A large black dog facing a smaller black dog. A speech bubble is coming out of the smaller dog's mouth and says "what the heck is consent?"

So, what is consent?

Consent is clear, communicated, enthusiastic, the responsibility of the initiator, ongoing, and can be renegotiated or withheld at any time. It means listening to each other, respecting each other, and bringing mindfulness to all our interactions. Practicing consent is an important step in creating a culture we want to live in. A culture in which people are respected and have autonomy, choice, agency, to decide for themselves what is best for them.

Consent has the potential to make our relationships more caring and meaningful, it has the potential to increase joy and pleasure. Consent often feels awkward when we first begin to practice it in our everyday lives and seek it from our intimate partners, peers, and family. This is because we don’t learn about consent or how to set and respect boundaries anywhere in our social culture, we don’t see it modeled on TV, in music, or on social media. Like a muscle that we are just learning to use, it will only get more comfortable and strong with practice.

Consent and Sex:

While consent is an everyday practice that has the potential to increase communication in all aspects of our lives, it can be particularly important to address consent when talking about engaging in sexual activities. At AVP we support and encourage folks to explore their sexuality in safe, exciting and consensual ways. An incredibly important part of exploring sexuality alone or with others is discussing safety, boundaries, and care. Everyone deserves boundaries and safety for themselves and those around them when and if they choose to engage in sex. Your first partner is you, by this we mean that knowing and exploring our own boundaries can involve a lifelong conversation and relationship with ourselves.

No one is responsible for fulfilling our sexual wants but ourselves. Wants consist of the things that we enjoy doing, turn us on, and give us pleasure. While it can be exciting and empowering to share these things with others and to experience ourselves in relation to intimate partners, other people are never responsible for fulfilling our sexual wants. Consent is essentially about open communication and respect, whether we are practicing it with someone we just met or with a longtime partner.

A Model for Consent – The 6 Elements:

  • We do not use words like “talk” or “verbal” in this element because not everyone communicates verbally.
  • That being named, for folks who can and choose to communicate verbally, it is very important that you talk to each other.
  • Respect the yes.
  • Respect the no.
  • Respect indecision (it is not a yes).
  • Listen and pay attention to words, feelings, and context.

First, check in with yourself. Think of the last time you were really excited to do something, to see something/someone, or to go somewhere.

  • What did that feel like?
  • What happened in your body?
  • How did you know you were excited?
  • We want people to feel free to be that excited to have sex.

Second, check in with the person(s) you’re engaging with.

  • How do you know that they are excited?
  • Does their body language match what they are communicating in words (if they communicate verbally)? If not, check in. If you have doubts, don’t proceed.

The person wishing to initiate an act (e.g., hold hands, make out, cuddle, touch different body parts, etc.) or change an act (e.g., switch from kissing to touching) is responsible for initiating the conversation about consent.

Having established consent for one activity does not mean that consent has been established for all activities. This means that if someone consented to dance with someone else, it doesn’t mean they have consented to having their body touched. Just because someone has consented to having their body touched, doesn’t mean they have consented to making out. Just because someone consented to making out, it doesn’t mean they have consented to having sex.

Check in every step of the way.

Additionally, having established consent for an activity once does not mean that consent has been established indefinitely. This means that just because someone consented to having sex last time, it doesn’t mean they have automatically consented to sex this time.

Check in every time

Consent is not a contract; people can change their minds. If early on in the evening someone agrees to have sex after a date, check in after the date before moving forward. Although prearranged conversations can be had, no one should be forced to engage without an in-­the­-moment check in. Our wants and desires are fluid.

Under the law in “Canada”, consent cannot be given when under the influence. It’s important for folks to know this, as we live and work and play in a system that answers to the criminal justice system. Alcohol is often used to absolve accountability (“I was drunk and I didn’t know what I was doing”), or worse, to victim blame those who experience assault (“She shouldn’t have gotten so drunk”). This is one of the reasons that we assert that consent is often best practiced sober.

While we assert this, we also recognize that regardless of the laws that are in place, or the guidelines that are offered by university organizations, people do and will continue to drink alcohol/do drugs and have sex, especially on university campuses.

Because of this, we invite people to shift their focus from the effects of alcohol to the social factors that enable assault to be more likely when under the influence. Instead of blaming someone for their increased vulnerability, let’s talk about the messages and attitudes that told people to take advantage of it.

Important notes

We do not come into any interaction, relationship, or space without our identities; our identities do not come into any interaction, relationship, or space without power. That power comes from systems that have been (and continually are) put in place to benefit some and oppress others. For example, white supremacy gives privilege to white people, patriarchy gives privilege to masculine folks, capitalism gives privilege to the wealthy. Privilege exists whether or not someone chooses to it acknowledge it, and though we do not have a choice about whether we receive it or not, we do have a choice about whether or not we are accountable to it.

In terms of consent this is incredibly important. If someone holds certain power (e.g. as a cis man or as a authority figure) this can impact someone else’s ability to feel comfortable/safe to say no, ask for what they want, or engage in fully consensual activities.

Informed consent means that someone who is being asked for their consent has full information about what they are being asked to consent to. When someone is intoxicated, under the influence of drugs or otherwise unable to make decisions in an informed way, consent can’t happen.

Gender-­based violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes place within a cultural context of ideas, values, and behaviors. We are surrounded with images, language, jokes, movies, music, advertising, laws, that validate and perpetuate sexualized violence by making it seem normal. This is referred to as “rape culture”. “Boy will be boys”, “It’s just the way it is…” are examples of this normalization.

At AVP we recognize that this violence is not normal nor is it inevitable. By practicing consent we aim to shift the culture from one that teaches us that exploitation, coercion, domination, and control are ok to one that is grounded in respect, accountability, responsibility, reciprocity, and interrelatedness.

At the centre of all of this work is consent. As an organization and as community members, we believe that by practicing consent in all of our interactions we can work towards building safer communities.

Want more information?

Attend one of our Understanding Consent Culture workshops that run regularly throughout the year. Our workshops are free and open to folks from our campus community and beyond.

We also have resources, a lending library and friendly staff that are happy to answer questions so, come talk to us!

If you are interested in learning about the ways that the University of Victoria defines consent in their Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response Policy you can check out their website.