As a society, we’ve been having more conversations about consent, but it can be challenging to think about what consent means within the context of a relationship.
Consent means both parties are sincerely agreeing to what is going on without feeling pressured into doing any sexual acts they do not like. Just because someone says yes once does not mean that person consents for the future. Verbal communication is the best way to make sure partners understand what they want in their relationship. A person should not feel ashamed to tell their significant other that they are uncomfortable with certain actions like touching or moving too fast.
Personal boundaries go hand-in-hand with consent. Let’s say you are making out with your significant other and everything is going great. They are happy and smiling and so are you. All of the sudden they become rigid, quiet, and pull away. This is a big warning sign; do not go any further. Instead of getting upset with them, check in with them. Ask them if they are okay and if they are comfortable with what you are doing. Offer them an out by telling them that you can do something else instead or stop altogether. Start the conversation so that both you and your partner know their boundaries. Also, talk about what each of you do and do not like. Open communication leads to a more trusting relationship.
Talking about consent can feel awkward, but it does not have to be since everyone enjoys something different. It is okay to let your significant other know what it is that you like and what you do not care for. Listening to each other is equally important. If your partner communicates to you that they do not like a certain sexual act, always respect their wishes. Disrespecting their wishes breaks the boundaries and trust in the relationship. Discuss consent multiple times. Just because your partner is okay with what you are doing today does not mean they will be okay with these actions tomorrow. Asking for consent does not have to be boring. It can actually be cute and sexy. An example of being cute and sexy would be:
- Do you like it when I touch you there?
- Can you show me your bedroom?
- Do you want to help me take my shirt off?
- Can we try something new?
Common misconceptions make it seem like there are a lot of gray areas with consent. Just because someone is silent does not mean they are consenting. Always err on the side of caution and ask them or watch their body language. It is always possible for someone to say yes but not really mean it. Watch their body language for non-verbal cues. If your partner is quiet or uncomfortable, make sure they are okay and ask them what is going on. Respect their personal space and give them time to respond. However, if they are smiling at you and leaning into you, that could be a sign that they are into it. Another way to tell is by touch. Are they reciprocating your touch? That means they are giving the non-verbal cues for consent. Again, if you are unsure always have them verbally confirm they are okay with what you are doing.
If drugs or alcohol incapacitates your partner, they cannot consent. They cannot consent, even if they say “yes,” because they are not in their right mind. What if both of you are intoxicated? Again, communication is key. If either one of you cannot communicate your boundaries or needs, you cannot consent. Checking in–even more than once–is a good idea. Ask them if they really want this or if they are unsure. If there is any hesitation, take that answer as a no. If you are too intoxicated to read non-verbal cues, you should not initiate sex. If your partner is slurring their words, they cannot effectively communicate to you about what they want and do not want, so again do not initiate any type of sexual acts.
According to Teen Vogue, blanket consent is another type of consent, which means both of you are consenting ahead of time. Consenting ahead of time means you or your partner do not need to ask for permission for each physical act. This is usually for more experienced couples who know exactly what they do and do not want. Verbal communication is established beforehand on what will happen. However, either you or your partner can still change their mind at any time. Both of you need to respect that no means no. Blanket consent is not a good idea for any partner who may feel vulnerable, so do not pressure anyone into this type of consent.
Every relationship is different and every couple is different, so talk about what works for both of you. Respect that they can say no at any time and do not pressure anyone to say yes. Always watch for non-verbal cues and the main thing to remember is silence is not a “yes” at any time. If your partner does not respect your wishes and breaks your boundaries, it could be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. If your partner truly cares about you they will listen to what your needs are and respect them every time.