Back to the Questions

What is consent?

by Dr. Tessa Commers
Before Sex

Consent 101: What is it & how to give it

What sounds awkward but is actually hot? Consent.

Consent acknowledges that a person ultimately has control over what happens with their own body. At any point in intimacy, a person is entitled to give or take away consent. Furthermore, making sure your partner is comfortable is a part of being a responsible sexual partner (not to mention that it’s also the law).

Consent is one of those things that may seem like a mood-killer, but there are many ways to plan ahead with a partner to make consent smooth and affectionate in the moment. For those that are more adventurous, consent can even enhance the sexual experience with dirty talk and body movements.

So instead of viewing consent as a formality, consider it a way to crank up your performance in the bedroom. Let’s dive in.

Sexual consent is a clear and voluntary agreement between you and your partner to engage in sexual activity. The activity doesn’t always have to be sexual intercourse. It could be anything from touching to kissing, even humping or grinding without penetration (aka, dry sex).

Consent should be straightforward. Asking for it can be as simple as asking “Do you want to have sex?” You can also ask for it gradually by seeing where their boundaries are:

  • “Can I kiss you?”
  • “Can I touch you here?”
  • “Do you want to take your shirt off?”
  • “Wanna go to the bedroom?

Checking in on each other’s boundaries doesn’t have to be an awkward pause-and-ask moment. It can be fun, flirty and actually add to the heat of the moment. It’s also a good gauge of how comfortable each person is with the pace of intimate activities and can help determine what new sexual adventures you might be in store for.

Consent is coherent, ongoing, and freely given permission to participate in specific sexual activity. It’s enthusiastic (meaning, “yeah, I’m into this”), informed, and voluntarily given by individuals with the mental capacity to do so. It is NOT equivocal (meaning, “meh, I’m not sure”), uncertain or forced. Silence is also not consent.

Giving your consent once doesn’t mean it’s good forever, nor does it imply that you consent to escalation of sexual activities. For example, kissing someone doesn’t mean you give consent to have sex with them and having sex with someone once doesn’t automatically mean you give consent to have sex with them again. Consent can be removed at any time—and that’s ok!

Expressed consent is a clear, direct, verbal signal that indicates you want to do something. It’s an obvious verbal cue like "Yes, I'm comfortable with this," or "I want to do this."

On the other hand, implied consent is a non-verbal cue. This type of consent is given through actions or body movement, like nodding or excited participation.

Remember, assuming consent is never ok. Even in a relationship, it doesn’t mean you or your partner has automatic consent. If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to ask your partner. Plus, you’ll get the added benefit of knowing what your partner likes or doesn’t like.

Giving consent means openly communicating your desires and boundaries. Be honest about what you're comfortable with and what you're not.

Don’t forget. You can withdraw your consent at any time, and so can your partner. Respect your partner’s decision without question or argument.

Forcing anyone to engage in sexual activity without their consent is rape.

Giving consent sounds like explicit, verbal approval to engage in sexual activity. It can also be a back-and-forth conversation where you both express your desires, limits, and concerns. Establishing check-in points before intimacy can make the process more seamless but isn’t necessary, especially if things happen quickly.

Giving consent as a verbal cue can sound like:

  • “Yes/Yeah”
  • “I like that.”
  • “That feels good.”
  • “I want to.”
  • “Don’t stop.”

Not giving consent can sound like:

  • “No.”
  • “Don’t.”
  • “Stop.”
  • “That makes me uncomfortable.”
  • “I don’t want to.”
  • “I’m not sure about that.”
  • Silence.

Consent should never be clouded by ambiguity or power dynamics. It’s always better to know than to not.

Substances like drugs and alcohol can make it difficult to understand how to give and get consent.

If you or your partner are under the influence and things get heated, it’s still important to be coherent enough to give consent. If neither of you feels clear-headed or only one of you does, it’s best to play it safe and hold off.

Consent is the first step in practicing safe, healthy sex. Now that you’ve protected each other’s emotional well-being, protect each other’s physical well-being.

Use barrier contraceptive methods like condoms or dental dams to reduce the risk of giving or contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And don’t forget, what you do after sex is just as important as what you do before. Check out our after-sex checklist for a rundown of what you should do after intercourse.

Using Birth Control and Emergency Contraception

Using barrier methods, like condoms, is a great way to practice safe sex. You can also practice it by reducing your chances of pregnancy with a regular birth control method like the pill, patch, shot, implant, ring, or intrauterine device (IUD).

At Julie, we know unprotected sex sometimes happens. And that’s ok. If you had intercourse and didn’t use any protection or your protection failed, take the morning-after pill, like Julie, as soon as possible to reduce your chance of getting pregnant.

Julie and other morning-after pills can help prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours (3 days) after unprotected sex, but they’re more effective the sooner you take them. You can find them at Walmart, Target, and retail pharmacies like CVS. They're legal in all 50 states and FDA-approved. No prescription, credit card, or ID is required for purchase.