Knowing No: Let's Talk About Consent for Sex

Couple holding hands representing sexual consent.
Great sex blows your mind, but only when it's safe and consensual. Getting consent for sex is more than merely mandatory. It's also sexy. Respecting boundaries and having all partners be enthusiastic about what they're about to do allows for the right kind of risk - and reward. Consent is what makes the magic happen.

Content warning: This article contains mention of sexual assault and rape. If you need help, contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673)

What is the Meaning of Consensual Sex?

Consensual sex is when all people involved agree to participate in the sexual activity every step of the way. Consent must be expressed clearly and understood by everyone. In other words, you need to ask for and then clearly hear and confirm a "yes" in order to proceed.

Plainly put, consensual sex means you get to decide what happens to you when it comes to sexual activity and you have control over your body at all times. Each participant in sexual activity gets to make these decisions, regardless of their gender and whether they are on top or bottom. This includes whether (and when) you want to give physical control to someone else, such as for kinks or BDSM.

Remember: the absence of a no does not mean yes. Don't assume that just because you've escalated - or want to - that you have consent to do so. And it should go without saying that "no" means no. When you hear a "no," stop immediately and then reassess with your partner.

When Do You Need Consent for Sexual Activity?

Consent is a verb. It is active, not assumed. Consent is necessary every single time you engage in any sexual activity, including kissing, sexting, oral sex, genital touching and vaginal or anal penetration. Without consent, any of these activities are sexual assault or rape.

You need consent whenever you meet someone new and want to begin or continue sexual activity. But partners who've had sex before or even couples who've been together for a long time also need to consent before sex. Yes, every time. Why? Because consent is not implied, it is freely given. What you've done before does not give consent now.

And just to be sure: what someone is wearing has no bearing on consent. Including if they aren't wearing anything. Sexy clothes or being naked doesn't give consent. Saying "yes" does.

Who Can Give Consent for Sex?

Every person of any age needs to give express and explicit consent before any sexual activity. Although there are state laws about how old someone must be in order to give consent for sex, just because someone is able to legally consent doesn't mean they have done so until you hear a "yes."

If any of these situations are present, you do not have consent from your partner and should not engage in sexual activity:

They are drunk or high. Even if they say "yes," they cannot give consent if they are intoxicated.

They are passed out - including if they pass out during sex. If this happens, stop immediately as you no longer have consent to continue.

In other words, all participants in any sexual activity need to be sober adults in order to give consent.

Asking for and Giving Consent is Sexy

Asking for consent, getting to decide what you want, and negotiating together is an important part of foreplay and erotic play. How, you ask?

Being asked for consent is sexy. Your partner wants to please you. You get to accept or deny; you get to guide. Learning what someone else wants is a turn-on.

Being told no is a measure of respect and trust. Your partner trusts you to listen to them and knows that you respect them and their needs.

Asking for consent is hot. It's part of dirty talk and can heighten pleasure and anticipation.

Consent creates your personal playground. Finding the boundaries for what both partners want to experience creates a playground you can explore together. So time to play.

What is Enthusiastic Consent? Hint: It's SPICY

You may sometimes hear that consent should be enthusiastic, but what does that really mean? To give enthusiastic consent means you really want to do something and didn't just go along with it because you didn't speak up. You said yes, not "Maybe," "I don't know," or "I'm not sure," which, to be fair, aren't enthusiastic and positive.

Consent provides permission to spice things up. SPICY stands for Specific, Pressure-free, Informed, Continuous, and Yes, enthusiastically. When you think about all these parts of enthusiastic consent, you'll be a more considerate partner.

Specific: Agreeing to hook up with someone is not blanket consent to anything that can happen. New sexual activity requires asking for -- and receiving consent for that specifically -- to continue.

Pressure-free: If someone says no, that is their decision. Do not pressure them to continue. Do not delay stopping so you can finish or for any reason. Don't demand that they explain why they've said no. Dont ask them if they're sure, don't withhold affection after receiving a no, and don't get angry or attempt to change their mind. There's no pressure in consent.

Informed: If you're not sure what something is -- let's face it, there is a LOT of variety when it comes to sexy times -- make sure you ask and discuss it so you are informed enough to make a decision. And, if you decide to try something, that doesn't mean you have to keep going, which leads to ...

Continuous: A person may, at any time, for any reason, without any explanation or consequence, withdraw consent. A yes can turn into a no at any time. No one is obligated to continue just because they said yes at first.

Yes, enthusiastically: Enthusiastic consent is an explicit yes with an exclamation mark. Your partner is not just willing, but excited about what comes next. And that means good times are ahead.

Trojan is Here to Help You Talk About Sex & Boundaries With Your Partner

With so many ways to explore sex with your partner, there are plenty of good times ahead. Between condoms, vibes, and lubes, there are lots of ways to mix it up, all while being SEXY and SPICY. Check out these articles for more inspiration.

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