We know that young people have a lot of questions on consent that they might not feel comfortable asking in school. So we asked you to send us your questions and we put these to a few of our LMK leaders – Ameliah, Nick and Rebecca.
In some of these answers we talk about the FRIES model of consent. This means that consent is:
- Freely Given
- Do I need to get a record of consent, like in writing?
- What can you do if someone gives consent then the next day they regret it and they say they didn’t give consent
- Can you get consent in messages? Does it have to be spoken?
- What are some potential issues that interabled couples/sexual partners might face surrounding consent? Especially if one of them is hearing or speaking impaired?
- How can we have a conversation about sexual preferences?
- If I like a certain sexual experience but my partner doesn’t, how can we work together to find a middle ground/something we both like, with both of us consenting and feeling comfortable? For example if X likes “vanilla” sex and Y only likes rough sex.
- How can you be spontaneous and be consensual?
- What is the line between not liking it and not expressing it and it being non consensual?
- Why can’t some people understand the concept of no?
- Someone said I was leading them on and got annoyed when I didn’t kiss them, how can I manage that behaviour?
- How can we deal with feelings of regret or being uncomfortable about sex?
- How does it affect consent when they sneakily remove the condom?
- Are age gaps are acceptable between two over 18s? When do you draw the line?
We completely understand the thinking behind this question. The heightened education and awareness around consent (which is overall a great thing) has made romance and sex seem like a very ‘legal’ matter, leading some people to worry about needing ‘proof’ to protect yourself. Of course, the law is important but the most important thing to focus on is that YOU understand consent and you are practising good consent with FRIES (Freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, specific). FRIES also demonstrates why getting a written record (or audio/video – we’ve heard this too) wouldn’t work, because consent is ongoing. It’s Reversible. It’s also Specific. So getting an initial record as ‘proof’ doesn’t mean anything because you should keep asking questions like “Is that okay?” “Do you like that?” throughout. This will make it a more consensual, as well as pleasurable and FUN, experience all round. Of course, you should take consent seriously, but the best thing you can do is to focus on following FRIES, and remember that healthy sex should be honest, trusting and fun!
What can you do if someone gives consent then the next day they regret it and they say they didn’t give consent?
This is an understandable concern. However, it’s worth noting that this VERY rarely happens. If it does, it is important to reflect on what happened and to check-in with yourself, and maybe a friend, to confirm that there was consent – we’d suggest using the ‘FRIES’ acronym to do so (Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic and Specific). If you feel sure you practised this, have faith in your actions. Unfortunately we do all make mistakes and maybe this other person now regrets giving consent in the first place – you can try to be understanding of that, while still having faith in yourself and your actions. If you followed FRIES, this is all you can do.
There are lots of different methods of communication where sex and consent may be discussed – flirty back-and-forth texts, body language, paper aeroplanes, or an old-fashioned in-person conversation! We’d always recommend making it is as clear and specific as possible, and generally that would involve speaking (except in cases of sensory differences and disability where alternative communications would be used). Even if you’ve exchanged messages about it and you feel you have agreement, you should still check in with each other again at the time because 1. there’s a risk someone else could have written this, and 2. consent is specific, including to the time and place, so check every time at the time and follow FRIES.
What are some potential issues that interabled couples/sexual partners might face surrounding consent? Especially if one of them is hearing or speaking impaired?
Interabled couples/sexual partners face many of the same challenges as other couples in terms of consent and the solution centres around ensuring you have the healthy signs needed to communicate honestly and equally and trusting that the other person has your best interests at heart. Communication around consent can look different for different couples and where this is non-verbal it is important to establish how each person will communicate their enthusiastic consent in advance of physical intimacy. There are many ways this can be achieved; for example if someone is hearing or speaking impaired they might choose a visual/physical signal indicating their enthusiastic consent as well as a signal indicating that they no longer consent, with their partner being mindful and vigilant around this to ensure they both enjoy the intimacy in their relationship.
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to sex, and lots of us feel nervous discussing these, but it’s important to have honest conversations in a relationship. Create a safe and non-judgmental space to discuss your sexual preferences and desires. You might find it helpful to agree a time/place to have this conversation. Have some ground rules for the conversation – agree to listen respectfully so each of you feels comfortable expressing yourselves honestly, without fear of rejection or criticism. Take turns actively listening to each other’s desires, concerns, and boundaries. Make an effort to understand your partner’s perspective without interrupting or dismissing their feelings. This is about finding a middle ground that satisfies both partners while respecting each other’s boundaries, comfort levels and space – no one should ever be pressured into doing something they’re not comfortable with.
If I like a certain sexual experience but my partner doesn’t, how can we work together to find a middle ground/something we both like, with both of us consenting and feeling comfortable? For example if X likes “vanilla” sex and Y only likes rough sex.
A. First, try to identify what you both like. It might seem that you have opposite preferences but it’s likely that you also have common interests or desires too. Finding common ground is usually a good place to start and you can build from this. Next, look at whether you’re comfortable with any compromises (compromise should never be pressured) or experimentation as it may help you bridge the gap between your preferences. This could involve trying different levels of intensity, introducing new sensations, or incorporating elements from both “vanilla” and “rough sex” (only things you feel safe and comfortable with). Be specific and set clear boundaries around intensity. Establish a safe word or signal that either partner can use to immediately pause or stop the activity if it exceeds their limits. Regularly check in with each other during sex to ensure ongoing comfort and CONSENT. Always respect each other’s boundaries to ensure that both partners feel safe throughout.
