We bet you’ve heard a lot about consent lately, and probably not for the right reasons (milkshake, anybody?).
While participating in sexual intimacy, both participants should feel comfortable communicating their needs to one another without feeling pressured, coerced or uncertain. To be able to communicate our needs and understand our partners, it is important to ask ourselves:
- Do I know what sexual consent is?
- How can I ask for sexual consent?
- How do I know consent has been given?
- What isn’t sexual consent?
While some resources may have made the topic confusing, sexual consent can be a simple topic to understand once you know the basics.
Let’s explore these topics.
What is sexual consent?
Sexual consent is when two people freely and voluntarily agree to sexual activities.
Non-consensual sexual activity, including kissing and caressing, is against the law.
Consent cannot be assumed. Each person involved in sexual intimacy has the right to say no and can decide at any point that they do not want to continue no matter how far into the activity they are.
Watch this video on consent. While it is another metaphor, it is very clear and easy to follow.
How can I ask for sexual consent?
Consent is given before and during sexual activity. Communication is key. Some people think asking for consent is a mood killer, but it is the respectful and right thing to do.
Here are some clear examples of ways to ask for consent (hint, it doesn’t have to use the word consent!).
- Can I kiss you?
- Do you want to come back to my house?
- I like you, do you want to [fill in blank]?
- Can I [fill in blank]?
In the moment:
- Do you like this?
- Can I [fill in blank]?
- I like it when we do [fill in blank], would you like to do this?
- Are you comfortable if I do [fill in blank]?
- Do you want me to stop?
It’s important to remember that consent needs to be ongoing and can be withdrawn at any time, so make sure to continue to ask for consent before taking things up a level.
How do you know that consent has been given?
- Each person is enthusiastic after agreeing to sexual intimacy. Being silent, rigid, quiet, or unsure is not consent.
- There is continuous communication along each step of the way, in sounds, body language and words.
- Respecting the other person if you reach a boundary, or they have said no to something.
- The other person can make informed decisions and is freely agreeing to intimacy without pressure.
You know you have consent when a clear and enthusiastic ‘yes’ is given. Make sure to take note of a person’s body language as this can be an indicator that enthusiastic consent is given. It is important to pay attention to both words and body language.
If you’re not sure if they are consenting, just ask. If they’re not sure, it’s a no.
What isn’t sexual consent?
A person cannot give consent if they:
- did not do or say anything to indicate consent.
- feel threatened or afraid.
- are being pressured into having sex or restrained against their wishes.
- are intoxicated due to drugs or alcohol to the point they cannot give clear consent.
- are asleep, unconscious, or semi-conscious – a sleeping person cannot give consent even if they agreed to the sexual activity before they fell asleep.
- are mistaken about the nature of the act or the identity of the person they are having sex with.
- are under the age of consent – the age of consent varies between states, in Victoria that is usually 16 years of age but this can vary if one of the parties is in a supervisory relationship. Learn the legal facts on the Youth Law Australia website.
Here is a video made by La Trobe Public Health students in 2019 which has some clear examples of what is and isn’t consent, in different situations. Check it out.
At the end of the day, if you pay attention to your partner and respect what they are showing or telling you, there should be no pressure, no drama and no problems with consent. If you’re not sure, just ask.
Respectful Behaviours Module on LMS
You can learn more about consent and other topics by completing the Respectful Behaviour and Culture module on your LMS or via Living at La Trobe.
Support for Sexual Harm
Sexual harm is an umbrella term to include sexual assault, rape, harassment, or other concerning sexual behaviours. Read more about sexual harm.
In an Emergency
- Call police or emergency services – (24 hours) Triple Zero ‘000’
- If on-campus then call Campus Security – (24 hours) 03 9479 8888. They need to be aware of the incident to let emergency services on campus if required and can assist until their arrival.
It is a free, confidential support service you can contact if you experience or witness concerning, threatening, inappropriate or uncomfortable behaviour. This behaviour can occur on-campus and off-campus, such as on public transport or in the home.
Safer Community provides expert advice and information. They also offer you options and referrals to help resolve your concerns to keep you and others safe.