Consent

Consent is the most important part of a sexual encounter.  Consent means that everyone involved in a sexual activity needs to know and voluntarily agree to everything that is happening.  This includes everything from hugging & kissing, to oral sex and talking sexy to each other.  Everyone needs to know accurate and complete information before being able to give consent, meaning that they know exactly what they are consenting to. Every person should also be participating because they want to, and not pressured or coerced into the sexual activity.

Consent is an expression of respect – we want our bodies to be respected, and we need to respect other people’s bodies.  Every person’s body belongs to them, and every person has the right to make decisions about who gets to touch their body, when they are touched, and how they are touched.  Everyone likes different sexual things and we must respect other people’s comfort and boundaries, just as others should respect yours.  Consent is always necessary, even when people are in a relationship or married.  People in a relationship or married are still free to choose and make their own decisions – their partner(s) cannot make decisions on their behalf.

Consent is about asking, listening, and respecting.  You can get sexual consent from a partner by asking!  When someone is giving sexual consent, they are saying YES! to sexual activities freely and enthusiastically, and with a clear and sober mind (meaning without having used drugs or alcohol).  For example, they might say:

  • Yes!
  • OK!
  • Absolutely!
  • Yes please!
  • Sure!

If a person says any of the above with uncertainty, or they look uncomfortable or unsure, this does not mean yes.  Consent is about much more than words.  If you are uncertain, it is best to ask for clarification.

People have the right to say yes to sexual activity.  But people also have the right to say no, or to not give consent.  People are also free to change their mind at any time, even if they initially said “yes”. Pressuring or threatening someone until they say “yes” is not the same as consent.  Any form of physical sexual contact without consent is sexual assault.  This can include kissing or touching someone without permission, forcing someone to touch them sexually, threatening someone with violence, and other non-consensual activities.  Any form of non-physical sexual action without consent is sexual harassment.  This can include saying or texting sexual things or images to someone without permission, masturbating in front of someone without permission, any unwanted and disrespectful sexual communication, etc.  Sexual assault and sexual harassment are criminal offenses punishable by law.

In Canada, there are laws about ages of sexual consent:

  • No one is allowed to have sex with somebody under 12 years old
  • A 12 year old may choose to have sex with somebody who is 12-14 years old (less than two years older)
  • A 13 year old may choose to have sex with somebody who is 13-15 years old (less than two years older)
  • A 14 year old may choose to have sex with somebody who is 14-19 years old (less than 5 years older)
  • A 15 year old may choose to have sex with somebody who is 15-20 years old (less than 5 years older)
  • A 16 or 17 year old can have sex with anybody they choose to, as long as they are not in a position of power over them (such as a teacher or a sports coach)

In these cases, in addition to the laws about age, it is important that the relationship is not exploitative in nature, meaning that one person is not being taken advantage of.

Everyone deserves to have their body rights respected.  SERC can offer information and resources about consent that are relevant for everyone – children, youth, parents, individuals, and groups.  In addition to offering information and resources about sexual consent, we offer information for parents and caregivers to help model consent to their children – for example, by asking their child before hugging them, and respecting their child’s bodily autonomy. Click here for more information on talking about sex to children and youth.

If you have been sexually assaulted or harassed, know that it is never your fault.  It is always the fault of the person who has done the assaulting or harassing.