Consent Before Sexual Activity: 6 Things You Need to Know

Consent Before Sexual Activity: 6 Things You Need to KnowConsent is an agreement of sexual activity, with clear boundaries discussed before, during, and after engaging in sexual behaviors. Consent involves ongoing communication. Consent must be voluntarily given as a clear and enthusiastic yes to those who are able to give consent, continually throughout sexual activity and can be reversible. Consent should be a fun thing, as this indicates that a partner is respectful of you and your boundaries and is excited to explore with you.

There are many things that you must know about before consenting to sexual activity, but key points include consent is clear, and consent is yes!

Here are six reminders about consent from the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health:

Consent Needs to be Vocal.

Silence is not vocal, and it is necessary to receive a clear, verbally expressed “yes”. This paired with nonverbal cues that support enthusiasm such as smiling, head nodding, moving closer, and turning the body towards the other person are important social cues to be aware of.

If a partner seems hesitant, uncomfortable, or does not respond, that is not a clear or vocal “yes”. Also, keep in mind that “maybe” is different from “yes”. It is important to be aware of what consent does and doesn’t look likeand also to separate assumptions or biases based on factors such as gender. For example, if someone follows you into your bedroom, it cannot be assumed that they are consenting to sex. Also, if you’ve previously had sex with the same person before or you have an existing relationship (including marriage), that does not mean that you are entitled to engaging in sexual activities without their vocal consent.

If you struggle with reading social cues and/ or social interactions, therapy can help with awareness, understanding, and learning of social-emotional reciprocity and nuances within relationships.

If you have experienced non-consensual sexual experiences and would like to process these, therapy can help provide a space to support.


Consent Can be Reversible.

At any time, if you are feeling uncomfortable and choose to no longer engage in sexual behaviors, it is OK to revoke consent. Just because consent is given for one behavior, such as touching you with your clothing one, does not give them permission to remove your clothing or go further if that is something you do not give permission. Consent involves active communication and conversations about comfort and boundaries. If your partner does not respect your boundaries, this is a red flag.

If you struggle with communicating your sexual needs, preferences, comfort level, and boundaries, therapy is a great place to practice skills in these areas.

Consent Shouldn’t be Given if Incapacitated.

Example of being incapacitated include the following:

— Not being able to understand or communicate to give consent due to physical, mental, and/ or developmental disabilities.

–Being incapacitated due to alcohol or substances, including “date rape” drugs and involuntary restraint.

In the situations where one is considered a minor child or vulnerable adult and there is suspected sexual abuse, mandated reporting applies for maltreatment.

Therapy can help process experiences of sexual trauma, including rape, sexual assault, and incest.

If you struggle with engaging in sexual behavior without the use of drug or alcohol, talking to a mental health professional and seeking support for substance use can help address underlying concerns.

Consent Can’t be Given While Unconscious.

Consent cannot be obtained when one is asleep or unconscious. This area may overlap with being incapacitated and both areas may involve coercion or force.

Therapy can help work with the body’s responses after sexual trauma (over cognitive strategies that process memories) for those impacted by trauma without memory recall.

Consent Should be Fun.

Having conversations about relationships and sexual activities should be fun. If you are feeling pressured into activities that you do not want to engage or are afraid of your partner’s reaction and find that your verbal and nonverbal signals are being ignored these are warning signs that your partner is not respecting your boundaries.

Therapy can be a place to discuss communications around consent, celebrate healthy safe and fun interactions, and learn how to recognize unhealthy or abusive relational dynamics.

Consent Should be Given Freely.

Conversations about consent are meant to be ongoing conversations, to where there is mutual agreement to engage in sexual activities. There should not be pressure, intimidation, or threat to engage in sexual activity. Unfair power dynamics such as professor and student, manager and employee, and adult and minor are other examples that fall in this category.

Engaging in sexual behaviors that fall into categories of non-consenting activities such as rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse may be prosecuted. For more specific information, it can be helpful to check out your state’s consent laws.


American Sexual Health Association

Love is Respect

Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network

Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health

Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC


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