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What is Consent, and Why is it Important?

We’ve been talking more and more about sexual consent in recent years, but why is this topic so important, and what exactly is consent? In this article, we’re going to cover just that! We’ll also touch on different types of consent, and how setting boundaries can benefit you and your relationship. Read on to find out more...

So, what is consent?

Giving consent is actively agreeing to have sex or be intimate with someone. For sex to be consensual, consent must be given. Let’s take a closer look at how to give consent and to know if you’ve been given consent.

How do I know if I have consent?

The only way to know if you have consent is by asking your partner. This can be as simple as asking a question like ‘Is this OK for you?’ By doing this you’re checking in and making sure they’re still comfortable with what’s going on. Consent is needed for all types of sex and all stages of intimacy not just before penetrative sex.

On the flip side, if you don’t feel comfortable with what’s happening you can say at any point too, and your partner needs to listen to you and stop. Just because you agreed to do something, does not mean you have to go along with it if you change your mind or stop enjoying it. 

Body language can help you understand how your partner is feeling. Look out for cues such as nodding, smiling, or if they’re kissing you back - these signals aren’t consent on their own but they can still be a helpful indication as to whether or not your partner is enjoying what’s going on.

On the other hand, if the person is lying still, and isn’t smiling or kissing you back, this could be a sign that they aren’t comfortable. It’s important to note that silence is not consent. Just because they haven’t told you ‘no’ or asked you to stop directly does not mean that it’s OK to keep going. 

To properly give consent you need to be awake and sober. This means that you can’t give consent if you’re high or drunk - even if you say ‘yes’ or ask for sex. People who are asleep or unconscious cannot give consent either. 

What is enthusiastic consent? 

Enthusiastic consent is a newer model of consent that looks for a positive active ‘yes’ - as opposed to not saying ‘no’. Having sex with someone who isn’t into it isn’t much fun for either of you, so making sure you’re both enthusiastic, and in the mood, is a good starting place for great sex.

Remember that consent can be withdrawn at any time, and just because someone consents to make out, doesn’t mean that they consent to have intercourse or oral sex. Discussing what you’re both comfortable with (and what you enjoy) before you have sex can help establish those boundaries, but it’s important that you know that you both have the right to change your mind at any time!

What is informed consent?

You can only consent properly if you have all the facts, and if you and your partner are honest with each other. For example, if you agree to have sex understanding that your partner will use a condom, and then they don’t use a condom, then that is not informed consent because the circumstances have changed.

Getting an erection doesn’t equal consent

Our bodies have natural physiological responses that happen during sexual activity, for example getting an erection, having vaginal lubrication, or reaching orgasm. These are the body’s natural response to sex and are not the same as giving consent - you can still experience any of these physiological changes even if you haven’t consented to sex.

To make things super simple, here’s a breakdown of what consent does and doesn’t look like:

Consent is: 

  • Clear communication before and during sexual activity 
  • Needed every time you have sex 
  • Positive and enthusiastic 
  • Informed and honest
  • Needed for all types of intimacy

Consent is not: 

  • Silence/not saying ‘no’
  • Automatically granted even if you’ve had sex before
  • Given when someone is drunk, high, or asleep 
  • Tied to someone’s behavior such as their sexual history or the way they dress
  • Physiological responses such as having an erection, natural lubrication, or an orgasm
  • Continuing to ask someone for sex after they’ve said ‘no’

Why is consent important?

Sex without consent is rape or sexual assault. According to statistics from RAINN: 1 in 6 women will be a victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.

Not all rapes or attacks happen in dark alleyways. In fact, it’s been shown that more than half of all sexual assault cases happen at or near the survivor’s home. Sexual violence doesn’t happen in just one way - it’s different for everyone - but it’s important to recognize when it happens and educating and understanding consent is a great first step to doing just that.

Comprehending sexual consent isn’t just important for us as individuals, but it can help our wider communities too. By ensuring we always have informed, enthusiastic consent we can normalize a healthier attitude towards sex. While having open and honest discussions about what you do and don’t enjoy can strengthen your relationship and lead to better sex in the long run too!

What’s the law when it comes to consent?

If you are drunk, high, or unconscious you can’t consent to sex and there are laws in place to protect you. There are also laws in place to protect young people from being pressured into sex with older people. 

These laws on sexual consent vary between different countries and states. Check out this state-by-state guide or read up on the recent changes to consent laws in Europe to find out more about how the conversation around consent is changing.

If you’ve been affected by the topic covered in this article you can call the RAINN hotline, it’s free of charge and opens 24 hours a day. Readers in the UK can contact Rape Crisis or Rape Crisis Scotland

Help us bust stigma and share knowledge!

Thanks for taking the time to read ‘What is Consent?’ At Natural Cycles we’re dedicated to spreading knowledge when it comes to reproductive health one topic at a time. Sign up for the Natural Cycles app to get more tailored health insights into your unique cycle. Did you know Natural Cycles can also be used to plan or prevent pregnancy? Find out how it works today!

Did you enjoy reading this article?

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Written By

Jennifer Gray

Jennifer Gray is an award-winning writer with more than five years’ experience covering reproductive topics ranging from birth control to planning pregnancy. She is passionate about providing women with accurate information grounded in science they can use to take charge of their own health - while also dispelling myths that exist within the field of women’s health. She holds a Master of Science from the University of Edinburgh and currently lives in Ireland.

Jack in a suit and tie holding a microphone and giving a presentation.

Scientifically Reviewed

Jack Pearson

Dr. Jack Pearson is a previously HCPC registered Embryologist with a PhD in reproductive medicine. Prior to joining Natural Cycles leading Medical Affairs, he worked for more than 10 years in a clinical setting working at some of the busiest fertility clinics in the UK. Today he spends most of his time working with experts at the world’s leading institutions to carry out important research with the vision to further the field of female health. He earned his PhD from the University of Sheffield specializing in Sperm Metabolism and currently lives in London.

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