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Understanding Consent: What It Is and How to Get It

It’s 2017 and there is still confusion about what “counts” as consent and what doesn’t. In nearly every sexual moment (outside of very specific kinky situations) anything other than a full-throated, enthusiastic, happy “Yes!” should make you pause. If you’re not sure it’s a big yes, ask.

Still confused by what is and is not consent? We’ve got you covered.

Yes Means Yes

The absolute basics of consent are fairly simple and yet quite often forgotten. If your partner says, “Yes I want to do the sexy thing!” to you, you have consent. When your partner says, “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know” or doesn’t give you an affirmative response, you don’t have consent. And anytime you’re not sure, stop everything. Pull back a little, look at your partner, and ask, “Do you want to?” When they say yes, keep going. If they don’t, stop.

Communication Required

Tone is everything, and a meek, sarcastic, or distracted “Yes” is not the same as a full-throated, “Oh my God, yes, give it to me now, yes, yes, YES!” See the difference? Enthusiastic consent means your partner is completely into it. They want to be there in that moment with you doing the naked, sexy, kinky things you’re doing. Anything less or if you’re not sure, always stop and ask. They may have doubts or questions. Talk about what you want to do and make sure they’re comfortable. This helps you get to an enthusiastic yes or tells you it’s time to find something else to do.

Knowing what you’re saying yes to is important whether you’re getting kinky with floggers and crops or you’re strapping on a parachute to jump out of a plane. Informed consent means that you and your partner have discussed what will happen, what it will feel like, and what you can both expect. You’ve also discussed that everything will stop if things go too far. If you’re getting kinky, you may want to consider a safeword but if not, “Stop” or “No” should always be sufficient.

Because your partner said “Yes” last night doesn’t mean you can assume they’ll agree to have sex today. Each and every time you want to get sexual with your partner, make sure you have their permission. Of course, in many relationships, verbal consent isn’t always required. Once you start kissing each other in a certain way and moving your hands down each other’s bodies in a familiar way, continuing to move forward can be taken for consent. You don’t always have to stop and have a five minute discussion when you’re in an actively sexual relationship. But if your partner wants to stop for any reason (even if it’s for that five minute talk), do it.

Communication Required

Communication is the only reason any relationship can last beyond a few minutes of sex. If you’re not talking to each other on a regular basis about everything, including sex, things will go downhill fairly quickly. Talking to each other about sex means you’ll have a better idea of what your partner wants and doesn’t want. This makes it much easier to gain their consent to try a new sex toy or one of your sexual fantasies. It also means you’ll be better attuned to their moods, desires, wants, and needs. But the very basics of consent and communication with any partner are this: Ask if they want to have sex, kiss, whatever and then listen to and respect their answer.

Safewords and Signals

Consent isn’t always a simple “Yes” or “No” although it usually is. For people who like to have rough sex or experience kink while yelling “No!” when they really mean “Yes!” safewords are absolutely necessary. A safeword is a term that has no place within the moment. It should catch your attention as out of the ordinary so you can react. If your partner is gagged, a safe signal or gesture can be used instead. When you see the signal or hear the special word, everything stops until you’ve received consent to start again or do something different.

Alcohol, Drugs, and an Inability to Consent

If your partner is drunk, high, passed out, or asleep, they are unable to give enthusiastic and informed consent. Do not pressure an inebriated person to have sex with you. Never, ever, ever simply have sex with someone who can’t react at all. Remember, you’re looking for someone who is capable of understanding exactly what you’re asking for and giving you an enthusiastic, gigantic “Yes!” If you’re in doubt about their ability to consent, don’t get naked with them.


There should be no confusion about consent. You either have an enthusiastic, willing yes or you don’t. Either your partner is fully in the moment with you or they aren’t. If for any reason your partner doesn’t seem to be excited, informed, or absolutely, 100 percent willing, stop. Ask them if everything is okay. Make sure they still consent. And if they say no, behave like the adult you are, and respect their wishes. Enthusiastic and informed consent leads to better sex for everyone.

Know a few people who need a reminder about what consent really is? Share the infographic below!

Infographic for Understanding Consent


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