“Just because you’ve been exploring my mouth doesn’t mean you get to take an expedition further south. A kiss is not a contract, but it’s very nice…”
Sorry. It’s a serious topic, so I thought I’d try to lighten the mood with some excellent Flight of the Concords lyrics. Did it work?
No, it was just weird.
Right. Good-oh. So now I’ve made the mood awkward, let’s talk about consent!
Legally, if someone has given consent then it means that they agreed to do something by choice and that they had the freedom or the capacity to make that choice. For someone to give consent they have to be able to say “yes!” but it’s just as important that they are able to say “no”.
Usually people talk about consent when they’re talking about sex, but it actually applies to a lot of things – kissing, cuddling, touching, sharing or storing sexy photos and videos, the whole lot. Not everything, though. The law doesn’t care if you don’t consent to doing your homework or tidying your room.
Right, that’s easy. It’s all about choice. Got it. I’m going to go back to watc…
Not so fast. It might seem simple, but in practice it can be a bit more complicated. For example, someone might say “yes” to doing something because they’re too scared of what will happen if they say “no” – it could be argued that they chose to say yes, but if they felt like they didn’t have a choice then it’s not really consent.
There are also complications when you add in things like alcohol and drugs. If someone is too drunk or stoned to be classed as being in their right mind, then they’re not in the position to make big decisions and so they can’t consent. There’s obviously a difference from being a little bit giggly (like Auntie Sheila on the sherry at Christmas) and being so drunk you’re unable to give consent, but knowing where that line is can be tricky.
I know. Complicated, right? They never had to worry about stuff like this on Friends.
So what if consent isn’t there?
If any of the things mentioned – kissing, cuddling, touching, sharing or storing sexy photos and videos and actually having sex – happen without the full and joyful consent of both parties, then it’s defined by the law as sexual assault or rape.
To protect yourself and the people you’re crushing on, it’s really important to make sure that before you do any of this you make sure that you, and everyone involved, have full consent.
How do I know if I’ve got consent?
Well, the best way is to just ask! Knowing that you have and giving consent is all about communication. Start with non-verbal communication, i.e. body language – is the person interested and going along with what you’re doing, or are they freezing up and pushing you away. But then body language can only take you so far, so ask questions like “Is this ok?” and “Do you like this?”.
And if it seems too embarrassing to ask a potential pash things like this? Sorry to get lecturey on you, but if you’re not comfortable enough to talk to someone about snogging then you probably shouldn’t be snogging them.
So, when do I know if I have consent? If we’re in a relationship?
Even if you’re in a relationship, you/they don’t automatically have consent. Even if you’ve been dating someone for ten years, you don’t automatically get consent! And you’re are able to withdraw it at any time. Even mid-snog, if you want to.
What about if they said ‘no’ initially, but I kept asking and then they said ‘yes’?
Nope. Think back to what we said earlier – feeling able to say “no” is just as important as saying “yes”. If someone has pressured you into saying yes, then you’re not really consenting of your own free will, are you?
Also, er, no one should do this. It’s not the basis for a healthy relationship and is generally not cool. Not cool at all.
When else do I not have automatic consent?
When someone is unconscious or asleep, even if they gave consent beforehand. When someone is being super super flirty – they may well give you consent, but flirting doesn’t guarantee it. Nor does revealing clothing, the fact you’re already kissing, the fact someone said “yes” initially but then changed their mind, or the fact that haven’t explicitly said “no”. A good rule of thumb is that if either party doesn’t seem into it, you should just stop.
And don’t forget, if you’re under 16 you can’t consent even if you’re awake, happy and in your right mind – because the law considers you too young. Soz.
So when do I or they have consent?
When you’re both in your right minds, both comfortable with each other, both saying “yes” to whatever you’re doing, both eager and happy to do it and would both feel safe to say “no” and ask the other person to stop at any time.
We know it sounds complicated, but it’s really not scary and the best thing about it is that the same rules protect you too. It’s really important to remember that you don’t have to do anything that you’re not 100% happy and comfortable doing.
What should I do if I think I’ve had situations where I didn’t give my consent?
Firstly, whatever happened, it’s not your fault. Secondly, talk to someone. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to an adult, teacher or parent, you could always try a friend. If you don’t even feel comfortable talking about it with a friend yet, you can always talk to Childline for free confidential advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week.