Consent is a broad term that encompasses the idea of a person ‘giving permission for something to happen’. When you give consent, it is with the understanding from both parties that you each need to have the capacity to give it (for example, you’re not too intoxicated and you understand what’s happening), and that it needs to be freely given. By this, we mean that there shouldn’t be consequences to saying no; there shouldn’t be any force, threat, or coercion. The Consent Matters Programme uses the acronym FRIES: Consent is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic and specific.
It’s key to think of asking for consent in a relationship, as trying to find out what your partner wants to do, rather than merely what they’ll permit you to do. We often hear about consent and how important it is, but how on earth do you talk about it without things getting awkward?
Talking about consent with a partner:
Consent is a crucial part of romantic relationships. Intimate relationships with close proximity both emotionally and physically means there are often far more situations whereby consent is required. This makes being able to openly discuss consent before, during, and after hugely important.
Starting a conversation about consent with a partner can be daunting, but you need to remember that a romantic partner should be someone who has respect for you and wants you to feel safe and happy. Furthermore, keep in mind that new things often are daunting and awkward, but by having these conversations early in a relationship, you set a precedent of prioritising consent and create an environment whereby your partner can feel comfortable setting boundaries with you too.
Asking for consent:
- “Can I [fill in the blank]?”
- “Do you want me to do [fill in the blank]?”
- “I’d like to make sure you want to do this. Should I keep going?”
- “Do you like this?” or “Is this OK?”
- “It’s OK if you’re not into this. Can we try this instead?”
- “Do you want me to stop?”
- “I like when [fill in the blank]. Can we do that?”
- “I want to [fill in the blank], but not [fill in the blank].”
- “[Fill in the blank] makes me uncomfortable.” Or “I’m not ready for [fill in the blank].”
- “I don’t want to do that right now. Let’s do [fill in the blank] instead. What do you think?”
- “I’ve changed my mind. Please stop.”
- “I like you. I’d like to [fill in the blank].”
When it comes to saying no, we would just like to reiterate that you don’t have to have a reason to say no to anything. You don’t have to come up with an excuse or say anything that suggests you might want to engage in it another time. No is a full answer. You can also say no even if you’ve been intimate with that person before, and can say no before or during.
- You can be clear and direct, simply say ‘I don’t want to do that’ or ‘I’m not comfortable with that’
- If they try to make you feel guilty by saying, ‘if you loved me you would…’ or ‘everyone else is doing it’, be aware that it’s coercion
- You could suggest something else you could do instead, e.g. “I don’t feel like it, can we watch a movie instead?”
If your partner says no
Although you may feel disappointed, respecting your partner’s decision can help to strengthen your relationship and improve your future sexual experiences as a couple.
- Respect their decision, and don’t make them feel guilty. Waiting might be frustrating, but it’s unacceptable to have sex with someone who you know isn’t ready and doesn’t want to
- If they want to talk about why they’re not ready, listen and be understanding, but also don’t push them if they’d rather not talk about it
- Remember, everyone has the right to say no
- Make sure you understand consent and how to recognise it – this could open up a really valuable conversation between you about what consent looks like to you and how you will express it
If you’d like to learn more about consent (both expressing and recognising it), head over to the online Consent Matters Programme, free to all Reading students.
If you have been affected by issues relating to consent, don’t forget you have countless support options, including:
- The University Welfare Team
- Counselling and Wellbeing
- Your doctor or practice nurse at your GP surgery
- The 24-hour freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge on 0808 2000 247
- The Rape Crisis national freephone helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12 to 2.30pm and 7 to 9.30pm every day of the year)
- Your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC)
If you have been affected by sexual assault and would like to formally report the incident to the University – you can do this via emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Once you have reported an incident our Student Welfare team will contact you to offer you support, talk through your options and explain what can happen next to help you decide what you want to do.
Find out more about Never OK on Essentials.