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What is Affirmative Consent?

on 11 Jul 2022 6:47 AM
Photo of wooden letter tiles spelling "Consent"

Often, consent education just teaches “make sure there’s consent,” or “No means no,” without any information on how exactly to do that. 

Consent conversations should include how to maintain and respect boundaries, managing rejection, and balancing giving consent with aspects of pleasure and desire. 

Recently, affirmative consent laws have come into place in the ACT, NSW and Tasmania, and Victoria has been drafting up its own affirmative consent legislation. This legislation will sit alongside other laws that describe situations where a person cannot legally give consent; for example, if they are underage, intoxicated, unconscious or there is a power imbalance in the relationship (eg a student and teacher). Consent education has also become mandatory in schools. That’s why we think it’s important to talk about what affirmative consent means! 

By law, affirmative consent means that consent is not only actively sought, but actively communicated as well.  

What do the affirmative consent laws establish? 

However, we know that just knowing this definition isn’t always that useful in practice. The reality of asking if someone is enjoying what you’re doing can be hard - the fear of awkwardness or rejection is real. But practicing affirmative consent is essential in order to prevent harm, and to make sure everyone can have an equally fun, pleasurable experience. 

The acronym FRIES was created by Planned Parenthood, to help us remember what is required for consent. 

FRIES stands for: 

Freely given 

Consent must be FREELY given. This means without force, without convincing, without guilting, without blackmailing, without bullying or coercion.  
No does not mean “convince me”.  
You do not owe anyone sex for any reason.  
Just because you’ve said yes before does not mean you have to say ‘yes’ every time.  

Consent is REVERSIBLE. You might have been enjoying yourself and then some sexual acts go beyond your boundaries or comfort levels. You are allowed to ask to stop even if you’ve already started.  
As soon as you say “stop”, “no”, “slow down” that should be enough. You are allowed to change your mind, as you do with many other things in life.  

Consent is INFORMED. Being informed of what the boundaries and parameters of the sex you’re having. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent. It can also sound like “I really enjoy doing XYZ, but I don’t feel like doing ABC.”  

Consent is ENTHUSIASTIC. Consent is not merely the presence of a yes or the absence of a no. It is not being worn down by constant attempts at sex that you just give in to the request or pressure. 

Consent is SPECIFIC. Just because you’ve said yes to one sexual act like giving/receiving oral sex doesn’t mean you’ve consented to other sexual acts like penetrative sex. If you’d like to check your sexual partner(s) is OK, you can ask questions like “Do you like that?” “What do you like?” “What would you like me to do?” “Do you want me to...” 

For some great fun and sexy checklists which have yes/no/maybe format, and other ideas about how to ask for and learn what you might or might not want during sex, check out the below links: