Consent is a verb. Within the context of sexual behavior, consent is action taken by both partners to agree to a sexual activity. Consent is unambiguous and everyone involved should be clearly able to give willing consent. An individual has the right to stop providing consent at any time and at that time sexual activity should stop. Consent cannot be given if a person is incapacitated, being coerced, threatened or intimidated. In short, consent is not the absence of "no", but the presence of "yes". The Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault provides detailed definitions of consent, force and coercion. The University of Minnesota, along with other universities across the nation, has adopted a policy of affirmative consent, which details what consent looks like.
When the discussion of consent comes up, I often hear people wonder about how practical it is to obtain "affirmative consent" during real life romantic encounters. I love this wondering because it opens up space to talk about what a healthy and fulfilling sexual encounter might look like. Every person and relationship is different, so consent can look different for everyone. The important part is that there is no confusion on either partners part as to the willingness of each person to engage in the activity. Consent can become a part of a sexual relationship that enhances the experience for both people. Asking your partner what they like or want and asking permission to touch them can make sex MORE enjoyable for everyone involved. This article in Teen Vogue articulates ways to obtain and give consent that don't "kill the mood", as some might fear.
I would like to end this blog post with a message to individuals who have experienced sexual assault. Maybe you were left wondering if what you experienced was assault, or confused about consent. I want to send you a very clear message: It was not your fault. It is always the responsibility of the initiating party to make sure there is unambiguous, active consent. Honor the feelings and reaction that you've had to a sexual experience; whatever you're feeling is valid. If a sexual encounter left you feeling uncomfortable or confused, there are safe places for you to talk about it, places where you will be believed and never judged. Heart of the City therapists are committed to being one of those safe spaces. We are also committed to promoting other resources that offer safe spaces for victim/survivors in our community.
-Kori Hennessy, MA
Sexual Violence Center 24 hour crisis line 612-871-5111
RAINN 24 hour National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE
The Aurora Center (University of Minnesota) 24 hour help line 612-626-9111