A good question. Being spontaneous is often seen as exciting and romantic (which often comes from tv and movies we watch) and some might say asking for consent ‘spoils’ the moment. However, I’d say, this just moves the spontaneity to a different part of the moment. The spontaneity is now in the ask. Before you go in for a kiss in the rain, you say ‘i’d really like to kiss you, is that okay’ and hopefully with an enthusiastic yes, you still have all the romance of your Spider-man kiss (you know the one we mean, 2002, Tobey Maguire, upside down). If not, put up your umbrella and move on or do something you’re both comfortable with.
The same goes for any situation really. In the bedroom, communication can be part of the romance and part of the flow. You don’t need to stop and get out a textbook. You can still be in the moment – close together or holding each other – as you ask ‘do you want to…?’ Remember consent is ongoing and specific so you should be asking throughout things like ‘does this feel good?’ ‘How about we…?. Spontaneity and communication can work together!
This is a tricky question; in a healthy relationship each person feels comfortable to share what they think, feel and desire without fear of judgement or a negative reaction from their partner. It’s a good idea to talk to your partner about how you show when you’re enthusiastic about something and also when you’re not enjoying something and to ask them to share their thoughts and feelings too. If you’re able to build this trust and honesty then, if you find yourself in a situation where you’re not liking something, you can have an agreed signal for showing it in a way that feels comfortable for you. If you feel unable to express what you’re thinking/feeling then its a sign that this might not be a relationship that’s healthy and safe for you. You should never, ever, feel like you need to continue with any activity that makes you feel uncomfortable and where you express this and the person doesn’t stop immediately this is non-consensual, or rape.
The understanding of “no” can vary from person to person, and for some people it can be challenging to express, communicate or understand verbal and non verbal cues. But it must be emphasised that most people DO grasp and understand when someone expresses ‘no’. For some people, feelings of entitlement or a desire to exert control or power over others mean they will ignore ‘no’. This can be rooted in societal structures that perpetuate unequal power dynamics, such as sexism, misogyny, or other forms of discrimination. Lack of empathy can prevent some people from fully comprehending the impact of their actions on others and putting their own desires first. Education and ongoing conversations about consent are crucial in fostering a culture that values and respects personal boundaries. If you are in a situation where a person does not respect you when you communicate ‘no’ please seek support. You deserve safe, healthy relationships.
Someone said I was leading them on and got annoyed when I didn’t kiss them, how can I manage that behaviour?
Sadly, it’s really difficult to manage other people’s reactions and behaviours. People can sometimes mistake friendliness for flirting and ‘leading on’. However, this responsibility lies with them, not you (I sometimes couldn’t tell the difference when younger, so I always started from the point that they were just being friendly and didn’t assume anything). It’s also important to emphasise that even if you were flirting, you never owe anyone anything, whether that’s a kiss or anything more. We sadly cannot control people’s behaviour (unless you’re some sort of wizard) but we can empower ourselves and others to understand the healthy signs, to know what consent means (we’re talking FRIES again) and to be confident and unapologetic in our boundaries. If you are ever worried that someone you’re with is expecting something to happen that’s beyond your boundaries, then keep safe, meet in public, let someone know where and who you’re meeting. Never feel that you owe anyone anything when it comes to sex and relationships.
Feelings of regret or discomfort about sex are not uncommon. Everyone deals with their emotions differently and it’s normal to have these feelings about sex. Don’t judge yourself for experiencing regret or discomfort. It’s important to acknowledge and process your feelings. And you might find it helpful to share your feelings with someone you trust.
Have a think about what your boundaries are as understanding your personal limits can reduce feelings of regret or discomfort. Remember, consent is crucial (see our post on FRIES) and you always have the right to say no at any time.
If you feel your discomfort or regret stem from a lack of knowledge, try to learn more about sex and relationships – there’s lots of useful information on the Brook website.
If your feelings of regret or discomfort persist or significantly impact your well-being; consult a specialist at a sexual health clinic or your GP. You can also find a link to organisations who can help at the end of this post.
Remember, everyone’s experience with sex and their related emotions is different. Be kind to yourself. Treat yourself with understanding and forgiveness.
This is a really important question. Removing a condom without a partner’s consent is 100% not ok. The FRIES model (which is explained in our ‘Consent is more than ‘Yes’’ post from Monday) explains that consent must be Freely, Given, Informed, Enthusiastic and Specific. If you agree to have sex with someone using a condom and they then remove it, that’s now a completely different thing to what you agree to and so consent is no longer informed – it becomes non consensual or rape. There have been rape prosecutions in these circumstances and we can’t emphasise enough how serious and not ok this is. If you experience this and you need support, please have a look at options for help and support..
Age gaps can be acceptable between two over 18’s but that there are important factors to be considered in terms of ensuring it is a healthy and balanced relationship. Some of these considerations might be:
- Power dynamics; – are both parties able to express themselves honestly, communicate their needs and boundaries and, have equal say in the relationship.
- Capacity – it is also important to consider each person’s capacity to enthusiastically consent to the relationship; for example, if someone’s physiological age is that of an adult but their cognitive/emotional age is younger then this can lead them to being more vulnerable to exploitative relationships.
- Lifestyle/expectations of the relationship – practically there are also factors that might present challenges where there is a large age gap. These might include the short and long term goals of each party. For example if one person is 40 and one person is 20 and the older person would like to have children soon then this is something that requires discussion and consideration in order for the relationship to be healthy.
Help and support
If any of these answers worried you or you need any help or support with a situation in your own life, these organisations can help.
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