How to have conversations about consent; before, during and after sex
We cover some sensitive topics in this article, such as sexual assault and rape. If you are affected by any of the topics discussed, here are some support services available to you.
Picture this: you’re minding your own business walking down the street, when suddenly you get catcalled. In your own neighbourhood. In this century. And it makes you feel like punching a wall. Or maybe you’re out on a date, and it isn’t going particularly well (and garlic breath is only the beginning). You say you want to go home but your date doesn’t let you leave.
Or maybe you’re in bed with someone you like, about to have sex, but you change your mind and you want to stop. You say stop, but they don’t stop. It’s scary. And all of these situations are not OK. It’s your body; your rules. And anything to do with your body requires your consent. There’s no messing around with that.
What is consent?
Consent is an agreement between adults to engage in an activity. It’s all about honest communication and when it comes to sex, consent is all of these things:
Consent is freely given
That is, given without pressure, guilt, threats or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There are laws around who can consent and who can’t – people who are drunk or high cannot give consent. And a person who is unconscious definitely can’t give consent. People under the age of 16 are considered minors in most of Australia, and can’t give consent. In Tasmania and South Australia, the legal age of consent is 17.
Consent is mutual and agreed upon every single time, by everyone involved
It’s never implied by things like your past behaviour, what you wear or where you are. Accepting a free drink from someone does not mean consent to sex. Neither is staying up all night to actually watch Netflix and chill in someone’s room.
Consent is an informed decision
This means everyone involved understands all the details of what’s happening and what’s about to happen. This includes things like what contraception will be used, sexual health or history and what you’re going to do.
Consent is clear and enthusiastic
That means a loud and definite YES. Not a ‘maybe’ or an ‘I think so’. Silence is not consent, neither is not saying no. If there’s any doubt or mystery around any activity, then it hasn’t been consented upon, and continuing it is a crime.
Consent is reversible
Everyone involved can change their mind about anything, at any time. Even if you’ve done it before. Even if you’re naked in bed. Even if you’re halfway through the act. Unlike the bulk of emails in your SPAM folder, you can opt out of sex easily, at any time. Just say stop. And if someone tells you to stop, deal with it. It’s not the end of the world.
Consent is specific
Showing affection and sex can mean different things to everyone. Saying yes to one thing doesn’t mean yes to everything. All together now: different strokes, for different folks, and so on, and so on…
Consent is ongoing
Consent isn’t a one-time-fits-all subscription model. It has to be agreed upon continuously before and during the activity. And for every single time that takes place after.
If you want to really know that you're engaging in 100 percent consensual sex, you'll want to take our Consent Matters course. Learn how to help prevent sexual assault and sexual harrassment, and help anyone who has been assaulted or harassed.
Let’s talk about sex
Nervous? Who isn’t? Talking about sex doesn’t get that much easier. Not even after that first awkward chat you had while neck-deep in the wilds of puberty (but, that hair, though!). But the truth of the matter is that good communication is what makes great sex. It's also what makes respectful and consesual sex – so get talking. Here are a few ideas:
Asking for consent:
- “Can I [fill in the blank]?”
- “Do you want me to do [fill in the blank]?”
- “I’d like to make sure you want to do this. Should I keep going?”
- “Do you like this?” or “Is this OK?”
- “It’s OK if you’re not into this. Can we try this instead?”
- “Do you want me to stop?”
- “I like when [fill in the blank]. Can we do that?”
- “I want to [fill in the blank], but not [fill in the blank].”
- “[Fill in the blank] makes me uncomfortable.” Or “I’m not ready for [fill in the blank].”
- “I don’t want to do that right now. Let’s do [fill in the blank] instead. What do you think?”
- “I’ve changed my mind. Please stop.”
- “I like you. I’d like to [fill in the blank].”
I think I’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted
You can report an incident to Swinburne's Safer Community team and choose to remain anonymous if you wish. Hey, well done for speaking up. It can be one of the hardest things a person will ever have to do in their life. And you’ve already taken the most difficult first step. Give yourself a thank you. Know that, sadly, you’re not alone. In 2016, 26% of Australia’s students had reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in a university setting.
The #MeToo movement showed the world how powerful speaking up can be. And Swinburne has zero tolerance for sexual assault and harassment. We take every report and concern with seriousness and confidence. No matter what happened or when. We will talk to you about your options for support. And it’s also your personal decision about how or if you want to pursue things further.
If you choose to get support, report the incident, or both, you can email email@example.com, call Swinburne’s 24-hour help line on 03 9214 6741 or our out-of-hours crisis line on 1300 854 144. You can also choose to report anonymously here. We will respect any decision you make. Your call is always confidential.
Did you know?
Swinburne’s Hawthorn campus offers fully confidential on-site sessions at our Hawthorn campus, and all campuses offer general medical and counselling services. Call +61 3 9214 8483 to book an appointment or find out more.