Valentine’s Day can be a time for lovers, pals or new experiences – whatever makes your heart flutter, make sure to think about consent.
Consent isn’t just for sexy times! You can give/get consent for hugs, cuddles, to tell someone’s story, to buy a cool person a drink or flirt. Consent means that folks know the whole picture of what’s going on and they’re stoked about it. Talking about consent can seem scary at first, but it’s essential for everyone to understand what consent is, and is not.
Disclaimer: In this post we will talk about sexy times with partners, fuck buddies, playmates and other folks, but feel free to use whatever language feels right for you.
What is consent?
Consent is all about you and your partner(s) feeling good. It can look different for different people at different times.
Consent is permission. You are in charge of your body and what you want to do with it.
Consent is checking in with yourself and your partner(s) to make sure everyone’s feeling it.
Consent is enthusiastic: “Yes, I want this!”
Consent is ongoing: “Can we do this next?”
Consent can change. “I want to stop now.”
Consent is informed. They know what they’re agreeing to. Discuss when you last got tested for sexually transmitted infections.
Consent is normal. It doesn’t have to be weird or awkward.
Consent is sexy. It’s super hot to hear: “Can I kiss/touch you?” or “I want you to do this to me.”
Consent is mandatory. Sex without consent is violence.
Everyone also has the right not to give consent. You don’t owe anyone an explanation or a reason why. Nobody has the right to your bod and your space but you! If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. That’s totally normal and okay.
What does consent actually look like?
Often TV shows, movies, ads and other kinds of media don’t show what good consent looks like between people. This means many people don’t get a chance to see what real consent looks like.
Here are some examples of what consent can look like:
- Asking your fuck buddy what kind of sex they’re into and giving them a checklist (yes/no/maybe) of sexy activites to fill out.
- Talking over a BDSM scene with your playmates before you start, and agreeing on safewords (a word someone can say during sex to make everything stop without question).
- Using the ‘traffic light’ system with your partner during sex to check in without interrupting your flow (green: go, yellow: check-in, red: stop everything).
- Asking your fuck buddy if they want you to put a condom on the strapon before you use it with them.
- Asking if you can buy a smoking hot person a drink and letting them know there’s no obligation, if they stop feeling you at anytime that’s totally cool and they can say goodnight.
- Checking in with your long-term partner during sex, to make sure they are enjoying themselves.
- Asking your fuckbuddy if they are into it before trying a new sex act.
What is a ‘No’?
A huge part of consent means sometimes, you’ll ask if someone wants to do something and you’ll get a no. And that’s normal and perfectly okay! No means no, but a lot of other things can mean no too.
- Silence means NO.
- “I’m too tired” means NO.
- Being passed out means NO.
- “I have a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner” means NO.
- Anything other than an enthusiastic YES usually means NO.
But how many of us really believe no ONLY means no? For a lot of people no can feel like it means a whole lot more negative things: “I don’t like you,” “You’re bad/unattractive/creepy.” When no is just a simple idea. Someone doesn’t want something at that moment. It’s not fair to put all your baggage on a decision that might not have anything to do with you! (Maybe you want to kiss but your lover says no because they have a cold!) Don’t read into it – let the person talking define their own words and meaning. It’s these kinds of personal stakes that can put pressure on people and makes these choice seem like huge deals, when they aren’t. No really does just mean no!
So your partner isn’t into it and they just said no. What now?
DO: Let them know, before a sexual situation they should never feel awkward or bad for saying they don’t want to do something. Saying no, not now, not yet, or not that way, is ALWAYS okay.
DO NOT: Feel guilty for saying no yourself. If the person you’re with is worth much of anything, they will want you to speak out when you’re uncomfortable.
DO: Keep in mind that saying no can be even scarier than hearing it. Let the other person know that you aren’t upset with the,. And that it really is okay for them to tell you no.
DO NOT: Pout, throw a temper tantrum, be passive aggressive. Maybe you are disappointed, or worried or sad. It’s okay to experience any feelings that come upm but it’s not okay to use those feelings to make someone feel guilty. Everyone should feel safe to refuse anything they don’t want to do. Never try to push, convince, bribe, trick, or threaten anyone into changing their answer.
DO: Ask them what they DO want. Maybe they want to try something different than what you suggested, maybe they want to deescalate the situation and do something nonsexual. See what’s up and ask them!
DO NOT: Pester. Don’t keep asking the same thing once you’ve been given an answer.
DO: Remember that no matter how important doing something seems, it is never more important than respecting people’s consent.
DO NOT: Bemoan how disappointed you are, it might seem like a harmless joke, or even a compliment, but in sensitive situations even jokes can cause feelings of guilt, obligation, or shame.
DO: Be thankful they are comfortable enough with you that they are being honest with you.
DO: Take a deep breath. Whatever is happening is not the end of the world.
Remember: consent is for EVERYONE! Part of being a decent lover/partner/fuckbuddy/human is respecting other people’s right to say no to something. This includes you! Never forget that you ALWAYS have the right to decide what you want to do with your body and nobody should ever shame you for this, or try to make you change your mind. When everyone understands consent, and makes sure to practice it in not just their sex lives, but their everyday interactions, people are less likely to have their boundaries crossed and everyone wins. This Valentine’s Day, make sure to talk to your Valentine about consent (what do they want?), talk to your friends about consent (how to say ‘no’ and hear ‘no’), talk to your family about consent (e.g. the Aunt who gives kisses without asking), TALK ABOUT CONSENT. Unless we talk about consent (real, ongoing, enthusiastic, informed consent), people will continue to be confused about what it is.
Happy Valentine’s Day from the TRIP! Crew.
*This blog post has been adapted from our Consent 101 zine.
You can always pick up a FREE copy at our drop-ins (Wednesdays 4-6pm at Queen West Health Centre) or at a TRIP booth at the next party! The zine covers more topics around consent such as: Boundaries, Surviving Trauma, Sex and Partying, Sex-Able, Being Poz, Coming Out Trans, Consent + Kink, Rape Culture, Age of Consent, Power Dynamics, Supporting Survivors, Being Honest, and Knowing What You Want.