Consent: The First Step

Words by: Zayan Ismail
Art by: Brooke Stevens

CW: May contain reference to sexual acts and descriptions of rape and/or sexual violence. 

Sex is an age old concept that has been constrained, regulated and tabooed.  But what remains consistent — whether you’re engaging in cunnilingus, anal or a hand job — is that consentis absolutely necessary and without it, sex is actually assault or rape making it completely punishable by law. 

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, across all states and territories, the age of consent varies between 16-17 years. Sexual acts with children under the age of 16 is a criminal offence. Moreover, people who are drugged, drunk or passed out cannot give consent even if they clearly say yes. 

So what is consent? Consent simply pertains to permission or approval to do something. It is communicative but not just verbal in form, where one agrees or disagrees to perform sexual activities. It should be freely given without any pressure, intimidation or manipulation. It must also be mutually understood and can be entirely reversible, meaning that you can change your mind if you are uncomfortable, even during the middle of a sexual act. Despite such simple notions, some people still fail to understand the nuances of consent. 

For example, what happens if your partner says yes to going into the bedroom and making out? Does that mean you can now have penetrative sex? No. Consent needs to be specified. Saying yes to making out or cuddling does not imply penetration. 

If a person is wearing a short skirt, a long skirt or no skirt at all, consent does not depend on a piece of clothing either. If one does not invite people to touch or perform sexual acts, whether they’re fully clothed or butt-naked, it’s an automatic no.

Now we’ve talked about the notion of ‘consent’ being largely verbal thus far, but it’s important to note, in some instances, that’s not the only way we can gauge how our partner is feeling. Some people may feel shy or withdrawn to actively speak out, so in such cases, body language or sounds may indicate a person’s level of consent. This could come in the form of hand gestures, moving one’s body away from yours or even crying. Make sure you’re attentive to these less obvious cues too. 

With all this in mind, how do you approach asking for consent? It doesn’t have to be formal or boring. For example, before doing anything sexual, you can simply ask questions like, “do you wanna kiss? Or “can we try this?” As aforementioned, consent can also be identified through non-verbal cues such as caressing or touching during foreplay, which can be helpful indicators that show your partner is comfortable.

To give consent yourself, a simple ‘yes’ can suffice. You can also reciprocate the same non-verbal gestures with your partner. If at any point you feel uncomfortable, verbalise it with a ‘no’ or by pushing your partner away, because sex is always sexy, as long as it’s completely consensual. 

One thought on “Consent: The First Step

  1. Good topic. It’s useful to distinguish between simple consent and informed consent. Even young children can and do give or withhold simple consent. But informed consent entails that you understand the probable consequences of your choices and the alternatives available. Children (in general) may not be able to resist manipulation, but neither can many adults. The age of consent is merely an administrative convenience, not an expression of eternal wisdom. We need to carefully examine the unique circimstances in each case to determine if a particular individual was competent to consent at a certain moment in time. If that’s too much trouble, then judges should be humble and not pass judgement at all.

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