HOW TO ASK FOR ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT
CONSENT IS #1 WHEN IT COMES TO SEX.
Consent is about saying “yes” and respecting and accepting a person’s right to say “no”. However, our discussions around consent have been skewed for a long time.
There are so many factors affecting our understanding of consent! Phrases like ‘yes means yes, no means maybe’ are actively promoting rape culture. There’s pressure on men to get another notch in their belt and there’s pressure on women to crave and submit to male attention. The notion that big, strong men win the girl isn’t true for many people, yet it is everywhere. These notions are not only exacerbating gender stereotypes, but they’re also heteronormative.
They might be big words but, plain and simple, we need to reframe the discussion around consent. But how do we do this? What do we need to know?
This video draws a great analogy between consent and making someone a cup of tea
Copyright ©2015 Emmeline May and Blue Seat Studios (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQbei5JGiT8)
Consent is not just a once-off question (although the question is very important!). Consent is a continuous state of being between people that actively affirms their wishes. It is checking in with the other person, every step of the way. That is where enthusiastic consent comes in.
Enthusiastic consent is about ensuring that all parties to sexual acts are enthusiastically consenting to everything that happens. This means you would be participating in sexual acts because you’re excited about it, not because you feel pressured into it. Enthusiastic consent gives power to each individual to decide if they want to have sex and how they want to have it.
You can also think about this as ‘active’ or ‘positive’ consent. The Line describes that “You’ve got to be 100% free to agree”.
Let’s face it, everyone is going to have a more pleasurable time if they’re excited to be there!
WHY “NO MEANS NO” IS TOO SIMPLE
Many of us would have heard the phrase “No means no”. But it is too simple.
It leaves out the situations in which someone is physically unable to say no. This includes when someone is asleep or unconscious. If someone’s had too much to drink or is very distressed, don’t try for sex. In NSW law, a person does not consent to sex if they do not have the capacity due to age or cognitive incapacity if they are unconscious or asleep if they are threatened or being detained (Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) s 61HE).
An absence of the word ‘no’ does not mean someone is consenting.
The ‘no means no’ catchphrase also fails to account for all the sexual encounters that happen because someone feels pressured to participate. Technically, when someone is pressured to have sex, they are not consenting. This is the situation where enthusiastic consent really gets to shine!
It is important for all of us to realise that there may be pressure on the other person. This could be coming from us. This also includes unspoken perceptions by both, or all, parties. Consider peer pressure, for example. Take a moment to read the other person’s emotional cues. Do they look keen? Many people fear that if they say ‘no’, there will be an aggressive response from the other person, including violence or rape. They might fear negative social repercussions. Consider also that many people react to traumatic situations by freezing, meaning they might not actively say ‘no’.
So if someone’s a little quiet or seeming awkward, hold up a moment and ask them if they still want to participate. In any case, you should be checking in with your sexual partner throughout sexual activities to ensure they’re into it.
HOW TO ASK FOR ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT
You might worry that asking very upfront questions about sexual acts will be dorky. But if everyone is enthusiastic about being there and doing the deed in the way that they want, it’s a win-win situation.
Figure out your own boundaries
Have a think about your ‘yeses’, ‘nos’ and ‘maybes’. What are the things you absolutely will do or will not do with any partner? What are the things that are a ‘maybe’, perhaps dependent on time, place, mood and partner? This means that if someone seeks your enthusiastic consent, you know what you’re up for.
Find the words and practice
Find ways of asking for consent that feels good for you. There will be a combination of words and a style that will suit you best. Try these:
- I’m keen to try [fill in the blank]. Would you be keen too?
- Would you like it if I [fill in the blank]?
- [Fill in the blank] sounds really sexy to me. What do you think?
- Is it OK if I [fill in the blank]?
You can try these out in the mirror on your own, just to get the feel for the words.
WHAT IF THE ANSWER IS ‘NO’?
If someone isn’t keen to do something, don’t pressure them. Don’t force it upon them. This goes for everything from touching and kissing, to sex and everything in between. Don’t take it personally. Their reason for saying ‘no’ is theirs alone to know unless they decide to tell you.
Respect them and their right to say no.
If you don’t want to do something, you have the right to say ‘no’. What you do with your body is your choice. Who you have sex with is your choice. How and when you have sex is your choice. For other people, all of this is their choice.
When everyone has a choice, you can get on and have a rollicking good time.
If you have been sexually assaulted or have concerns about your experiences and consent, there are a range of services available.
- UNE students can access free counselling through UNE Student Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS). They are fully qualified and registered psychologists, offering on-campus appointments and phone/video chat sessions for online students. The service is confidential and free for UNE students.
You can contact them Monday- Friday, 9am-4 pm, on (02) 6773 2897.
- For more urgent assistance, UNE offers After Hours Support on weekdays from 4.00pm to 9.00am AEST, weekends and public holidays. Phone 1300 661 927 or text 0488 884 169. Alternatively, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
- 1800 RESPECT. Confidential sexual assault and family and domestic violence counselling via phone and webchat. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Phone: 1800 737 732.
- NSW Rape Crisis. 24/7 telephone and online crisis counselling service for anyone in NSW – men, women and non-binary – who has experienced or is at risk of sexual assault and their non-offending supporters. Phone: 1800 424 017.
The team at Advocacy & Welfare are here to help you when you need – if you need to talk with someone, and you’re not sure which direction to go, please reach out.
You’re never alone at UNE.