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What enthusiastic consent actually looks like

If it's not an enthusiastic yes, it's a no 

Consent is required at every stage of intimacy – from touching to having sex – and at every point in a relationship, whether you’ve just met or have been together for some time. Here’s what enthusiastic consent looks like and how to ask for it. 

We practice consent every day. We consent to join our friends for lunch, to lend out personal items, or to give someone a lift in our car. In these everyday situations, we’re familiar with what consent looks like. It could be a smile and a nod, verbally expressing agreeance, or readily saying “yes”. 

Practicing consent in romantic and sexual situations require us to recognise and respect the same cues as we do in nonsexual situations. For example, if you’re initiating sex with someone else, you would hold out for the other person to express agreeance - smiling, nodding and making eye contact, verbally expressing comfort or pleasure (“I like that”, “Keep going"), or freely and voluntarily saying “yes”. 

What’s the difference between consent and enthusiastic consent?

If you’re engaging in romantic or sexual activity, you need consent every time. Consent must be informed, voluntary and active, meaning that, through an expression of clear physical and verbal actions, a person has indicated permission to engage in romantic or sexual activity. It is critical that you pay attention to and respect the other people’s verbal and physical signals of agreement, and you should expect others to do the same. 

However, while consent is necessary, enthusiastic consent should always be the goal. While consent is about saying "yes", enthusiastic consent focuses on the enthusiasm of the "yes". More than just being granted permission to engage in romantic and sexual activity, enthusiastic consent, as the name suggests, seeks others’ enthusiastic agreement to be intimate. 

How to ask for enthusiastic consent 

While it may feel challenging to talk about sex, being open and honest with your partner about what your sexual needs and desires are, and how you can fulfil theirs, is a critical step in achieving enthusiastic consent. Plus, asking for enthusiastic consent can be fun and sexy! Dirty talk is often combineable with ongoing consent conversations. 

Practicing enthusiastic consent is all about working with your partner to find ways of talking about intimacy and sex that feel good for both of you. Every communication style is different, and there will be a combination of words that will suit you best, but here are some conversation-starters you can try:

  • "I'd like to try [fill in the blank]. Would you be keen too?”
  • “[Fill in the blank] sounds sexy to me. What do you think?”
  • “Last time when we did [fill in the blank] I liked it so much. I've been thinking about how hot it would be if we also [fill in the blank]. Thoughts?" 

What to listen for to gauge enthusiastic consent 

Enthusiastic consent can look like: 

  • Confirming there is reciprocal interest before initiating verbal or physical sexual activity, such as asking “Would you like it if I did this?”, “Are you open to experimenting with this?” 
  • Periodically checking in with your partner, such as asking “Is this still okay?” 
  • Continuously expressing comfort and pleasure – smiling, nodding, making eye contact
  • Saying “yes” freely and voluntarily 

Enthusiastic consent does not look like: 

  • A partner who says “maybe” 
  • A partner who says "I guess so" 
  • A partner who says "fine" 
  • A partner who says "If you'd like" 

What if the answer isn't an enthusiastic yes?

If the answer isn't an enthusiastic yes, but you're unsure, check-in with your partner. If they've clearly said "no", don’t force or pressure them into it. It’s also important to refrain from asking them why they’ve said ‘no’. Their reason for saying ‘no’ is theirs alone to know, unless they choose to tell you.  

If you don’t want to do something, whether you just don’t want to do it now or ever, you should feel empowered to say ‘no’ without explanation. How and when you decide to engage in sexual activity is your choice, and for other people it is theirs.

5 October 2022

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