When it comes to sex, consent should always be clear, knowing and voluntary. We’ve talked about this definition of consent in a previous post, but let’s talk specifically about what voluntary means.
Voluntary consent means everyone feels like they’re making their own choice, rather than someone else making it for them. If someone says “yes” because they’re too afraid to say “no”, they’re not giving voluntary consent.
Coercion is the opposite of voluntary consent. Coercion can mean pressuring someone to do something they don’t want to, making threats, using force, or blackmailing someone into having sex.
People communicate about sex in different ways. While some of us are candid and direct, some of us are more indirect. If you aren’t sure if you have voluntary consent, listen for some of the key words and phrases outlined below.
|Consent sounds like||Non-consent sounds like|
|I'm sure||I'm not sure|
|I know||I don't know|
|I want to||I want to, but ...|
|I'm not worried||I feel worried about|
|I want you/it/that||That hurts|
|Can you please do (whatever)||Maybe|
|I still want to||I love you/this, but|
|That feels good||I want to do this, but not right now|
|I want to do this right now||I don't know how I feel about this|
|I feel good about this||I don't want to do this anymore|
|I want to keep doing this||This feels wrong|
People can also communicate non-verbally with their actions and body language. Look for some of these behaviors:
|Possible non-verbal signs of consent||Possible non-verbal signs of non-consent|
|Direct eye contact||Avoiding eye contact|
|Initiating sexual activity||Not initiating any sexual activity|
|Pulling someone closer||Pushing someone away|
|Actively touching someone||Avoiding touch|
|Nodding yes||Shaking head no|
|Laughter or smiling||Crying and/or looking sad or fearful|
|Open body language: relaxed, loose and open expressions, turning toward someone||Closed body language: tense, stiff, or closed expressions, turning away from someone|
|Sounds of enjoyment||Silence|
|An active body||Just lying there|
Adapted from Partners in Social Change
If you’re not 100 percent confident that everyone agrees to what is happening – then stop. Check in, and ask the other person how they’re doing. Ask “do you want to stop?” or “do you want to keep going?”
Interested in learning more about consent? Request a workshop for your group, chapter, residence hall or department.