Understanding Verbal and Non-Verbal ConsentMaria Bettina
February 27, 2023
Consent. A simple and yet incredibly complex thing. When the topic comes up we often try to brush it to the side, claiming that we understand what consent is, and often feel patronized when someone tries to explain it to us.
I don't think that any of our issues is explaining what consent is, but we all do have a problem when it comes to understanding and practicing consent. And if you don't think that this is true, then you probably really need to brush up on your knowledge of consent. Regardless of whether you are a female, male or member of the LGBTQ+ community, all of us need to improve on our understanding and practice of consent.
What is consent?
Consent is a voluntary and clear agreement between participants to engage in specific sexual activity. Consent is clear, coherent and ongoing. There should be no grey area when it comes to consent. And consent can change at any time and does not cover every type of sexual act.
How and when should you ask for consent?
You must ask for consent before participating in sexual activity. You must also continually ask for consent during sex, and consent must be given for different sexual activities and practices. You must never guilt someone to pressure them into any type of sexual act. For example, if someone does not want to do anal sex, then you should not continually ask. No, means no. To continually ask for pressure is coercion.
You should just ask your partner what they are comfortable with and what they are not. Use this time to also have an open conversation about your boundaries and preferences. Remember, consent is ongoing!
Things to ask check when asking for consent:
- Coherent - the people participating in sexual activity all must be capable of giving consent. They must not be intoxicated, or on drugs. They must be awake and conscious.
- Willing. Consent must be willing and voluntary. You should not pressure someone to have sex and hope that a no turns into a yes. That is coercion. You should never pressure anyone to do anything that they do not want to do.
- Clear. Consent must be clear. Your partner must be enthusiastic to engage in sexual activity. Has your partner given verbal consent? Are they silent? Never assume that you have consent, always ask.
- Ongoing. Consent doesn't just happen once. Consent is ongoing. You need consent for every single sexual act.
Reading verbal and nonverbal cues:
Consent can be shown both verbally and nonverbally. That's why it is important that you are able to read both types of cues. If someone verbally DOES NOT consent it may (but is not limited) to the following:
- I do not want to
- I'm not sure
- I don't know
- But ...
- That makes me uncomfortable
- I don't want to do this anymore
- This doesn't feel right
- This feels wrong
- Changing the subject
If your partner is nonverbally showing that they DO NOT want to have sex it may (but is not limited) to looking like this:
- Pushing you away
- Pulling away
- Sharking their head
- Being quiet
- Not looking you in the eye
- Not responding
- Being motionless
- Looking sad
- Looking scared
- Not removing their own clothing.
If your partner appears to be doing any of the above then they have not consented. But remember, that is a limited list, and there are other ways that non-consent can be showcased both verbally and physically.
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