what is Consent?
Canada’s definition of consent is “the voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question”1 and specifies that there is no consent when:
- Someone gives consent on behalf of someone else
- Someone can’t give consent (e.g., if they’re drunk or asleep)
- Someone abuses a position of trust, power or authority to get consent
- Someone expresses (verbally or through body language) a lack of agreement to the sexual activity
- Someone expresses (verbally or through body language) a lack of agreement to continue in the activity
The age of consent in Canada is 16 years, with some exceptions—for more information, you can read the Department of Justice’s Age of Consent to Sexual Activity webpage.
- Freely given
- Pressuring or coercing someone to say “yes,” or saying “yes” under the influence of drugs, is not consent.
- Consent can be withdrawn at any time during sex. For example, if one person says they want to stop making out, the other person has to respect that.
- Everyone’s informed about what’s going on. For example, f someone says they’ll use a condom but take it off without their partner’s knowledge (known as stealthing), there’s no informed consent; stealthing is sexual assault.
- Everyone’s really into what’s happening and wants to be doing it. If you’re getting mixed signals, then the person isn’t enthusiastically consenting.
- Consenting to one sexual activity is not consent to another. For example, saying yes to making out is not consent to other sexual activity.
Whether it’s a casual hookup or a committed relationship, consent applies to every sexual encounter.
Reframing Sex & Consent
In this video, Toronto-based sex educator Karen B. K. Chan helps us reframe the way we think about sex and consent as a collaborative jam session.
Before, During and After
Consent is about checking in with your partner before, during and after sex, and respecting their boundaries. Speaking openly about what gives us pleasure can feel awkward at first, but it’s an important part of consent and gets much easier with practice.
During sex, listen to your partner’s words and watch their body language. If you’re not sure, check in by asking questions like “Do you want to take a break?” or “Does this feel good for you?” Remember, consent is reversible, so if they want to stop, their consent has been revoked. You can provide positive feedback to your partner in the moment to let them know that you’re into it, like saying “I like that” or pulling your partner closer.
After sex, you can check in with your partner to see how it felt for them. Remember, sex is about mutual pleasure, so you want to make sure that you and your partner to feel great about what happened.
Responding to a “no”
Getting a “no” can feel like being rejected, but we have to remember that everyone is within their right to say no to any kind of sex. A “no” might be verbal, like a “I just want to be friends,” a “I don’t feel like having sex tonight,” a flat out “no,” an excuse or a change of topic. A “no” can also come in the form of body language, like the person leaning away from you, closing off their body with crossed arms or avoiding eye contact4. No matter how it’s given, a “no” has to be respected. If you aren’t sure if it’s a “no” you’re getting, ask.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with you because you got a “no” to sex or a relationship, rather, it means the person’s feelings aren’t the same and that they are honouring their own boundaries. Feel good about the fact that together you created a space where each of you felt comfortable enough to be honest about your desires and boundaries. Responses like “Okay, no worries. Do you want to cuddle instead?” or “Is there something else you’d be into?”5 are a simple way to respect your partner’s boundaries.
1Department of Justice. (2015, January 7). A definition of consent to sexual activity. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/victims-victimes/def.html
2Planned Parenthood. (n.d.) Sexual consent. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/relationships/sexual-consent
3Morrigan, C. [@clementinemorrigan]. (2020, November 3). It is extremely difficult for me to verbally say no during sex. Introducing nonverbal consent practices into my relationships [Photograph]. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CHJfKwfANKN/
4Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton. (n.d.) Rolling with rejection. https://www.sace.ca/learn/rolling-with-rejection/
5Morrigan, C. [@clementinemorrigan]. (2020, November 19). Hearing no can be emotionally flooding and bring up a lot of shame [Photograph]. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CHwwf0wgpej/