How to talk to your friends about sexual consent

Sexual consent is a part of a normal sex life but how do we talk to people we’re not having sex with about it, like our friends?

groups of friends outside in a field.

Sometimes we need to speak to our friends about sexual consent.

Consent is a part of sex that helps us make sure the other person is into it. It’s how we know we’re giving pleasure and not doing harm.

But when – and how – do we need to talk to people we’re not having sex with about consent, like our friends?

If you’re worried they don’t understand consent

It’s understandable when people don’t ‘get’ consent. They don’t always teach it in school and it doesn’t play a big part in the sex we see on TV or online. But it’s essential. If it sounds like your friend is having sex with someone – or thinking about having sex with someone – who isn’t agreeing by choice or doesn’t have the freedom or capacity to make that choice, you might need to step in.

Any sex or sexual contact they’re having without consent is against the law and could see them put on the sex offenders’ register and sent to prison. And that’s on top of the serious, long-term harm they could be doing the other person.

If they tell you they were both drunk

If someone’s so drunk or high they’re slurring their words, stumbling, being sick or falling asleep, they don’t have the capacity to consent to sex and any sexual activity with them is a crime. Read our article Too Wasted for Sex for more information on signs to look out for.

It’s not easy to be the one who gets serious when everyone’s telling their drunk stories, but it’s in your friend’s interests to step in. You could say:

“Seriously though, you’ve got to be careful. If they’re really out of it, that’s against the law. You could get in real trouble.”

“She was passing out? That’s not OK. She doesn’t know if she wants sex if she’s in that state, does she?”

“That happened to me at this party last week. We were really into it but then he started talking rubbish and his eyes were rolling. I decided to leave him well alone and let him sleep. You can’t be too careful.”

If you don’t feel you can say this stuff in a group, try talking to your friend one-to-one later.

If they tell you their partner just laid there

Just because someone doesn’t shout ‘no’ or put up a fight, it doesn’t mean they want to have sex. Someone being very still or quiet can be a sign they’ve frozen in shock or fear. They could be traumatised by the situation.

You could say:

“Did you ask if they were OK? You should check in next time. Maybe they weren’t into it but couldn’t say.”

You can see something is about to happen

If you’re there when your friend starts to take advantage of someone, don’t stand by. If it’s safe to, physically step in, saying something like ‘you can see she’s too drunk, let’s get her a cab.’ Or talk directly to the person who seems in trouble and ask if they’re OK. Likewise, if you know someone can’t consent for another reason, like they’re under 16, speak up. It’s best for everyone.

If you’re worried they’re not giving consent

We all have the right to give, refuse or take back our consent anytime and every time. But what if we hear a friend say something that suggests their rights aren’t being respected?

He said he couldn’t stop himself 

You could say:

“I bet if his Nan walked in he would’ve stopped himself. That’s not OK. Anytime you want to stop, he needs to respect that. It’s always your choice.”

She told her that they had to have sex

You could say:

“She shouldn’t be guilt-tripping you into sex. You get to decide when you’re ready.”

If you’re worried a friend is in a controlling relationship and being pressured into doing things, be there for them. Their boyfriend or girlfriend might try to isolate them from friends on purpose and they might be scared or ashamed to talk. So try to be patient and regularly ask if they’re OK. Reassure them it’s safe to talk to you and you won’t push them into anything. When they do talk, really listen. Try not to interrupt or judge them.

Organisations like Rape Crisis and SurvivorsUK can give more information and confidential, specialist support to you or anyone you know who’s been in these situations. You’re not alone.

Next Steps

  • Rape Crisis offers support and advice to victims of rape and sexual assault, no matter how long ago the attack was. 0808 802 99 99
  • SurvivorsUK offers advice and support to male victims of rape and sexual assault. Text on 020 3322 1860.
  • Do you want to understand your relationship better? Love Smart helps you work it all out.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

Tags:

consent

By Katie Russell

Updated on 31-Mar-2017

Image courtesy of Shutterstock