Consent and hooking-up

Hooking-up is hella fun, and while getting it on safely used to mean ‘just wear a condom’, today we have more options to help stop the spread of HIV and STIs than ever before. But something equally as important as doing it safely is doing it with consent. In fact, utilising clear communication and ensuring consent is given and received by all sexual partners is essential.

What is consent?

Consent, or sexual consent is a mutual agreement between people to engage in a sexual activity. Without consent, the sex act is inherently a form of sexual assault. So, whenever sex happens, it’s important that consent is always established with everyone involved, and that it is given freely and not as a result of pressure or threat.

If you consent to have sex with someone, you can change your mind and withdraw consent. Consenting to one sexual act does not mean you consent to all sexual acts or to future sex with the other person or people you consented with.

How do I check for consent?

The best way to check for consent is to ask someone if they want to have sex with you.

It’s important you consider the way that you ask about sex; make sure you aren’t pressuring the person you want to have sex with and give them time and space to respond.

Understandably, clear and direct consent isn’t always easy to ask for and communicate back – have you ever walked up to a random at a bar and said to their face “hey, do you want to have sex with me?”. There are other ways around it; it doesn’t have to be that awkward or go from 0 to 100 in a single question.

‘Enthusiastic consent’ is a newer term used and involves a more nuanced way of communicating consent when in-person by using a range of external and verbal cues. Enthusiastic consent takes into consideration things like how engaged they are with you, their tone and the words being used, and their body language and actions.

The tone of the person giving consent should always sound positive. If they are saying yes, ask yourself, do they sound excited or exuberant, or do they sound quiet or unsure? If they aren’t saying yes explicitly, is the flirtation getting hot and heavy, or are they seeming to not follow along?

Pay attention to their physical cues or body language. Are they getting close to you or happy with you being in their personal space, or are they closed or distancing themselves from you?

If there is any sign of hesitation, then perhaps the advance is not as welcome. If they are excited and saying ‘hell yeah’ then that’s a great indication that they are enthusiastically consenting.

In specific settings that are more sexualised, like sex on premises venues, often guys will primarily rely on non-verbal communication. Making direct eye contact with someone is usually how interest is initially gauged, followed by one leading the other to a room or stall. If someone you’re eyeing does not maintain eye-contact back or follow you, that gives you a good indication that the interest is not mutual.

When can’t a person give consent?

A person is unable to consent under a number of different circumstances:

  • When they are unconscious
  • When under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the degree that it inhibits their understanding of what is happening, or their ability to communicate clearly
  • When they are under the age of consent (age 16 in NSW)
  • When their intellectual capacity or a language barrier may stop them from understanding what is happening, or their ability to communicate effectively

The following video can help further explain when and how consent can and can’t be given using a fun and familiar analogy – making tea.

When should I check for consent?

Consent should always be given before sex, but it’s also important to seek consent while you’re getting it on if new things are introduced like different sex acts, equipment or other people joining in. Additionally, a person can withdraw their consent at any time, so if you’re already in the heat of the moment and they’re starting to seem a bit less into it, check-in with them. This can mean asking if they are enjoying it, if they want to take a break, or even if they want to try something new.

On apps, many guys talk about what they might do ahead of time, but if the situation feels different when in-person, it doesn’t hurt to ask what they want to do (or not do) before you get things started.

Tips for having the consent chat

Making sure you can establish consent before you kick things off is important, so here are some considerations to keep in mind.

Consider the context

Is it morning, in the middle of a busy day or after work? Are you in a public park, at a café, in a club or on your phone under the covers? People are going to feel comfortable discussing sex (or not) at different times and spaces.

If someone doesn’t seem open to talking about sex when you might be, consider revisiting the conversation at a later time to give them more freedom to answer without external influences and the chance to respond when they might be more ‘into it’.

Talk about your boundaries

Often when you are negotiating a hook-up online, discussing what you like (and don’t like) is part of the foreplay. It’s also a great way of establishing consensus about what you both feel comfortable doing and what is off the table. Doing this ahead of time can make it less awkward and better set expectations on how things are going to run.

Focus on the possible, not the impossible

Sometimes, others are just not going to be into the same things as you, and sometimes you may get a hard ‘no’. In situations like these, consider what alternative outcome you may want out of the interaction. If you still want to engage with them on a non-sexual level, divert attention and focus to something that you both express interest in and enjoy. Who knows, they might be your next Best Judy.

Consent and the law

Engaging sexually with another person who cannot freely give consent is a crime. The law across different states and territories in Australia does change, so it’s important to be aware of where you are and what definition of consent may apply.

All jurisdictions in Australia, with exception of the Australian Capital Territory, have what is known as a “positive definition” of consent. This means that to consent, someone must be able to do it freely and voluntarily. Consent is designed to encourage positive communication and a positive understanding between those negotiating sex.

To read more about consent, head over to sayitoutloud.org.au.