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Content Warning: Topics including non-consent and assault are mentioned in this article. 

What is consent?

So, what is consent? When you think of consent, what do you think of? The phrase “Yes means yes, and no means no” might pop into your head or maybe conversations about non-consensual situations. Like so many others, you might also think of it as something that is uncomfortable to explicitly do. A lot of people think that incorporating obvious consent conversations can ruin the mood, and it makes perfect sense why you might feel that way. For so long, we have talked about consent from a business contract perspective. At some point before you start engaging in sexual activity, you’re supposed to stop what you’re doing, ask if it’s ok to proceed, get a verbal yes or no, and then move on with that verbal contract having been signed. That is one of the most un-sexy things that I can think of when it is framed like that. 

Instead, consent is a key part in ensuring that both you and your partner(s) have the most pleasurable experience possible. It’s not only about saying “Yes” and “No” to certain things, but it’s also about expressing what makes you feel good, what you want and desire, what turns you on, and what you can do to someone else to make them feel the same way. 

According to RAINN, each year in the United States, around 593,000 people are sexually assaulted and every 68 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. Sexual violence can be a wide variety of things such as using technology harmfully, stalking, sexual harassment, abuse by medical professionals and helping professions, elder abuse, and more.

Although assault disproportionately affects Black transgender women and women in general, this can happen to anyone. It is vital that we all take steps to educate ourselves and others on what full and informed consent is. 

With all of that said, we’re so glad you’re here and taking the time to learn more about Consent 101, to understand what is consent and how consent can actually increase the pleasure you and your partner(s) are experiencing. 

Full consent has five key points, according to Planned Parenthood: it’s freely given, it’s reversible, it’s informed, it’s enthusiastic, and it’s specific. The “Yes” that everyone gives is much more loaded than we may have thought. So let’s dive into what each of those things even mean:

Consent is freely given.

When consent is freely given, it is done so without manipulation, shame, guilt, expectation, or influence of substances. An individual should feel just as empowered and able to say “Yes” as they are to say “No”. If there is any fear of retaliation, upsetting another person, a sense of responsibility that you have to, or use of substances that alter your conscious state, that is not freely given consent. Any of these variables are considered incapacitated consent. Incapacitated consent is not consent. Plain and simple. This (as well as all of the other points) applies to every type of physical encounter with another person, whether you’re in a relationship, single, dating, married, or anything else! Your relationship status does not automatically give a consent stamp of approval. 

Consent is reversible.

Consent can be changed at literally any point in time, for any reason, about anything. 5 minutes ago you could have said, “Ooo I’d love for you to use the vibrator on me”, but now you’re not feeling it and you can say “Hey I’m actually not vibing with this vibrator anymore, can we go back to making out?” If someone says the same thing to you, it’s your responsibility to respect that. It’s also important to remember that just because you consent to something one time doesn’t mean you’ve consented to it every time from there on out. You’re in control of your body!

Informed consent is crucial. 

If you’re going to interact with someone physical and / or sexually, you both should be fully aware of what you’re starting! One thing in particular that falls into this category is STI disclosure. No matter what your STI status is or when you were last tested, it’s important to disclose that with any new person you’re going to have sex with, so that they can make a fully informed decision about what their getting into (and if you do have an STI, it’s not the end of the world, and that doesn’t automatically mean you can’t have sex!). But at the end of the day, information is crucial in making fully empowered and autonomous decisions. 

Consent should be enthusiastic!

Any form of sex or sexual expression in the way that you want to be doing it is hot as hell, fun, pleasurable, and some of the best parts of life. So if you’re doing it with others, all of you should be enthusiastic about participating. It’s kind of like if I ask my partner if she wants to grab ice cream with me, and she says “I don’t really want to, but we can if you want to”. Technically she said she’s fine with it, but I know that she doesn’t really want to and it’s also not as fun for me if I know that I’m making her do something she isn’t really excited about. That would be a great opportunity to have some “me time” and go get ice cream myself. The same thing applies to any sexual activity. All parties should be ecstatic to be there and doing what they are doing. So if you or anyone else is giving off signals of being uncomfortable, not really into it, or unsure, that’s a great opportunity to pause and check in.

Consent needs to be specific. 

Now that doesn’t mean that every single time your body slightly shifts during sex that you need to check in first, but it’s about making sure that everyone is on the same page. If you’ve already established that vaginal penetration with fingers is good to go, that doesn’t automatically mean you can also anal penetrate them with your fingers as well or vaginally penetrate them with something other than your fingers. You can talk about these things before, during, and after sex! There might be boundaries you know ahead of time that you want to have respected that you can express, during sex the other person might want to try something but you aren’t up for it that night, and afterward you can also discuss what you loved and maybe loved trying but wouldn’t want to do again. 

Ultimately, consent is an ongoing conversation that should be evolving from before sexual activity even starts to after it finishes (pun intended). Consent makes the experience so much more enjoyable and so much hotter when you know that everyone is on the same page, having a great time, and isn’t being forced to be there. Everyone deserves to have their boundaries, consent, body language, and words respected 100% of the time, and it’s actually much easier to incorporate it into your sex life than you might think. Here are some real life examples of what consent can look like:

1. “You look fucking hot right now, can I go down on you?”

“Yes please, I’d love that.”

2“Wanna have a quickie before work?”

“I’m actually not really in the mood because I have a big presentation today, but maybe this weekend?”

“Oh of course, good luck today!”

3“Just as a heads up, I don’t really like my hair being pulled or tugged on at all during sex”

“Thanks for letting me know! Is there anything you are into and that turns you on?”

“Yes I LOVE ear biting.”

4“I can’t wait to come over to your place tonight. I don’t think we’ve checked in about this before, but I just got tested for STIs last month and I came back positive for HSV2. I’ve talked extensively with my doctor and there’s no risk of you contracting it since I don’t have an active outbreak and to be extra safe, I was already planning on having us use a dental dam if either of us wanted to go down on each other. But I wanted to let you know ahead of time so that you could feel free to ask any questions or change our plans for tonight if you wanted!”

“Thanks for letting me know! I used to hook up with someone who had HSV2 as well, so I’m actually pretty familiar with it, and I’m still down to come over tonight. Do you want me to bring any extra dental dams?”

5“I noticed you were moaning and telling me how good things were feeling earlier, but now you’re a little quieter. Did anything happen?”

“I think I’m in my head a little more than I was hoping to be tonight. Could we pause on having sex and maybe just cuddle and watch a movie instead?”

“Of course. Do you want popcorn?”


Whether you are having a one-night stand or are in a multi-year relationship, any of these can be used with your partner. Consent is sexy and hot and makes everyone feel good, so don’t shy away from it! Play around with how you incorporate questions and comments about consent, find what works for you, and remember that you and your partners deserve to feel pleasure and safety. 

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault and would like further support, check out these resources: