Recently, there has been a lot of talk about what consensual sex is and isn’t. Merriam-Webster defines consensual as an agreement by all parties involved; consensual sex is a mutual agreement by both or all parties to engage in a sexual activity.
Consensual sex is typically brought up when there is some doubt about whether both people engaging in sex wanted it to happen. In other words, if one party did not want to have sex and didn’t agree to it, it’s rape. If you watch any crime/detective television shows (Law & Order: SVU, Dateline, CSI), the topic comes up regularly. Often, we hear about it happening on college campuses, but the Palo Alto Medical Foundation stresses that consent is a topic that should be discussed whenever you’re thinking about having a sexual encounter.
The best way to make sure that you and your partner are having a consensual sexual activity is to ask. Everyday Feminism suggests you ask and watch for if the answer is said with fear or joy. If it’s a “yes” said in a small or fearful voice, wait before progressing. It’s important to find out what your partner is thinking. It may be shyness or it may be fear, and it’s crucial to figure out which before you progress.
California even passed a law regarding enthusiastic consent. Maybe you don’t think that asking “Is this okay?” during a sexual act is sexy, but it’s important to establish this consent and trust before initiating any sexual act. When both parties can give an enthusiastic “Yes!” to the question, that’s really sexy.
During consensual sex, a person can decide at any time that they want to stop the activity. For example, if a couple is kissing and one partner wants to take it a step further, the other partner can choose to stop the activity. Consenting to one behavior—in this example, kissing—does not mean that you consent to any other behaviors. Also, consenting on one occasion does not mean you consent on another occasion.
No means no. Yes means yes. It’s important that you and your partner are communicating and understanding what each other wants and doesn’t want. Judith Shulevitz, a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times, puts it perfectly: “People should have as much right to control their sexuality as they do their body or possessions; just as you wouldn’t take a precious object from someone’s home without her permission, you shouldn’t have sex with someone if he hasn’t explicitly said he wants to.”