Consent is when one person gives permission to another person to do something – this can be verbally, through a facial expression or positive body language. Both people need to know what is going to happen and know that they have the option to say ‘no’ or to change their mind later on.
We ask for and give consent every day in many parts of our lives. Some examples might be borrowing someone’s clothes, phone or car. Asking someone if they would like a hug or to hold their hand is also an example of asking for consent. Other examples are checking that it is ok to share photos or information with other people or on social media.
Everyone has different levels of what they are comfortable doing. If you want someone to share their belongings with you, it’s important to ask if they are okay with this. For example, if you took your friends car without asking, they might understandably get very upset. It could damage the relationship and you could even be charged with theft. Having sex with someone without consent is very similar.
A person’s decision must be respected. Whether you want to borrow a car or have sex, you must get consent or there can be very serious consequences.
When it comes to sex, sexual consent is an agreement where people enthusiastically and voluntarily give permission for any type of sexual activity. You need consent to kiss and hug, touch another person’s body, and have any type of sex.
When you consent to something, it means you understand what’s happening, and you agree that you’re happy with that choice. Consent is the most important first step when it comes to sex. It makes sex a mutual, safe, happy and enjoyable experience for everyone. Consent can only be given if it’s voluntary and there is no element of coercion, fear or intimidation involved.
Consenting and asking for consent are all about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner – and checking if things aren’t clear. It is all about communication!
At any time, even during sex, consent can be taken back. You or your partner can ask to change what they are doing (for example, slow down or try something different) or to stop completely. If you or your partner says ‘no’ or asks to stop completely even after sex has started, you or they must stop and respect that decision as they are no longer giving consent.
In New South Wales, the law states that a person under 16 years of age cannot give sexual consent even if they want to. If someone is asleep, unconscious, drunk or on drugs then they also cannot consent. You cannot pressure someone into giving consent. Pressuring or making someone do something they do not want to do is sexual assault. Sexual assault is a crime.
From the 1 June 2022 Affirmative Consent was introduced as a legal requirement in NSW. This means that consent to any type of sex, or sexual activity, must be clearly communicated by words or action and not just assumed. If consent isn’t communicated, the other person could be guilty of sexual assault. If you think you or someone you know needs support for sexual assault, support is always available.
It’s important to know that even when you are in a relationship or married, consent is still needed for sex.
Check the different laws across Australian states and territories, here.
Some of the ways you can ask for consent, include:
Consent is an ongoing conversation, so these questions can be asked multiple times as a way to check in with your partner, especially when changing the sexual activity. Consenting to one sexual activity doesn’t mean consenting to another.
Consent should be affirmative and enthusiastic. Affirmative and enthusiastic consent means explicitly agreeing to engage in the sexual activity.
Affirmative consent means looking for an ongoing “yes” rather than not hearing a “no.” For example, affirmative consent might sound like ‘Yes!’ or statements like ‘Keep going, I like that’ followed by positive body language. Consent should always be clear, enthusiastic and certain. Silence or uncertainty is not consent.
You can find some of these examples in action in the videos from the NSW Government’s Make No Doubt campaign.
Services are available in universities, colleges and the broader community to support people who have experiences sexual assault.
If someone shares their experience of sexual assault or distress with you, you can support them by believing them, listening to their experience without judgment, letting them know that this is not their fault and supporting them to explore options for support.
If you have experienced sexual assault, it is your choice whether to report it or not. You can report it to your education provider, the local police or contact any of the following services for support. Whatever you decide, support is available to you. You can contact:
If you would like a translator or interpreter to help you access these services, please contact the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National is available 24 hours a day) by calling 131 450.
Do you have questions about sexual health? Why not join the conversation on the Play Safe sex and relationship forum or ask Nurse Nettie a question. Or find out more about STI testing and STI treatment in Sydney and NSW.