What is sexual consent?

Consent is defined by section 74 Sexual Offences Act 2003.
  • Someone consents to vaginal, anal or oral penetration only if s/he agrees by choice to that penetration and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
  • Consent to sexual activity may be given to one sort of sexual activity but not another, e.g.to vaginal but not anal sex or penetration with conditions, such as wearing a condom. 
  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time during sexual activity and each time activity occurs.
  • Consenting to someone touching you in a sexual manner means agreeing to it by choice and having both the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
It is NOT consent if you or someone else was:
  • Asleep, unconscious, drunk, drugged or 'on' drugs.
  • Pressured, manipulated, tricked or scared into saying yes.
  • Too young or vulnerable to have the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
If someone’s unsure whether the other person is giving their consent for something sexual, they should always check with them.

What does sexual consent look like?
  • Consent doesn’t have to be verbal, but verbally agreeing to different sexual activities can help you and your partner understand and respect each other’s boundaries.
  • Other signs of sexual consent are positive body language, responsiveness, and affirmation that your partner wants to continue to engage in sexual activity with you (e.g. saying yes enthusiastically)
  • To get consent, you can ask 'Is this ok?' or 'Are you enjoying this?' or 'Is it ok for me to carry on?'
  • If your partner isn't responding or engaging with you, they might not want to continue. Check if they are still ok to keep going.
  • If your partner says 'no', 'stop' or 'I'm not really enjoying this' then he or she is not willingly consenting - and you should stop.
  • Remember, if someone is too drunk to say yes, or if they are asleep, you should assume that they have not given consent to sexual activity with you.

Tips for talking with your partner about consent
  • Think about your desires and boundaries
  • With an open mind, ask if they are interested in being sexual with you
  • Make specific requests
  • Speak up if you are unsure
  • Speak up if you change your mind
  • Check-in with your partner
  • Ask if you want to do something else
  • Ask every time, and be open to any response; accept a “no” as readily as a “yes”

Considerations for casual sex or hookups and consent

While consent is legally required for all types of sexual encounters, it may look a little bit different in the context of casual sexual encounters. These encounters might involve someone you don’t know very well or have never been sexual with in the past, so understanding their sexual likes and dislikes in addition to their boundaries might be tricky. However, regardless of your relationship type, consent is ALWAYS mandatory for any kind of sexual activity. To ensure everyone is enjoying themselves, here are some suggestions for navigating casual sex or hookups:
  • Engaging in casual sexual encounters might require more verbal vs. non-verbal consent and specific communication to ensure consent is present. While it may seem awkward at first, it is always a good idea to explicitly establish consent.
  • Just because your last partner liked a certain act doesn’t mean your next partner will also like that act.
  • In addition to asking your partner what they like, be sure to communicate your desires and boundaries as well.
Refer to the section above “Tips for talking with your partner about consent” for ideas on how to successfully communicate with someone you might be sexual with.

Positive and harmonious sexual interactions are possible when partners balance their power and control

Some ways to do this include:
  • Listen actively (check your understanding and ask for clarification).
  • Speak assertively (not passively or aggressively).
  • Consider your partner’s thoughts & feelings as important as yours.
  • Participate equally in decision-making processes.
  • Be mindful of how your privileges (e.g., age, gender, class, race, stature) influence your thoughts and actions and affect your partner.
  • Openly discuss respect, power and control in your interactions.

Sexual interactions can be harmful and destructive when there is an imbalance of power and control between partners
Flagrant or subtle tactics used to control or overpower include, but are not limited to:
  • Criticizing, insulting, degrading or humiliating
  • Intimidating or threatening
  • Minimizing or ignoring your partner’s thoughts & feelings
  • Not being conscious of how your privileges impact your partner
  • Physical or sexual harassment (e.g., unwanted touching or grabbing)
These are also signs of an abusive relationship. If you think you may be experiencing or perpetrating abuse, we encourage you to seek assistance from Student Welfare and Wellbeing - https://students.sheffield.ac.uk/ssid/welfare-and-wellbeing.

Sex and Alcohol and/or Other Drugs

If you are under the influence of alcohol or other substances, you are still responsible for obtaining consent for any sexual activity you initiate. If someone has consumed alcohol and/or other drugs, you cannot make assumptions about their capacity to give consent. To give consent, one must be free, knowing and aware of the sexual act(s). They also must be able to cooperate, which is not possible if they are physically incapacitated due to alcohol and/or drug consumption. 

Alcohol and other drugs reduce one’s awareness and ability to understand the situation. That means a “yes” under the influence may be invalid and any sexual conduct that you initiate could be sexual assault. There can be a thin line between being tipsy but still coherent, and being intoxicated to the point where your or your partner’s reasoning is sufficiently impaired. 

The amount of substance one has consumed is not a reliable indicator of how intoxicated one is, as everyone has different levels of tolerance. Many other factors can intensify the effects of a substance, such as interaction with other drugs, sleep deprivation and having an empty stomach.


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