#DolphinsLiveWell: “Got Consent”? April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)

By Maria C. Randazzo, Substance Abuse Specialist, Wellness Center for Health & Counseling

CONSENT 101: BEYOND ‘YES’ AND ‘NO’

Consent is more than a yes or a no. It is an ongoing dialogue about desires, needs, and level of comfort with different sexual interactions. Consent is not a blanket statement. It is specific each time and always required. Healthy sexuality is rooted in consent and respect.

What is healthy sexuality?

Healthy sexuality means having the knowledge and power to express sexuality in ways that enrich one’s life. It includes approaching sexual interactions and relationships from a perspective that is consensual, respectful, and informed. Healthy sexuality is free from coercion and violence.

Although many cultural messages contribute to our understanding and experience of sexuality, many of us are at a loss for how to identify or define healthy sexuality. It is important to understand that sexuality is about much more than sex. Healthy sexuality is emotional, social, cultural, and physical. It is our values, attitudes, feelings, interactions, and behaviors.

What is consent?

Consent means granting permission for something to happen or agreeing to do something. When sex is consensual, it means everyone involved has agreed to what they are doing and has given their permission. Non-consensual sex, or sex without someone’s agreement or permission, is sexual assault. Some important things to know:

”Yes” means “yes.” The absence of a “no” doesn’t mean “yes.” Consent is the presence of a clear, affirmative, expression of interest, desire, and wants. The exchange of consent involves all parties. Each person sets their boundaries or shares their desires. Consent is respectful, mutual decision-making.

Drugs and alcohol impact decision-making and blur consent. When drugs, such as alcohol, are involved, clear consent is not possible. A person who is intoxicated or impaired cannot give consent.

Consent needs to be clear. Consent is more than not hearing the word “no.” A partner saying nothing is not the same as a partner saying “yes.” Don’t rely on body language, past sexual interactions, or any other nonverbal cues. Never assume you have consent. Always be sure you have consent by asking.

Consent can be fun. Consent does not have to be something that “ruins the mood.” In fact, clear and enthusiastic consent can enhance sexual interactions. Not only does it allow one to know that their partner is comfortable with the interaction, it also lets both partners clearly express what they want.

Consent is specific. Just because someone consents to one set of actions and activities does not mean consent has been given for other sexual acts. Similarly, if a partner has given consent to sexual activity in the past, this does not apply to current or future interactions. Consent can initially be given and later be withdrawn.

Establishing consent

Remember that sex without consent is sexual assault. When establishing consent, be aware of the following:

Ask for consent. Don’t assume a partner is OK with what you want to do. Always ask them. Be direct. If you are unsure that you have their consent, ask again.

Communicate. Don’t be afraid to talk about sex and communicate your boundaries, wants, and needs. Encourage your partner to do the same.

Make it fun. Consent does not have to be something that interrupts sex; it can be a part of sex. Checking in with your partner throughout sexual experiences can be a great way to build intimacy and understand your partner’s needs. It can help partners create a healthy and satisfying sex life.

Drugs and/or alcohol increase risk. Intoxication impairs decision-making and can make it impossible to gain someone’s legal consent. Mixing drugs and/or alcohol with sex also can lead to risky behavior, such as unprotected sex.

**This article was reproduced in this column for educational purposes from the following resources:

http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/PS2010/html/LifeBehaviorsofaSexuallyHealthyAdult.pdf.

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. (2004). Life behaviors of a sexually healthy adult. Retrieved from © National Sexual Violence Resource Center 2015. All rights reserved.