Both adults and children can benefit from a better understanding of what it means to give CONSENT, beyond the idea that ‘no’ means ‘no’. When a person is engaging in sexual relations, they need to ensure that they have their partner’s affirmative consent. While affirmative consent is best when it’s verbal, it can also be an enthusiastic head nod, however, it is certainly not as clear. In that case, enthusiasm is key because if the head nod was reluctant, then the person may very well not have consented to the act in question. It is important to note that this consent can be revoked at any time.
As complicated as the notion of consent can be, there are some really amazing resources out there that simplify the notion of what true consent is.
For example, there is a YouTube video called “Tea and Consent”, which sounds silly because what do those two things have to do with each other, but it makes a very interesting parallel. The concept is as follows, you wake up in the morning…and want tea….walk to the kitchen and then decide you don’t want tea, that’s ok. And nobody should make you drink the tea because you changed your mind.
Another interesting resource is a graphic novel illustrating two people who are about to engage in sexual activity. There is a mediator that pops up at different stages to check in, as a moral meter, as to whether or not consent has been sufficiently given at that juncture.
This resource really clarifies the nuances of real consent vs assumed consent and is educational to both children and adults alike. We have also provided additional resources below for your reference.
If a person pretends not to hear you when you ask if you can kiss them, that means “no”. If they give an ambivalent answer like “oh, I don’t know”, they are also saying “no”.
Educating oneself and others about consent is a pressing and serious issue. Its explanation can be simplified. During any type of physical or sexual contact, the partner needs to be ‘into it’ and not merely ‘okay with it’. There is a clear difference between agreement and excitement. If you ask someone to have sex with you and they agree verbally but their body language is clearly distant, you should NOT proceed. The bare minimum is not to be opposed to engaging in sexual activity, however, that is a fine line and still opened to interpretation without verbal consent.
It is also common that a person who consented to an act changes their mind before and/or during. The same concept applies to any plans that you make. Just because you woke up one morning feeling social and wanting to go out, does not mean that you must follow through if you feel differently once the sun sets. Therefore, consent must be repeated for it to be considered legitimate. Likewise, a person can undoubtedly change their mind during physical or sexual contact. Before taking the sexual relations a step further, both partners must explicitly and voluntarily agree. If one party needs to be convinced to engage in any physical activity, they have not consented.
For example, two people are kissing and then after one asks the other to perform oral sex, they seem hesitant, that is not consent. If for example they say, “you’re going to like it” and the other person agrees by saying “okay, only because you seem to really want to”, there is no clear consent.
Furthermore, a person consenting to one act does not mean that they also consented to something else. While one partner may view two different acts as similar ‘bases’, in terms of the popular baseball analogy for sex, the other may be comfortable with first base and not second base. It is also important to highlight that receiving consent once does not mean there is carte blanche to all subsequent sexual activities.
In order to give voluntary and informed consent, a person needs to be able to communicate properly and have the ability to make their own choices. Therefore, someone who is underage or intoxicated does not have the capacity to give consent, similarly to a person that is sleeping or that has been drugged. The legal age of consent in Canada is 16 and teenagers below that age are considered to be unable to give consent as per the Government of Canada. While the laws differ in different countries, the objective remains to obtain informed consent.
Section 273.1 (1) of the Criminal Code of Canada defines consent as “the voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question”. Sexual assault is a criminal offense. Therefore, if you engage in sexual relations with someone who did not consent, you will be charged. The length of the prison sentence depends on the nature of the crime. However, if you sexually assaulted an adult your sentence can range from one to ten years, as per section 271(a) of the Criminal Code.
To ensure that consent has been given, you need to ask what does the other person want. This is a question that needs to be asked repeatedly. Nonetheless, it is important to remain conscious that the partner needs to explicitly give consent. Merely thinking they are okay with what is going on is not adequate in the context of any physical or sexual contact.
Whether you are engaging in manual-genital sex, oral-genital sex, anal intercourse, sexting, or anything else, you need to repeatedly ask for consent at every step.
The more widespread the conversation is about consent, the more normalized and understood consent will be. It is important that kids are equipped with the appropriate knowledge about consent when engaging in any sexual relations. Whether you are a grandparent or just hit puberty, everyone can benefit from learning about the true meaning of consent.
A Quick and Easy Guide to Consent by Isabella Rotman: https://www.amazon.ca/Quick-Easy-Guide-Consent/dp/1620107945
Consent and Tea Video: https://youtu.be/pZwvrxVavnQ
C is for Consent by Eleanor Morrison: https://www.amazon.ca/C-Consent-Eleanor-Morrison/dp/0999890808
Consent: The New Rules of Sex Education: Every Teen’s Guide to Healthy Sexual Relationships by Jennifer Lang: https://www.amazon.ca/Consent-Education-Healthy-Sexual-Relationships/dp/1641522801