Sex Educated series: A helpful guide to consent

In day three of our five-day series of extracts from ‘Sex Educated’ - a one-stop shop guide for parents and teens, to all things sex, relationships, bodies, puberty, porn, gender, sexuality, anatomy, and so much more, GRACE ALICE Ó SÉ writes about consent
Sex Educated series: A helpful guide to consent

An illustration by Ciara Coogan, from 'Sex Educated'.

SOMETIMES, people feel that consent is a scary, complicated, mood-killing process. Good news, it’s not! Giving and receiving consent can be an easy and straightforward process.

The word consent itself is rarely heard in sexual situations, and no one needs to be filling out sexual consent forms and clicking pens. Asking for consent doesn’t need to be, “Are you okay?” every few seconds (but if it is, that’s fine too).

It is important to be clear and explicit on what exactly you are actually asking for consent to do. There are countless ways in which people ask for consent, such as: “Will I keep going?”, “Can I ___ your ___?”, “Are you up for ___?” It is up to you to fill in those blanks with whatever words you like, whether it is formal language or the very popular slang words.

Everyone communicates differently when it comes to sex and sexual consent. With some practice, you will learn your own consent language and what feels right for you.

People give consent in lots of different ways. It is important that it is given both verbally (saying it) and non-verbally (showing it).

Verbal consent can sound like a ‘yes’ to a question (“Can I kiss you?” etc.), or maybe an encouraging phrase or sound (e.g., “Keep going” or “that feels good”, etc.).

Non-verbal consent means someone expresses consent with their body language or actions. Examples may include a relaxed posture (not tense), smiling, undressing themselves, reaching for a condom, etc.

It is very important to remember that no single verbal or nonverbal expression of consent is enough on its own. This means consent must be expressed and received with both words and body language, so it is crystal clear and there is minimal uncertainty or confusion.

That way, you can focus on enjoying yourself rather than trying to interpret confusing verbal or non-verbal signals.

Grace Alice O’Shea, author of Sex Educated.
Grace Alice O’Shea, author of Sex Educated.

In instances whereby verbal consent may not be a comfortable or viable option (one example would be that at least one partner has hearing difficulties), both partners should communicate beforehand and discuss their personal signals and what they mean (e.g., two taps on the shoulder might mean stop, or slow down, etc.). Pre-sex communication is an amazing way to clearly establish boundaries and consent, particularly when you are with a new partner.

It is so important that you ask someone if you can do something sexual with them. It is their body and space, and it is their choice who they invite into that space at any given time. It is never our right to assume we can touch someone in a sexual way without asking them.

Consent must be ongoing, meaning you don’t just ask once and go full steam ahead. Both people should keep checking in, to make sure you are on the same page at all times. You can simply ask someone if you can kiss them, and then if they say yes (yay!) and you want to move on to touching their body, you just need to check in with them and ask them if they want to move things along.

This not only ensures everyone is comfortable, it also makes for really good sex, because people can communicate about what they like and want to do. 

We talk a lot about communicating before and during sex, but it is so important that this happens afterwards too. 

People can feel all kind of emotions after sex and it is important to check in with each other, ask what worked and what did not, and make sure you are both OK.

Being in a relationship with someone does not mean you have consent to touch them in whatever way you like or whenever you like. We do not own our partners or their bodies, and they always have the right to say no, whether or not you have had sex with them a thousand times before.

More about the guide ‘Sex Educated’:

‘Sex Educated’ is a one-stop-shop guide for parents and teenagers to all things sex, relationships, bodies, puberty, porn, gender, sexuality, anatomy, and so much more. The book is a collaboration between Sexual Health West and sex & intimacy specialist Grace Alice Ó Sé (graduate of NUI Galway and UCC), illustrated by Ciara Coogan. It comprises of hundreds of questions that have been put to Grace and her fellow sex educators by young people in schools all over the West of Ireland. It is written in an accessible, comprehensive and sex positive Q&A style, allowing readers to dip in and out of the content as they need it. The information below was taken from Chapter 5 of Sex Educated, which explores technology and sex.

Sex Educated can be bought from sexualhealthwest.ie.

More about the author

Grace Alice is a sex educator and intimacy coach from Kerry, a graduate of NUI Galway and UCC. She delivers workshops in schools and universities, as well as working privately with adults and couples. You can learn more about her work at gracealice.com.

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