First Step to Safe Sex: Consent

We all deserve to make our own decisions about sex and enjoy it when we want it and how we want it. Getting to that happy place requires consent, the most important part of any healthy sexual experience.


Learning how to talk about consent, gain consent or refuse consent can help minimize sexual violence, which affects over 207,000 people per year.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, every two and a half minutes a woman is raped in the United States, and one in four college women will experience rape or attempted rape by the time she graduates. The danger of sexual assault is not limited to women. According to a 2003 study, 1 in every 10 rape victims is male.

For teens, these statistics are especially concerning because risk for women peaks from 16 to 19 years of age. Women of these ages are four times more likely to experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault than the general population.

So, what can we do to be conscious in our sexual pursuits?

Consent is a voluntary, sober, imaginative, enthusiastic, creative, wanted, informed, mutual, honest, and verbal agreement. Consent cannot be coerced, assumed or implied. Consent is simple; consent is a verbal “yes.”

There are endless perks to mutual consent, the most important being that is shows that you have respect for both yourself and your partner. It enhances communication, respect and honesty, which ultimately makes sex and relationships better, while providing you with the opportunity to acknowledge that you and your partner(s) have sexual needs and desires.

To determine if someone is giving consent, you must be able to answer two questions: Does the person want to give consent, and is the person capable of giving consent?

The easiest way to determine if a person wants to give consent is simply to ask. This eliminates the uncertainty of guessing and trying to interpret signals. Someone putting their hand on your hand might be a way of indicating that they like what you’re doing or a way of indicating that they would like you to stop. The only way to be sure is to ask.

A person may also give consent non-verbally by actively engaging in the sexual act. Clearly, this implied consent is more difficult to gauge, and if your partner seems to become more hesitant or uncomfortable, you should stop. Reassure your partner that you don’t want to do anything they don’t also want to do. Communication is key!

There are circumstances when a person cannot, by law, give consent. When:

  • The person is severely intoxicated or unconscious as a result of alcohol or drugs.

  • The person is physically or mentally disabled.

  • Once a person says “no”. It does not matter if or what kind of sexual behavior has happened previously in the current event, early that day, or daily for the previous six months. It does not matter if it is a current long-term relationship, a broken relationship, or marriage. If one partner says, “NO,” and the other forces penetration or any sexual act against their will, it is sexual assault or rape.

Age can also determine whether a person can legally consent to certain sexual behaviors, such as intercourse, oral sex or anal sex. The age at which a person can give consent varies by country and by state within the United States. This breaks it down, state by state.

So, please, practice safe sex and always keep that line of communication open. Consent is easy and important and oh-so necessary.

If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault, reach out to the National Sexual Assault Helpline, where you can anonymously talk to counselors in your area.

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