Sexual relationship: what is consent?

Consent linked to a sexual act seems obvious at first glance. However, faced with the waves of denunciation of sexual assault and misconduct on social networks, the trials for sexual assault, as well as the documentary The Perfect Victim , we have to admit that this notion essential to any relationship turns out to be sometimes nebulous, even non-existent, in various contexts.

It is true that, sometimes, confusion is possible, but it is the responsibility of each and everyone to validate the consent of the other partner during all sexual activities.

What are the rules related to age and consentWhat exactly is consent?

Reciprocal agreement

Consent can be explained in a few words. According to the Canadian Criminal Code , “consent is the voluntary agreement to sexual activity”.

It’s simple, right? Not always and not in all contexts.

Because what does a “voluntary agreement” mean? A partner can sometimes say “well, I thought she wanted to…” But no, you can’t think for the other and there are many things to consider. The agreement must be made explicitly, with specific words or clear behavior, while the person is lucid (a person who has consumed cannot give informed consent). Moreover, this agreement must be reiterated over time.  

Consent at the time of the act

Indeed, another element specified in the Criminal Code proves that the consent must be concomitant, that is to say, it must take place at the moment when the actions are taken, when the words are spoken. We always have the right to change our minds. No word said earlier or no gesture made before can place us under the obligation to accept a sexual relationship, nor even to accept words or gestures with a sexual connotation.

If there is no consent, there is aggression

Consent must be an integral part of all sexual activity and it must be given by those involved.

If this is not the case, we switch to the side of aggression.

A passive attitude or the absence of words cannot be considered as consent. When in doubt, do not hesitate to ask his or her partner whether he or she wishes to continue or not. Also, remember that it is possible to consent to a sexual relationship, but not necessarily to all gestures . Consent must be unequivocal and enthusiastic.

This notion of enthusiasm is interesting since during intimate relationships, with or without physical contact, it is relatively easy to determine whether the partner seems to experience positive emotions in a given context. If in doubt, state your request explicitly! There is nothing “unsexy” about asking what the person wants, what they prefer, what makes them comfortable, if they prefer to quit, etc.

When can consent not apply or become invalid?

Sexual relationshipIdeally, when having sex, individuals should be able to give a clear agreement. However, in reality, it is more often gestures or behaviors that provide this consent. This is where confusion can arise. Even so, by no means can this one be guessed at or taken for granted.

The absence of gestures to repel the other or the absence of words does not mean that there is consent. On the contrary.

To this end, there are situations where the consent cannot be applied and others which simply render it invalid.

States that invalidate consent

When a person consumes alcohol or drugs excessively, it is impossible to apply the concept of consent . The same is true when she is sleeping or when she is unconscious.

Abuse of authority that nullifies consent

The notion of authority and power also inhibits consent. For example:

  • If a person uses force;
  • If threats are said either towards the partner or towards other individuals;
  • If one person exercises some form of authority over the other, for example: a boss, a teacher, a psychologist, etc.

Falsehoods that invalidate consent

A consent can take place during a sexual relationship, but later become invalid, if there is a lie or lies. However, these situations are more rare and complex and they are linked to specific elements. These can be linked to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or to the use of a contraceptive.

For consent to be invalidated, the lie must attack the physical integrity of the partner and not just cause stress or sadness.

Consent that can be withdrawn at any time

Even if consent has been given, we must never forget that we retain the right to withdraw it at any time. For this reason, the partners must ensure that the consent remains valid before performing acts with sexual connotations, but also during the sexual relationship.

A person can also change their mind and end the relationship or ask that certain actions not be taken. Indeed, it is not because we agree to have a sexual relationship that we consent to everything. The partner must respect these limits, these changes or these requests, otherwise, the consent is no longer there.

What are the rules related to age and consent?

In Canada, the age of consent is 16. Before this age, very specific rules are established. Among other things, young people can consent to gestures or to a sexual relationship if their partner is roughly the same age as them.

For a young person aged 14-15, the difference is fixed at 5 years; for a 12-13 year old, the accepted difference is 2 years.

In all cases, it is the older partner who risks being accused of assault if the age gap is exceeded.

Moreover, regardless of the age and the age difference, before the age of 18, the consent is invalid if there is a relationship of power or authority between the two individuals. This is the case with a teacher or trainer, but also if the young person is housed and has no other place to go. The balance of power is therefore not necessarily linked to the position occupied by one of the two partners, but rather to the imbalances created by this situation.

What about consent among couples?

Whether you’ve been in a relationship for 2 weeks or 20 years, consent remains essential for any sexual relationship . No one, whether married or in a relationship, should tolerate gestures with a sexual connotation if they are not desired. All concepts related to consent remain valid for everyone, regardless of marital status.

And when chatting on dating sites?

During an electronic discussion, words can be said and you can get carried away in an erotic discussion. This does not mean that we will have to take action when we find ourselves face to face during a tryst. Consent must be reiterated at all times. No words spoken or actions taken force anyone to engage in sexual activity afterwards.

Consent is everyone’s responsibility

Consent must be understood by all and respected by all . A person who says nothing does not consent.

But, on the other hand, it is possible that the accused sincerely believes that his or her partner is consenting.

In order to avoid any ambiguity, it is everyone’s role to inform themselves and know the circumstances where consent is valid and clear, but also it is of paramount importance to educate children, adolescents . , for this purpose. A ‘yes’ means a ‘yes’ when it is said, but a few minutes later it can turn into a ‘no’, and this should be listened to and respected.

Respect and listening must take precedence during any sexual activity, but also with regard to all gestures or any exchange of words and even images with a sexual connotation. If the consent is not there, or is no longer there, the relationship can turn into sexual assault or harassment.