We spoke to Consent Labs on the topic of consensual sexual encounters, and here’s what they had to say about how it all works…
Talking about sexual consent, and actually putting it into action, can seem scary. We’re going to break it down and give you some practical tips to walk away with to ensure consent is a mainstay for you and your partner/s.
Consent is actually something we use everyday. Taking away the ‘sexual’ component for a moment, consent is asking permission for something. We do this all the time; “can I have some of your food?” 🍟 “can you carry this for me?” 👜. It’s an everyday action we’ve been doing since we were young and our carers were telling us to ask politely before we want to do something.
When we bring in the concept of sex, it can suddenly feel more overwhelming. The reality is that we all have to use consent when it comes to sex, whether we’re single or partnered, young or old, or we’ve had sex with the person before or not. With practice, this language can come more naturally, and you can protect yourself and your partner from potentially having a bad experience.
Firstly, let’s talk through the legal side of things. Sexual consent is an agreement where both parties can freely and voluntarily give permission for a sexual activity. This means that in order to give consent, you have to be doing it without the influence of anything or anybody.
Consent looks ⚡️enthusiastic ⚡️! When your partner is excited, engaged and their body language, tone of voice and what they’re saying all adds up to: I’m 100% in.
Consent is a rolling concept because your desires, choices and comfort level can change before, during and after a sexual encounter. This means that you need to be checking in with yourself and others. There are many reasons why someone might change their mind, and this is totally fair and should be respected.
Finding the words can be difficult, but we’ve got you! Check out these guides below, adapt them and put them into your own language, and comment below if you have a go to phrase that someone else can pick up and try. The aim is to be non-judgemental, open and non-assuming. And remember, asking for consent is a skill that you have to practice just like any other! 🗣
Setting boundaries beforehand
“I’ve tried this before, and did/didn’t enjoy it so I do/don’t want to do it again”
“I’m really only wanting to do … tonight”
“What are your thoughts on …”
Setting new boundaries during sex
Sometimes you get started and you want to keep going – it’s hot, you’re into it and as long as the other person agrees, there’s nothing stopping you. But you have to get that consent before you push past the boundaries you already set.
“Do you want to keep going?”
“I’m really enjoying this, I’d love to also … if you’re into it?”
“Could I …?”
Changing your boundaries during sex
It’s completely okay to adjust your boundaries as you go. Consent is not a once off contract, it can be changed as you go, even in the next second after you give it.
“I know I said I wanted to do … but I’m not really in the mood to go there anymore”
“We didn’t really talk about this before but I’m not really into doing …”
“Can we adjust/slow down/calm things down”
You’re still working out what you want
“Let’s take it slow, I’m still working out what I like and I want to enjoy the process”
“I’ll let you know when I’m uncomfortable, but please don’t rush me”
“I’m really enjoying this but I’m not sure I want to go any further, so let’s keep going with this for now”
You know what you want, but want to make sure the other person is on the same page
“I would really like to … would you be into that?”
“Please tell me if you’re not keen, that’s totally okay, but could we try …”
“I’m ready to do … but I don’t want to rush you, so just so you know, you can let me know when you’re ready”
You can revoke your consent at any time. Making up an excuse because you feel uncomfortable to revoke consent in any other way is totally okay.
“Okay, I’m not as into this as I thought before, I want to stop here”
“Let’s take a break”
“I’m suddenly not feeling well, can we stop please”
You might notice something subtle in your partner that you sense they’re not entirely comfortable. Trust that intuition and ask, don’t ignore it.
“Hey, you seem a little different, did you want to stop?”
“Are you still vibing this?”
“Does this feel good?”
How can you spot when someone is being coercive?
Persuasion, guilt tripping, getting argumentative or using any other tactic to try to gain consent, will never elicit consent because it has to be given freely and voluntarily.
Persuasion might sound like:
“But please, can we just do this, I really want to”
Guilt tripping might sound like:
“You must not love me if you’re not willing to do this for me”
Getting argumentative might sound like:
“You never do anything like this for me, just do it once”
The language of consent will take some practice, but the aim is clear – to create a space where you and your partner/s have safe and fun sex where you’re both on the same page and feel confident and comfortable with one another.
There are some groups of people who can’t consent, and this comes down to the fact that it cannot be given freely and voluntarily.
In NSW, the age of consent is 16 years old. This is the same for most states of Australia 🇦🇺, except Tasmania and South Australia, where the age of consent is 17.
The age of consent is to protect minors from being exploited by older people. For this reason, there is some leniency in the NSW law where it may be considered consensual sexual activity if the partners are within 2 years of each other’s age and over the age of 14 (like 15 and 17), and that the consent is considered to have been given freely and voluntarily.
Check out the Consent Labs series on consent laws around Australia to learn more.
In NSW, where the person is 16 or 17 years old, they may not have been able to consent if the other person is in a position of power or trust over them. In this situation, consent cannot be given freely or voluntarily, due to this power imbalance. This includes step-parents, guardians or foster parents, a staff member of their school, a health professional looking after the person, or others not limited to sport coaches, music teachers, and religious leaders.
Regardless of age, if any person is unconscious, they cannot give consent. This includes if the person is substantially intoxicated by any drug or by alcohol 🍻: they cannot freely or voluntarily give consent as they are not of the right mind to make an informed decision.
We know that when mixing drugs or alcohol with consent, it can be tricky to find the line of when someone is substantially intoxicated, or when they can still consent. This is complicated, there isn’t a set level you can rely on. Remember, there is a difference between wanting sex and consenting to it. If in doubt, don’t have sex.
If anything in this article has upset you, there is support available.
A 24 hour crisis support service that provides short term support at any time for people who are having difficulty coping or staying safe.
A free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25 years.
Mental health crisis telephone service in NSW.