“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…”

What?

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. 

We’re taught it at school more than we are trigonometry and the Tudors. If someone is constantly picking on you, taking the mick or harassing you, it means they fancy the pants off you. They really, REALLY like you. Like, LIKE-like you. Right?

No. Absolutely not.

This myth has been drilled into us since the dawn of time itself, and though it may seem harmless, believing that abusive behaviour is actually a sign that someone loves you can really damage your future relationships.

But what counts as being horrible?

When someone fancies you, they treat you well. They do not:

1. Physically hurt you. Ever.

Do they flick you when they sit next to you in class? Push you over on the school field? Pull your hair? Trip you up? All for a laugh? It does not mean they fancy you.

2. Call you names.

Did you embarrass yourself one time and earn a less-than-lovely nickname? Do they not let you forget it, and insist on banging on for a laugh for their mates? It does not mean they fancy you.

3. Repeatedly annoy you when you asked them to stop.

A light bit of banter is fine – you don’t take yourself seriously and can take a joke. But after a while it gets tiresome, so you ask them to stop. They don’t. In fact, they do it more. It does not mean they fancy you.

4. Touch you, or have you touch them, without your consent.

Wolf whistling is not a compliment and nor is touching your bum without asking. The latter is, in fact, sexual assault. They might try and dare you to kiss them or might put their arm around you affectionately when really they want to try and touch your boob. Any form of sexual contact without your consent is sexual assault. It does not mean they fancy you*.

5. Steal your stuff. 

Ever walked away from your bag or phone and come back to find it missing? Yep, great joke guys. You can give it back now. If they don’t – even if they run off with your stuff and throw it in a bin for you to find – it does not mean they fancy you.

Of course, it’s still possible they DO fancy you despite all this douchebaggery – but that’s kind of irrelevant because either way, you deserve someone who actually treats you well.

Ok. Got it. So how do I know if someone does fancy me?!

Easy. They’re nice to you! For example…

1. They compliment you without being unnecessarily sexual or gross.

2. They make an effort to spend time with you.

3. They’re super interested in what you do and what you say.

4. They want to talk to you for ages and never seem to need to be anywhere else.

5. They ask you out. Politely.

6. They laugh at your (even rubbish) jokes.

7. They blush when they see you – adorable.

8. They support you when you need it.

*any other nice stuff that makes you feel warm and gushy and comfortable and confident*

That seems fair…

Yup! There’s a big difference between some jokey, flirty banter and straight up horribleness. Don’t feel like you have to play along. If the behaviour carries on when you tell them to stop, please tell someone. You’re worth more than that, you beautiful, strong, lovely angelic human.

ps. What’s that * there for?

Ah, yes. Crushes are fun but sexual assault and abuse of your consent is super serious. If you think you’ve been assaulted or are worried about someone’s behaviour towards you then there are loads of people out there you can talk to. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. Talk to a teacher, your parents/guardians, your doctor, or any adult you trust. If you don’t want to talk to someone you know then you can always speak to Childline or The Mix.

@louisejonesetc