Although consent is a concept that is important in all aspects of our lives, consent is essential when it comes to romantic and sexual relationships.
Consent is an agreement to participate in sexual activities. You and your partner(s) must be comfortable, willing, enthusiastic and freely given to participate in any given activity. Freely communicated consent allows everyone’s boundaries to be respected. This notably means that consent can’t be given if the person is coerced or threatened. Planned Parenthood uses the acronym FRIES: Freely Given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.
A person must be in a state where it is actually possible for them to consent, whether verbally or nonverbally. This means if you are underage, intoxicated, unconscious or otherwise incapable of giving your permission for an activity, there is no consent. Another context where consent can’t be freely given is where there is an unequal power dynamic, for example a boss with their employee, a teacher with a student, etc. Other examples of breach of consent include refusing to acknowledge a “no”, and assuming that the person is wearing certain clothes in an invitation for intimacy.
Consent can be withdrawn at any time, even if you said yes earlier. Withdrawing consent can be done with words (“no”, “stop”, etc.) or with actions (turning away from the person, shaking your head, not giving eye contact, etc.). Saying or having said yes in the past to a certain sexual activity doesn’t imply that you or your partner is always consenting to said activity. If you or your partner is hesitant or no longer comfortable continuing, the activity should cease immediately. The body reacting a certain way, such as having an erection, being lubricated, etc. do not consist of consent because these mechanisms are involuntary.
If any type of sexual activity, including kissing, oral sex or intercourse, is forced upon someone, it is sexual assault and is a crime. It’s important to remember if you’ve been assaulted, at any age and under any circumstance, it is not your fault. There are resources that exist to help you mentally and emotionally, as well as legal resources if you decide to press charges against the perpetrator(s).
Resources (for Quebec province)
CAVAC: Crime victim assistance centres, Check with your region (Montreal: 514-277-9860)
CALACS: Assistance centres for victims of sexual assault, Check with your region
CVASM: Provincial hotline for victims, 1 888 933-9007, Montréal: 514-933-9007
For immediate assistance call 911, or to file a claim go to your local police department.