What is Consent? 10 Fundamentals Everyone Needs to Understand

Most of us think we know what consent is. But when you start to look at it more closely, the “what is consent?” question becomes murkier and far more complex.

Today I want to share ten basic but essential fundamentals that I wish everybody understood.

Content note: this one contains discussion of sexual violence and a reference to murder.

It’s not just about sex

Consent is vital when it comes to sex, of course. But if we only apply consent to sex, we’re missing out a whole bunch of really vital steps.

Instead, I’d like us to conceptualise consent as something we apply in all areas of our lives. If your child doesn’t want to hug or kiss a relative, don’t make them. When your partner tells you they HATE being tickled, don’t take it as a challenge. If your friend has decided to quit alcohol, don’t push them to drink. And so on and so on.

If we normalise respecting people’s choices and autonomy in all areas of life, it becomes easier to normalise informed consent as a minimum standard for sex.

It’s contextual

Consent to something in one context doesn’t imply consent to it in another. I might love my partner casually grabbing my ass in the kitchen while we’re cooking dinner. It doesn’t mean I want them to do it when I’m on a work call!

Never assume that consent in Context A implies consent in Context B. Always ask if you’re not sure.

It’s not transferable

Consent is inherently person-specific. In other words, consenting to something with one person doesn’t mean you’ll agree to it with someone else. This one should really be self-evident. Unfortunately, in a world where prior consensual sexual activity with someone else is still widely used to discredit survivors of sexual violence, it still needs reiterating.

It’s reversible

Consent is not meaningful if it cannot be revoked. In other words, all parties must be able to stop the activity at any point. That might mean ending an interaction, changing up the activity, or even walking away from a relationship entirely.

I don’t care if you’re the most Twue Real D/s Couple that ever existed. Consent is never, ever, ever irreversible. If it can’t be revoked, you don’t have a relationship, you have a hostage situation.

It must be informed

Consent without all pertinent information isn’t really consent.

Years ago, a friend of mine agreed to engage in a knife play scene with a Dominant who said they had years of experience. My friend found out later that the person had lied – they had hardly any experience at all. This rendered the consent she’d given meaningless, because it was given under false pretences.

In other words, lying or deliberately omitting information in order to obtain someone’s consent makes it meaningless.

It’s specific

Consent to Activity A doesn’t imply consent to Activity B. If I’ve consented to kiss you, that doesn’t mean you can stick your hand down my pants without asking. If I say you can tie me up, that doesn’t mean you also get to spank me unless I say you can. And so on.

Never assume that someone is up for something based on their having consented to something different. If there’s any doubt, ask or check in.

It’s about much more than just “not saying no”

Sadly, I still hear “but she/he/they didn’t say no” as a defence when consent has been violated. Here’s the thing: consent is about much more than just the absence of a “no”.

Is the other person actively engaged in what you’re doing together? Are they responding positively? If not, pause and check in. If they shrug, say something non-committal, or otherwise seem uncomfortable, stop.

It’s everyone’s responsibility

As I wrote about in this week’s Coffee Date, sex education is too often based on a “boys push, girls say no” model. But this is a gross over-simplification of what consent is and how it works.

Bottom line? It’s everyone’s responsibility. Never make assumptions about what someone might be “up for” based on their gender or any other characteristic.

It has limits

As a general rule, I’m a proponent of allowing informed, consenting adults to make the best decisions for themselves. However, this principle has its limits. Following the murder of Grace Millane, the UK outlawed use of the so-called “rough sex defence” in murder trials.

Here’s a great article from my friend Franki Cookney on why the rough sex defence is an antithesis to what consensual kink is all about. The bottom line? Fun, consensual kink play doesn’t cause serious harm. People cannot consent to GBH or death.

You’ll mess it up sometimes

This is the hardest one to swallow, and yet the most essential. We are, all of us, human and imperfect. I’ve made consent mistakes in the past, and I’m sure you have too.

Here’s the thing: making a mistake or fucking up in good faith doesn’t make you a garbage person. It makes you human. Apologise, change your behaviour, and learn from the incident so you don’t cause the same harm again.

What we can do is to do our best in all circumstances. This way, when we make a mistake it’s likely to be relatively minor, rather than an enormous violation that will cause someone else untold damage.

Consent is complicated!

What do you wish someone had taught you about consent?

The Sex Ed September banner, featuring colourful condoms

This post is part of my Sex Ed September series, where I’ll be sharing educational content all month long. If you find my work valuable, buying me a coffee help keeps the lights on at C&K HQ.

I Tried to Make Him Hit Me.

This was written as part of Smutathon 2018: #SmutForChoice edition. I’m sorry it’s not very sexy, but it’s sex-adjacent and it needed writing. If you’d like to support abortion access, please click below and donate – you can also win sex toys!

The one thing he never did was hit me.

He screamed at me, including in the middle of the night, including where my flatmates could hear, including when I had no idea what I’d done. He controlled so many facets of my life, and not in ways I’d consented to as part of a kinky dynamic. Guilting and ignoring your partner because they went for an innocent coffee with a friend who happens to be of a different gender is not fun D/s. He monitored my weight and shamed me if I gained a few pounds. I was pushed on to medication. He would even punch, kick and throw objects in front of me, just so I was in no doubt how scared he wanted me. It goes on.

I have a secret confession: I tried, a handful of times, to make him hit me. On these occasions, when he shouted at me, I didn’t cower – I sassed back, very occasionally even yelled back. I called him out on his bullshit. I even, on one particular occasion, told him “you’re abusive”. That was the time I most thought he was going to throw a punch at me.

