4 Important Steps for Obtaining Affirmative Consent

4 Important Steps for Obtaining Affirmative Consent

When we talk about consent, usually the conversation is centered on that fact that you need to get a “yes” from the other person.

But more often than not, we don’t talk about what goes into getting that “yes.” For three years now, I have worked at my university as a peer educator, doing rounds at presentation halls and classrooms to talk to students about safe sex, healthy relationships, and substance abuse. When the conversation turns to consent, you can always feel a shift in the mood of the room. Students get quiet or defensive, and most of the professors check out completely.

When talking about consent the conversation shifts, from one about sex to one that also includes the discussion of sexual violence. The shift sometimes makes people uncomfortable and, at times, less willing to actively engage in a conversation for fear of others assuming that they would do the wrong thing. However talking in detail about consent and how to be on both the asking and receiving end of affirmative consent can go a long way in creating a culture where we no longer accept the idea that sex without consent is okay.

Although there can be a lot of things that can affect a partner’s ability to consent, as an educator I work with a few standard components that cover just about every situation one might encounter when seeking it.


1. Clear Communication

This is one that is usually the easiest for most people, as it follows the guidelines of what we’ve always talked about with consent, which is, you need a “yes.” However, the details of clear communication are the parts that a lot of people don’t think about.

The most important part of this component is that consent is never assumed. Body language, absence of a no, or any other kind of ambiguous cue in no way constitutes consent. The only thing that does count is a strong, clear and enthusiastic, yes.


2. Freely and Willingly

Freely and willingly is the idea that a person must give consent all on his or her own, without being persuaded, threatened or coerced, whether it be physically, emotionally, or socially. The concept of freely and willingly trips a lot of people up because it reminds us that some phrases, ones we hear all the time in person and in the media, are actually coercive, and do not allow for consent to happen.

Some examples of coercive phrases are “Everyone else is doing it,” “You’re a tease if you don’t,” and mostly commonly, “If you love me, you’ll do it.” Holding someone down physically against his or her will also constitutes as a threat, and eliminates the chances for a person to consent.


3. Unimpaired Decision Making

Similarly to freely and willing, unimpaired decision making means that a person should not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol when giving consent to sex. A good rule of thumb for this is that if someone is too drunk to drive, to have a conversation, or especially, to walk, they are too drunk to give consent. If you are ever unsure if someone is too impaired to give consent, take the safer path and do not hook up with them. (Besides, considering how numb the body can become when intoxicated, sober sex feels way better, anyways).


4. Step-by-Step and Subject to Change

These two components go together, but they are slightly different. Step by step means that every time you escalate in sexual activity, you must get consent. For example, if you want to move from oral to penetrative sex, you must get consent again, even though your partner already consented to the first act. Subject to change means that anyone has to right to change their mind about participating in sexual activity at any point, even in the middle of it. These rules also apply if you have already hooked up with someone and want to hook up with them again. Just because they consented once, does not automatically mean they want to do it again.


These rules and components to consent can seem overwhelming, but they’re important to remember. They make for a sexual encounter that in which both partners feel safe and are actively consenting to be a part of.