Consent: What it is and why it’s important
When two people engage in sexual activity, they both have to agree to what’s happening. This is known as giving consent.
Consent is defined as a voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity with another person(s). If consent is not given by both people, it is sexual assault.
Consent must be clearly expressed in words and behaviour and it’s important to know that consent is not obtained if:
- a person is impaired by alcohol or drugs
- a person is unconscious or sleeping
- a person is in a position of trust or authority (teacher, coach, employer, etc.)
- a person uses intimidation or threats to coerce someone into sexual activity
- a person changes his or her mind and says “no”
How do I know if it’s consensual sex?
The people participating in the sexual activity must agree to what’s happening. Consent is a choice and means agreeing together. Here are a few ways consent is given:
- each person wants to and says “yes”
- each person says “yes” out loud and to each other (silence or a nod is not enough)
But keep in mind that:
- saying “yes” to one thing doesn’t imply “yes” to something else
- if you move on to something else, each person needs to consent again
- pressuring someone to change their mind is not consent
- even if someone doesn’t say no, if someone can’t give consent (because of alcohol, drugs, lack of consciousness or their age) then this is not consensual
What’s the age of consent?
In Canada, the age of consent to sexual activity is 16. The “close in age” rule means that:
- 12- and 13-year-olds can be sexual with people who are no more than two years older than them
- 14- and 15-year-olds can be sexual with people who are no more than five years older than them
Why is consent so important?
Without consent, sexual activity is considered to be sexual violence. Sexual violence can be:
- Sexual assault: any unwanted sexual act done by one person to another, including unwanted touching of a sexual nature such as kissing, fondling, oral sex or intercourse.
- Sexual harassment: any unwanted verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
How do I know if it’s sexual violence?
It’s sexual violence if:
- a person doesn’t get or give enthusiastic consent prior to engaging in sexual activity (e.g. you don’t ask and obtain clear permission before you attempt penetrative sex)
- one of the people engaged in the sexual activity is impaired by alcohol or drugs (e.g. you fool around with someone who is too drunk to speak clearly)
- one of the people engaged in the sexual activity is unconscious or sleeping (e.g. you take a picture of your drunk classmate when her shirt is lifted)
- the sexual activity is with someone in a position of trust or authority like a teacher, coach, employer, etc. (e.g. your coach insists that you give him a back rub after the other players leave the locker room)
- the sexual activity is with someone who uses intimidation or threats to coerce a person into sexual behaviours or acts (e.g. your boss tells you to touch them or they’ll fire you)
- the sexual activity is with someone who changes their mind and says “no” (e.g. you and your crush agreed to fool around, but now they’re nervous and just want to watch TV. You must respect your partner’s decision not to engage in sexual activity.)
What can I do to prevent sexual violence?
If you feel comfortable, you can take action to help make your community safer. Here are a few things you can do:
- understand, practise and promote consent
- respect other people’s sexual orientation and gender identity
- join or start a violence prevention program at your school to help raise awareness