Awareness and Remembrance, Staying Safe, Young Adults

Making Consent Feel Natural

October 16, 2018

nicolyn charlot photo
Nicolyn Charlot

Nicolyn a Ph.D. student in Social Psychology at the University of Western Ontario. Prior to coming to Western, she got her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Her research focuses on romantic relationships, and she is particularly interested in how people’s ideal visions of their romantic partners change over time. She is also curious about why couples don’t break up even if they are unhappy in their relationships.

What should consent look like? Some argue that consent must be acquired and provided clearly and explicitly prior to any sexual activity, while others believe that while consent is necessary, expecting such candid statements to become popular is unrealistic. Although society must work towards becoming more comfortable with the idea of explicitly requesting and giving consent, difficulties using such unemotional language are understandable. Fortunately, there are ways to acquire consent that can feel more fun and natural.

Much like scripts for plays or movies, sexual scripts provide roles and storylines for individuals in romantic circumstances. Of course, not everyone follows these scripts, and they are certainly not perfect, but they do provide useful guidelines for those faced with novel situations. Below is an outline of a healthy and gender-neutral sexual script to incorporate acquiring consent into your sexual endeavors. The script assumes you’ve already found someone you’re interested in and who is also interested in you.

Young man putting jacket over a young woman.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Avoiding ambiguity is best, so if you are unsure of a person’s answer, do not hesitate to ask for clarity.
  • If your partner indicates they do not want to do something, respect their decision and do not attempt to change their mind.
  • If you are having oral, anal, or vaginal sex, use a condom (even if you or your partner is on birth control) to prevent pregnancy and STIs.
  • Be sensitive to how much alcohol your partner has consumed. Even if a person says they want to have sex, consent cannot be given while someone is incapacitated. If you or your partner have had too much to drink, don’t proceed.
  • This script is a suggestion and does not guarantee a clear acquisition of consent.

1.      Try using the following phrase to invite someone back to your place, but don’t assume that someone who wants to do so wants to have sex with you.

  • “Hey – want to head back to my place, get a cup of coffee somewhere, or call it?”
    • This presents the invitation, but also gives your partner some easy outs.

2.      Alright, you’re back at your place. You want to have sex, but you’re not sure if your partner is on the same page. Use these phrases to see where your partner is at:

  • “What do you want to do?”
    • This gives them more control over the situation.
  • “Do you want to make out?”
    • A “yes” doesn’t necessarily mean they want to have sex, but it’s a good place to start.
  • “Do you want to take things further?”
    • This can work to get things started, or to continue into something more substantial if you’re already making out.
  • “Should I get a condom?”
    • This indicates sexual interest and concern for sexual health while also providing an opportunity for your partner to decline.

Young couple listening to music.

3.      Look for enthusiastic consent - a clear, resounding affirmative. Pay attention to tone and body language in your partner’s responses. If they are feeling uncomfortable, they may not tell you directly. If they say they want to do something, but their verbalizations are quiet or hesitant, slow down. Or, if they indicate consent but their body language is defensive or rigid, also slow down. Go back to the last thing you were doing that your partner was enthusiastic about, or make it clear that you are comfortable stopping.

  • “Hey, let’s go back to just making out.”
    • If they still seem hesitant about this, stop altogether.
  • “Do you want to do something else?” “Would you like to stop?”
    • Pull back from what you’re doing and say this seriously. It may not feel natural, but if you’re picking up on signals that your partner isn’t comfortable, you need to do this.

4.      Consent must be continuous; consent to one thing does not indicate consent to other things. To help ensure this, routinely sprinkle these phrases into your activities. Again, look for enthusiastic responses and comfortable body language!

  • “Do you like that?”
  • “How’s this?”
  • “How does that feel?”
  • “Is this okay?”
  • “Do you want me to keep doing this?”
  • "What do you want to do next?”
  • “Let me know if you want me to slow down.”

5.      Lead by example – try some of these phrases to indicate consent:

  • “Yes, I like that.”
  • “Yeah, let’s try that.”
  • “Oh, I would love to do that.”
  • “I’m definitely up for that.”
  • “I’d love to, but I’d rather not go further than that.”
  • “Hey, just so you know, I’d be up for doing this, but only if you also want to.”
  • Direct eye contact, large smile, and clear head nodding.

6.      Pay attention to what you yourself are comfortable with! Perhaps your partner wants to do something you don’t want to. If you want to keep going but don’t want to engage in a particular activity, consider some of these phrases:

  • “What if we try a different position?” “This position isn’t working for me.”
    • Say this and suggest something you’re more comfortable with.
  • “Over here.”
    • Guide your partner’s hand/other body part to a place you’re more comfortable with.
  • Emphasize what you do like.
    • Say, “I like that,” or make sounds or movements that indicate you want them to continue.

7.      If you decide partway through an act that you would like to stop altogether, that is completely okay. You are not obligated to maintain the mood if you are uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to pull back and say something along the lines of:

  • “This has been amazing, but I’m not feeling it tonight. Maybe we can try again later?”
  • “Hey, this has been great, but I’d like to stop now.”

8.      After your sexual encounter, if you intend to see your partner again, keep these things in mind for the future.

  • Just because your partner consented to various activities on this occasion, they may not want to do those things again in the future. Use a similar script and phrases in all future encounters.
  • If you intend to establish a more long-term relationship (if you’re not in one already), consider having a conversation outside the bedroom about your likes, dislikes, and ways you like to indicate and receive consent. This will smooth your sexual script the next time you have sex. You can even create your own script by coming up with words or phrases unique to your relationship that you both know are indicative of consent.