How to Check Consent

Consent is not the absence of a ‘no’; it is the presence of a ‘yes’. 

Consent — giving permission for something to happen to your body. Often, ‘consent’ is spoken about in the context of sexual relations, but it can also apply to what you drink or consume (the NHS check consent before examinations, for example).

In an ideal world, consent should always be verbalised. However, consent can also be indicated visually or through body language. Regardless, consent must always be clear. If there is any ambiguity, it is for the person giving consent to confirm or deny whether they gave it. However, that is a subjective opinion, and there are grey areas.

Scottish law defines consent as a ‘free agreement’ between the parties involved. Agreement is not considered to be free if:

  • The survivor of assault was incapable of consenting because of the effect of alcohol or any other substance;
  • Where the survivor of assault was asleep or unconscious;
  • Where the survivor of assault agrees or submits to the conduct because of violence or threats of violence against them, or any other person.

Consent can be withdrawn at any point and should be checked more than once. It has to be given voluntarily and positively; it is a free choice that both parties have made to engage in a particular activity. Consenting to one form of sexual activity does not necessarily mean agreeing to another. For example, kissing or going home with someone does not mean that you agree to have sex or engage in foreplay. Everything you do is your choice, whatever your gender identity. Never feel pressured to do anything — you should always feel comfortable.

When I discuss consent with others, I am often met with confusion and responses such as, ‘but what do you want me to do? Get them to sign a contract?’ This response indicates a lack of understanding of what consent means. Instead of seeing consent as something important that must be checked, it is often laughed about.

In order to insure consent, simply check that the other person is comfortable with the situation. You’re not being decent if you’re not asking your partner some very basic questions:

  • ‘Are you comfortable?’
  • ‘What would you like me to do?’
  • ‘Do you enjoy…?’
  • ‘Are you ok with this?’
  • ‘Does this feel good?’
  • ‘Would you like me to…?’
  • ‘Should I keep going?’
  • ‘Do you want to try…?’
  • ‘Are you sure this is ok?’
  • ‘Are you sober enough to consent?’
  • ‘How do you feel?’
  • ‘May I take this off?’
  • ‘Can I get you anything?’

Consent is not meant to be sexy, but it is not a ‘turn off’ (as people often claim). Consent is about checking everyone is comfortable with what is happening. Trust me, any sexual activity will be much better if everyone is enjoying it.

Whether you’re having a one night stand or are celebrating your 15th wedding anniversary, keeping communication open is imperative. Nothing will make your partner feel as good as knowing that they share control in the situation. Find ways to ask if they’re ok, read their body language and listen.

Checking consent is important. If you don’t do it, you may become guilty of rape.