual activity, meaning that saying yes to one thing does not mean consent to another.
The idea is to be respectful of your own physical and sexual autonomy, as well as your partner’s. It highlights that an unsure or hesitant yes is not enthusiastic consent, and needs to be considered.
Expanding the Definitions of Consent
There are situations that can't necessarily offer enthusiastic consent, for example in sex work, and perhaps in some BDSM acts.
In these cases, I believe it's important to recognise what consent looks like in terms of negotiation, transaction, and the terms of consent.
As an example, purchasing the services of a sex worker purchases you their time, but not a right to their body - that is something that they can negotiate, consent, and withdraw consent if they choose.
This also brings up the discussion of privilege, and how certain situations might be appearing to be consensual but are in actual fact exploitative.
We need to have these conversations.
What are your thoughts on enthusiastic consent? Do you think it offers a positive step forward for healthy sexuality?