Only full consent is consent– not pressure, not coercion, not force.
Consent involves holding ongoing discussions with your partner(s). It is important to discuss with your partner(s) the boundaries you have, your sexual expectations, and ensuring that the sexual experience itself is continually consensual.
When engaging in conversations about consent, it is crucial to understand what consent actually is. There is a common misconception that consent is equivalent to yes means yes, and no means no. While no means no always stands true, it is crucial to understand the context and circumstances. For example, one could experience coercion through a partner pressuring them, threatening to break up, or continually asking to engage in sexual activity until their partner says yes. These situations do NOT demonstrate consent, as the individual was coerced and/or pressured.
One common model used by many sex educators is the FRIES model. While not a perfect representation of all aspects of consent, there are some key components here that are worth exploring:
- F- Freely given - Consent is given freely without pressure, manipulation, or while under the influence (drugs or alcohol).
- R-Reversible - Consent can ALWAYS be revoked. No matter who gives consent or when it’s given, consent can always be revoked. Anyone can change their mind about what they want to do at any time.
- I-Informed - Someone can only consent if they are fully aware of what will happen. For example, if a partner tells you they are going to use a condom, and then they do not without speaking about it with you, you could not consent to that experience. Another example is if you agreed to only engage in vaginal intercourse. However, if your partner decides to have anal or oral intercourse without discussing it beforehand, you have not consented to those experiences.
- E-Enthusiastic - You should WANT to have sex. Sex should be fun and something you are excited to do. Never do anything you do not feel comfortable doing or something that is “expected” from you. Nothing is expected, assumed, or “owed” to anyone, and you should talk about this with your partner. Define enthusiastic consent: A more recent conception of consent that captures consent as an enthusiastic expression of want (positive verbal language and nonverbal language). Its goal is to ensure that a person is only engaging in activities they want and not sexual acts they feel pressured to do. This form of consent is built off of mutual pleasures between consenting partners and is very sex-positive.
- S-Specific - Specifics!!! Just because you may consent to one thing does not mean you consent to anything else. If you consent to kiss, that does not automatically mean you now consent to have sex.
For more on consent and the FRIES model, please visit the Planned Parenthood Sexual Consent.
The term “Authentic Consent” was created by Dr. Nadine Thornhill, a Black and queer sex educator. This concept of consent follows enthusiastic consent but allows for room to be awkward and experiment! While all sex should be enthusiastic, it’s important to understand there are many other reasons to have sex besides pleasure, which this model recognizes. Whether having sex for pleasure, reproduction, experimentation, or even work, this concept allows sex to be transactional, awkward, or specifically had for a goal instead of just limited to desire and pleasure.
Let's Talk About Communication
Talking about consent can be awkward or uncomfortable due to the stigma surrounding sex and the common misconception that talking about consent “isn’t sexy.” It may take some time before you are entirely comfortable discussing what you want/don’t want during sex, or maybe you’ll always be a little nervous about bringing it up to partners, but that's okay! Taking that step towards having a fully developed conversation about consent is what is important.
Here are some different activities to include in your discussions about consent:
Want, Will, Won't
- Create three categories labeled want, will, and won’t. These serve as a way to split up and discuss what you want, will want, or don’t want in your sex life with your partner.
- The “Want” category includes experiences you want or your ideal ambitions in your sexual relationship. For example, I want to use condoms, I want to cuddle after, and I want to have an orgasm.
- The “Will” category is common ground with your partner and is for things you are open to trying or willing to do, but they might not be an activity that excites you. Examples include, “I will have oral sex,” “I will talk dirty,” etc.
- The “Won’t” category contains your hard limits! These are absolute nos, something you will never do, so please do not ask again. For example, having sex without a condom or cheating on a partner could be someone’s hard limit.
- This activity is a fantastic opportunity to sit down and discuss your expectations and those of your partner. After you have created your list, generate measurable goals for them. For example, if you have agreed to have oral sex discuss what you mean by that with your partner. Everyday? A couple of times a week? What about if you’re tired? These kinds of questions clarify your expectations and those of your partner.
- Another option, rather than creating a list side by side with your partner, is completing it separately to avoid unwanted pressures. Later, compare your lists, pulling out things you both automatically agreed on, and then discuss what didn’t match. These lists aren’t set in stone, either! You can change your wants/wills/and won’t whenever! Be sure to discuss this with your partner to stay on the same page!
It may already be a part of your relationship, but you might not know it has a name: sexual negotiation. While want/will/won’t is a great way to start the conversation, it’s just the beginning!
A sexual negotiation is a way for partners to discuss their wants/wills/won’t in a deeper context. The recommendation is to go through your lists or find one online and read definitions of sexual and nonsexual acts that you could incorporate into your relationship. In a negotiation, you sit down with your partner and discuss the context of these sexual and nonsexual activities and under what circumstances you are comfortable with them. Some topics to include are expectations, body language, and mood! Share with your partner how you foresee yourself acting during a sexual act to show that you are enjoying it or if you aren’t enjoying it. Emphasize knowing what each person’s cues will look like and talking about that IN ADVANCE.
A great example of what a sexual negotiation can look like is found in this video by Dr. Doe with guest Midori.
Within any consent and communication practices, you should also incorporate discussing your sexual health, practicing safe sex, and aftercare plans.