Enthusiastic consent

The ins and outs of sexual consent may seem complicated but really it comes down to one simple question – are they into it?

A man lies on his back on bed whilst a woman lies on top of him. They are both smiling.

You should feel comfortable talking about your needs and desires with your partner during sex.

What is enthusiastic consent?

Enthusiastic consent is a way for you and your partner to give and get sexual consent by communicating, either physically or verbally, your needs and desires before and during sex.

At the end of the day, you want a sexual partner who is engaged and having fun rather than passive and disinterested. Practicing enthusiastic consent is a natural way to ensure everyone involved is having a good time, so instead of the usual no means no, start thinking yes means yes.

How do I know my partner is consenting enthusiastically?

Pay attention to your partner and how they’re reacting. The following could all be signs of enthusiastic consent:

  • Smiling, nodding, eye contact, looking relaxed and happy.
  • Kissing and touching you back.
  • Heavy breathing, moaning and outright telling you they like it, for example, saying ‘that feels good’ or ‘don’t stop’.

Enthusiastic consent is not:

  • Silence or no response at all.
  • Stiff body language, avoiding eye contact, not touching back.
  • A yes, only after they were pressured to have sex.
  • A yes from someone who is too wasted to consent.

How should I start?

Talk about what you want to do and how you want to do it before you start. This doesn’t have to be a boring conversation. It can be part of your foreplay if you make it fun and flirty.

On consent, Ester McGeeney from sexual health and wellbeing charity Brook says: “It’s more than ‘do you want to have sex yes or no?’ it’s about discovering what kinds of touch, intimacy and bodily movement someone enjoys and is comfortable with at a given time.”

Keep asking your partner what they want throughout sex and every time you want to do something new. This will ensure you get consent for each new act. Just because your partner consented to one thing doesn’t mean they’ll agree to do something else.

Asking questions ensures that you know your partner’s into it. Plus, talking about what you want to do should work up your appetite, making you both want it more.

It feels weird to talk during sex 

We know that some people aren’t used to talking during sex or even saying what they want. If you’re shy or not very experienced you might find this difficult but talking can be a great way to boost your confidence.

If you’re having sex you should be able to do it in the way you want. The best way to get that is by communicating. If you don’t know your partner or their body language very well then talking is the easiest way to make sure you get consent.

What else do I have to look out for?

Asking what your partner wants to do is one way to get consent. You could also pay attention to their body language and how they respond to you.

Body language is a huge part of how we communicate. We can tell when our friends feel down or upset so we should be able to apply this logic to the bedroom … or wherever you’re doing it.

Are they engaged, talking and looking at you? Or do they seem passive, upset or disinterested? If you don’t think they’re enjoying it, stop and ask them if they’re ok.

But don’t I need a yes or a no?

It’s true that some people feel more comfortable getting a loud and clear yes from their partner. If you feel like this then make sure to ask your partner what they want to do.

It’s important to remember that some people may not be fully clear about what they want so you may not always get a clear yes or no. Ester says: “Your partner may want to try something and then stop. This is part of having sex and learning about your own and your partners’ bodies.”

If your partner changes their mind during sex, stop and talk about what you want to do next.

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Next Steps

  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
  • 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
  • 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.

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Updated on 15-Mar-2017

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