Consent is a clear green light giving unequivocal permission in response to a clearly stated question.
Without consent, a person making contact is crossing a line and infringing upon the other person's personal space. More specific, physical contact of a sexual nature without consent is sexual assault.
Consent is all about taking an active, fully aware role in the decision-making process and responding with a clear, definitive “Yes”. Consent requires completely understanding the question being asked, the freedom to give any answer, and giving that answer without any feelings of coercion to respond one way or another.
A simple example of consent is if someone asks, “May I put my arm around your shoulders?” and the other person responds with “Yes”. Consent has been given. Go ahead and put the arm around the shoulders. If the answer is, “No”, then consent has not been given and the arm should not be placed around the shoulders.
But, after 10 minutes, the person may change their mind and say, “Take your arm off my shoulders.” Consent has been rescinded and the arm must be removed from the shoulders. Consent is not indefinite and is not forever and it is not assumed.
Perhaps the simplest example of consent is: “If it’s not ‘yes’, it’s ‘no’.”
But there is more.
A more detailed definition is that consent is the positive cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will. In other words, a person must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the act or transaction involved.
Only a person who willingly says “Yes” without threats, fear, or being drunk/drugged and who is fully aware and completely understands what is being asked of them and has complete freedom of choice in the matter can give their consent.
So, what if the answer is not a “Yes” and not a “No”?
A person that is drunk or drugged even if the word “Yes” is spoken cannot give their consent. Likewise, a person that says, “No”, or mumbles something incoherent, or doesn’t say anything at all such as an unconscious person has not given their consent.
Silence is not a “Yes.”
One way of knowing that consent is given is by simply being polite and asking permission.
For example, asking questions such as “May I kiss/touch/take your shirt off...” or “Is it OK if I ____?” Another way is to suggest something such as, “I would love to kiss you/give you a massage/take your shirt off. Would you like that?”
If the answer is a clear-headed, non-forced “Yes”, then proceed. If the answer is a drunken or drugged “Yes” or there is no “Yes” — including smiling, mumbling, or silence — then stop. Again, it’s that simple.
Just because someone said “Yes” once last week doesn’t mean there is an open invitation and an automatic green light to the same question at any time in the future. Consent must be given, time after time, for each and every situation with words and actions in response to a clear question.
Maybe the answer is never “Yes”. Maybe it’s a “Yes” one minute but changes to a “No” two minutes later. Or, it”s a “Yes” once and only once it’s a one time deal. Maybe it’s “Yes” for three or four times and that’s it. It depends on the person in any given moment. And that person can change their mind whenever they want at any time.
Very Important: An individual cannot consent:
who is unaware that the act is being committed;
who is obviously incapacitated by any drug or intoxicant;
who is coerced by supervisory or disciplinary authority;
who is being purposely compelled by force, threat of force, or deception;
whose ability to consent or resist is obviously impaired because of mental or physical condition.
Sexual assault is physical contact of a sexual nature in the absence of clear, knowing and voluntary consent.
AND, THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART. Watch this brilliant video to better understand consent. It's an effective use of stick figures and a cup of tea entitled, “How to Explain Consensual Sex with a Cup of Tea.”
“Explicit” version: very strong language
“Consent is like being ruler of your own country...population: YOU. This is a smart, playful guide to consent and bodily autonomy.”
Our often ignored "sixth sense".