Do You Consent—Yes or No?

Consent is a surprisingly dense topic. It is well-defined in many areas, from legal consent for a lawyer to act on your behalf, to consent for data sharing or to allowing cookies on the internet. We tick the little box to make the pop up go away as quickly as possible. This is consent. Consent is also relevant in relations between governments and citizens, or between medical doctors and patients. We often give our consent blindly, and unthinkingly.

Consent in Sex

The topic of consent in sex, where any non-consenting sex is rape, is defined differently in courts around the world. Implicit consent, unfortunately, is a term used for situations where it is said to be clear through gestures or behavior that a person is consenting. Even if they do not verbally say yes.

This leads to a myriad of problems. If a husband and wife have been having sex for many years and she then suddenly does not want to, is it okay to continuously assume she is consenting? If a man has had sex with one girlfriend who indicated her implicit consent in a way he learned, and he sees this indicator in another woman’s behavior and assumes this is consent too—is that okay?

The answer is no.

Consent is not implied by a person being sexually active, or by a person dressed a certain way. Consent can be withdrawn at any moment, even during the act. It can depend on mood, timing, anything. No one is entitled to anyone else’s body.

In fact, if a sexual participant is below the legal age for sex, they cannot legally give consent. Sex with a minor is always legally rape. Any agreement said by the child does not change such act from being rape.

Consent is a mutual and continuous discussion of what those involved want and are okay/comfortable with. Rather than the negative court connotations of the word, let’s reframe this and see how it can open dialogue on the sexual aspect of the relationship. If after 20 years with your partner, he/she still asks you if you want to have sex—that’s great. That’s the goal. The goal is to ensure all parties consent and not just assume that sex is wanted by either person.

Let’s make saying “do you want it” a sexy refrain.

Working to Develop Universally Acceptable Definition of Consent

Many organizations and groups are performing interdisciplinary research with social scientists, legal practitioners and activists to develop a universally acceptable legal definition of sexual consent. Due to the relation between sex, rape and consent, by devising an implementable legal definition with a high bar for seeking consent, we can help protect women around the world by stronger and better laws.

For example, up until the 1980s in Ireland, a man was legally entitled to have sex with his wife whenever he wanted. This law withdrew wives’ rights to decide their own consent. Many countries still have a similar law in place.

Some cultures have differing levels of consent appreciation, so consent is also a path to examining and easing culture clash in our global society.

Consent Education

We can educate and instill knowledge of consent socially at a community level. Consent education is beginning to take place in schools and could even be extended to the older generations.

Consent education does not just improve women’s lives by reducing rape numbers, but can also lead to a more equitable society.

Violence is Unacceptable is a movement fiercely dedicated to ensuring every woman and girl has the opportunity to reach her full potential, be free from violence, and live her dreams.

How can we address the many systemic, gender-inequality issues resulting in tragic consequences for women and girls?

If you or a loved one is experiencing violence and need help, get help here.


Elizabeth Hynes

Elizabeth is an avid writer and activist for human rights and she works in IP in the Netherlands. In her downtime she enjoys cooking food from around the world, hiking the great outdoors and crafting.

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