Confused about consent? You're not alone

Two-thirds of Canadians don’t understand what consent means (Canadian Women’s Foundation 2016).

Knowing what consent is is hugely important:

  • 71 per cent of Canada’s post-secondary students witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviours in a post-secondary setting in 2019 (StatsCan 150)
  • 10.5 per cent of Lethbridge College students experienced a form of sexual violence (NCHA 2019)
  • 51 per cent of LC students want information on sexual violence prevention (NCHA 2019)

Anyone can be affected by sexual/gender-based violence, regardless of their age, gender, orientation, background or ethnicity.

Consent is mandatory

Consent is a voluntary, conscious, active and ongoing agreement to something. When it comes to sexual activity, consent is mandatory. Sexual activity without consent is sexual assault.

“Consenting and asking for consent are all about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner — and checking in if things aren’t clear. Both people must agree to sex — every single time — for it to be consensual.” 
(Source: Planned Parenthood)

Planned Parenthood came up with the acronym FRIES to simplify aspects of consent.

Consent must be:

  • Freely given. Consenting is a choice I make without pressure, manipulation, or under threat. I can’t say yes if I am afraid to say no.
  • Reversible. I can change my mind about what I want to do, at any time, even if I have done it before.
  • Informed. I can only consent to something if I have the full story. For example, if my partner says they'll use a condom and then does not, there isn’t full consent.
  • Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, I should only do stuff I WANT to do, not things that I feel I am expected to do.
  • Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean I've said yes to others (like having sex).

Consent requires ongoing communication. It’s about a mutual agreement between individuals about what they feel comfortable with.

It also requires us to practise skills around self-regulation and respect. If someone is not interested in sexual activity, we are responsible to respond with respect and understanding, with the knowledge that each of us have the choice to do what we want with our own bodies.

Consent is empathy

Thinking about consent as a form of empathy reinforces the importance of consent as a transferable skill. It makes us ask ourselves: am I treating people with empathy? How am I checking in to see if this is OK? How can I be a better partner to help another person feel validated, valued and respected as an individual? Source: What is consent? (Hint: It's way more than just about sex), REACH Beyond Domestic Violence

What is not consent?

There is no consent if:

  • a person is unconscious, asleep or impaired by drugs or alcohol;
  • there is an abuse of power, trust, or authority, or if there are unequal power dynamics (your coach, employer, supervisor or teacher);
  • a person is pressured, manipulated, threatened, intimidated or otherwise coerced into saying “yes;”
  • a person does not clearly say “yes”, or says or implies “no” through words or behaviour; consent is withdrawn or a person changes their mind at any time before or during a sexual activity.

Understanding gender-based and sexual violence

Learning about consent is an important way you can prevent gender-based and sexual violence.

Gender-based and sexual violence (GBSV) is an umbrella term that includes sexual violence and other forms of use and abuse and control over another person or perpetrated against someone based on their gender expression, gender identity or perceived gender. Forms of gender-based  and sexual violence include:

  • physical violence
  • online violence/technology-facilitated violence
  • sexual violence including sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual exploitation
  • spiritual abuse
  • financial abuse
  • harassment including stalking
  • and emotional and psychological violence including putdowns, bullying, threats and intimidation.