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What is Consent?

Consent is a voluntary agreement. It’s relevant across all kinds of everyday interactions with friends, families, partners, classmates, coworkers, and strangers. Consent is also relevant to broader institutional decisions- like treaties, land leases, medical procedures, research publications, police investigations, and more. When a person or institution chooses to violate consent, they are removing others’ autonomy and exerting power.

Consent in sex is more than a legal obligation; it’s also a way to learn about your partner, bring you closer, and make sure everyone feels safe and is having fun. The goal of practicing consent is to reduce the likelihood of causing harm to others and to experience mutual pleasure. Respecting sexual boundaries is a wonderful expression of care and respect for another person.

Consenting to sex looks different for everyone and can vary in every context. It’s important not to take a “one size fits all” approach to thinking about consent, but rather practice curiosity, empathy, attentiveness and active listening with all sexual partners. Consent can be communicated both verbally and nonverbally. When someone is not reciprocating advances, has closed off body language, is avoiding eye contact, or appears to be uncomfortable or frozen, these are all signs that you should check-in before continuing with sex. If you’re unsure about whether a sexual partner is consenting, then ask- and if you’re still unsure after asking, then stop.

Boundaries can evolve during sexual activity – this can sound like, “I don’t like that” “I’m not ready to do that,” and “I want to try something else first.” Discussing consent and boundaries can also be sexy, it can sound like “how are you feeling about this?” “would you like it if I… ?” “let me know if you want to go slow…”

Consent is also relevant at many points prior to having sex with someone. Paying attention to context clues (time/setting) and someone’s body language can help you understand whether it’s appropriate to initiate flirtatious conversations. Online, asking directly whether someone is okay with sexting and/or viewing nudes is an important step to respect boundaries. Consent is an ongoing process, not a single question or moment.

Consent cannot be “assumed” or coerced. It is not your partner’s job to resist or say ‘no.’ What someone wears, what or how much they are drinking, or what they have done before does not imply consent. Consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to another activity; it is okay to say no to one thing and yes to another. Finally, remember that consent is a voluntary agreement- if it’s not free and informed, it’s not voluntary.

Consent and the Law

This site is not intended to be used for legal advice. We recommend that you connect with a legal aid off, legal clinic or lawyer if you need legal advice. If you require assistance finding legal advice, you can connect with a support worker at the SASC.

Sexual activity without consent is a criminal offence. In the Canadian Criminal Code, consent is defined as “the voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question” (s. 273.1 (1)). There are several situations where the criminal code says there is no consent:

  • Consent is given on behalf of someone else
  • Someone says or does something to indicate they do not consent
  • Someone says or does something to indicate they revoke their previous consent and no longer agree to continue the sexual activity
  • Someone is incapable of giving consent—for example, if they are unconscious
  • Consent is given due to someone abusing a position of power, trust or authority
  • Someone is under the age of 16 (unless they fall under close-in-age exceptions). The age of consent is 18 when there is a relationship of trust, authority or dependency.

For more information regarding consent and the law, see:

Watch these videos to learn more about consent: