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Empowering Boundaries: Navigating the Landscape of Consent

As we continue to dedicate our attention to raising awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence, we must discuss one crucial factor: Consent. Historically, discussions surrounding consent have often been ambiguous or misinformed. This has contributed to the perpetuation of harmful misconceptions and victim blaming.  So how do we define consent?

At the most basic level, consent is a freely given, mutual, and verbalized agreement between partners, used to express what each person is and is not comfortable with. The acronym “FRIES” is a useful tool for understanding and practicing consent during sexual encounters. 

Freely Given: Consent is voluntary and has been given without any coercion or pressure (i.e. manipulation, threats, or force).

Saying “no” does not mean “not now,” “later,” “maybe,” or “yes”.

Reversible: Consent can be withdrawn at any time, you have the right to change your mind. Nonconsent means an immediate stop to sexual activity.

Informed: There has been clear communication between partners and each fully understand what they are agreeing to.

Enthusiastic: Both verbal and non-verbal cues indicate willingness and desire. