What is consent?

Sexual assault is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code of Canada, and is defined as any type of unwanted sexual act done by one person to another that violates the sexual integrity of the survivor. It includes a range of behaviours that involve the use of force, threats and/or control over a person, or anything that is carried out without consent which makes that person feel uncomfortable, distressed, frightened, or threated.

Consent is often misunderstood concerning issues of interpersonal violence. Remember that it is the act of willingly agreeing to engage in specific sexual behaviour, and requires that a person is able to freely choose between two options: yes and no.

Learning how to talk about consent, gain consent and refuse consent can help each person understand their responsibility and lessen the risk of unwanted sexual contact.

Consent means:

  • A verbal agreement. The agreement must be voluntary, sober, wanted, informed and mutual.
  • A limited agreement. Sexual intimacy is a process, and consent must be given to move forward. Consent is never implied and cannot be assumed. Even if you are in a relationship, including a marriage, it does not mean that you have permission to be sexually intimate with your partner.
  • An active agreement. Consent cannot be coerced or forced.

Consent does not mean:

  • If someone is never asked for consent, they have not consented.
  • If a person is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, they are not legally able to consent.
  • Repeated acts. Consent is valid only for the specific act/time it was given and does not give permission for future acts.
  • If a person says nothing, it does not mean “yes.”
  • Threats/blackmail. If someone uses their position of power or authority to coerce or manipulate someone into saying yes, it does not mean consent.

According to the law:

  • Sixteen-years-old is the official age to consent, and those under 12-year-old are never able to consent under any circumstances.
  • You can only consent for yourself.
  • You must be awake and/or conscious and sober enough to make a clear decision.
  • Have the mental capability to understand what consent and what you’re agreeing to.
  • People in positions of authority cannot use their power or position for sexual gain.
  • Using body language to say “no” is just as good as a verbal “no”.
  • You have the right to change your mind or stop at any time.

Be respectful.

There are many ways of communicating. The look on someone’s face and their body language are ways of them telling you they are not comfortable, such as pulling away, appearing withdrawn or stiffening their body. If the person you are with seems uncomfortable or hesitant, they are likely not interested in the sexual activity. Use your judgment, show respect and just ask:

  • Are you comfortable?
  • Do you want to stop?
  • Do you want to go further?
  • Is there anything you don’t want to do?

If you receive a negative or non-committal answer, stop what you’re doing and talk about it.

Be a friend.

Drugs and alcohol affect the ability to make decisions, including whether or not a person wants to be sexual with someone else. This means that if someone is intoxicated, they are not able to give consent.

If you are with a friend who is under the influence and engaging in intimate acts, it is important to take them aside and try your best to ensure that the person is safe and aware of what they are doing. Conversely, if your friend is trying to engage in a sexual encounter with a person who is under the influence, it is as important to take them aside and ask if they have received verbal consent, or if the person is able to give consent considering their intoxication level.

Be empowered.

You always have the right to say “no,” and you always have the right to change your mind at any time regardless of your partner, your spouse or common-law partner or your past experiences with other people. If you are uncomfortable for any reason, say “no” or “I want to stop”. If the person isn’t listening or begins to show force, this is considered sexual assault.