See, I wanted permission to leave. I wanted something that would tell me unequivocally, this is bad and you can get out. The part of me that still loved him would, I thought, quiet down if he actually raised a hand to me. The part that was sure he was the best I’d ever do would snap out of the stupid trance he’d got me in. I realise now that it probably wouldn’t – I’d probably have justified it and convinced myself that I deserved it and stuck around anyway, the stupid subservient fucking lapdog that I was.

Just fucking hit me, I thought, and then I can leave and I won’t be the bad guy. Because if I left, I knew he’d demonise me. I couldn’t love him as he was. I couldn’t be good enough to make him happy. I’d be the girl who couldn’t handle it.

We teach women and girls that they should leave if a partner physically hurts them. But we don’t speak enough about emotional and mental and psychological abuse. Too often, the message women get is try harder, try harder, try harder! Love him into not abusing you! We romanticise control as being “protective”.  We play off screaming as “it’s only because he cares”. This starts in childhood, when we tell little girls he’s mean to you because he likes you, and it continues and continues and continues and the next thing you know you’re in your 20s and sobbing on some guy’s floor because he yelled at you again and you’re terrified of him but also you just love him so much you’re sure you’ll die if you leave. THEN they have the fucking nerve to say “at least he didn’t hit you.”

He never crossed that line, and in his eyes that made him not-abusive. In mine, it just meant I had to wait for the abuse to get bad enough before I was “allowed” to leave. That took a long fucking time. Learning earlier that physical violence wasn’t the only form of cruelty I should Not Tolerate might have made all the difference.

Parents, teachers, adults: we must teach our girls that they do not have to tolerate cruelty of any kind. That they don’t have to tolerate the mental torture until he finally snaps and hits them. Please let’s do better for the next generation of girls.

Six Things I Wish My Parents Had Told Me About Sex

Today’s 30 Days of D/s is all about being parents while being kinky. I’m stumped here, to be honest. I am lifelong childfree by choice. I made this decision at twenty and I’ve never wavered for even a moment.

For this one, I nearly wrote a post on why I choose not to be a parent. “My writing career is more important to me and I like freedom to go where I want, sleep until noon and fuck whenever I feel like it” would be a pretty short post, though. (But, um, there you go. That’s my answer.) So instead I thought I’d share with you a few things I wish my parents had told me about sex, in the hopes that it maybe helps some of the kinky parents among my readers.

To be abundantly clear: I have AMAZING parents. I love them to death and they’ve always loved and supported me unconditionally, even when they didn’t agree with my choices. We didn’t really talk much about sex in our house. When I was about fifteen and started going out with boys, I got the “don’t do it until you’re ready and not until you’re 16” talk. Which, to be fair, is solid advice. It’s also tremendously limited.

Here’s some knowledge I wish had been imparted to me when I was growing up. I wish this stuff got taught in sex ed, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. As it is, I think parents really need to be the ones to give their kids accurate information.

Girls desire sex just as much as boys

Seriously, why did NO-ONE tell me this? It wasn’t mentioned at home, and all I got at school was “boys want sex, girls should say no”. Not even a second of airtime for “sex is great and it’s totally normal for ANYONE to want it!”

Everyone masturbates

I knew boys masturbated by the time I was 11 or 12. But I had no idea it was a thing girls did too until I read about it in a magazine. (Though, for some reason, it was framed as “a thing girls sometimes do it the shower.”) I have literally never wanked in the shower in my life. I thought I was weird for doing it, then I thought I was weird for doing it in bed.

Most people watch porn, regardless of gender

I found some porn on my boyfriend’s computer when I was 15. I confided in my mum because I was so freaked out. Much respect to her, she basically said “did it involve children or animals? No? Then you’re good, it’s normal, all men do it”. While this is basically true (#notALLmen, obviously) I wish someone had told me that loads of women watch porn and read erotica and that’s normal too. When I discovered internet smut (FictionPress was my gateway drug, check it out, there’s some damn good porn on there if you look for it,) I felt like a freak.

It’s important to feel comfortable, but it doesn’t matter if the first person you have sex with isn’t the love of your life

I justified having sex when I was a teenager by telling myself, well, we’re not married yet but I’m obviously going to marry him! (I have no idea where I got the “wait until marriage” value from, as my parents certainly didn’t preach this and we didn’t go to church). What I was told, though, was to make sure I loved the first person I had sex with. Which is fine advice in so far as it goes, (uh, kind of – doing it casually is fine too as long as it’s freely chosen)! But I took this to mean I had to be absolutely sure he was the one and only person I would ever fuck.

If you’re doing hand-sex and oral sex, you ARE having sex

Can everyone please start teaching teenagers that “sex” is not synonymous with “P in V”? Seriously? I got so hung up on we’re not having SEX until I’m legal (we did it on my 16th birthday, FYI) that I didn’t realise I’d already been having actual, real, honest-to-Goddess sex for over a year.

If you’re having sex, you should expect and demand pleasure

I didn’t realise for ages that sex was a thing people did for mutual pleasure. All the toxic messaging from school had me convinced it was a thing girls put up with in order to make boys stay in relationships with them. I wish I’d been told that sex was as much for my pleasure as his. I wish I’d been told that my pleasure mattered -and that I should expect my lover to care about it as much as he did his own.

What do YOU wish you’d been taught about sex?

Kinky item of the day: feather ticklers! I’m all about sensation play. These can also be used for tickle-torture play if you’re into that.

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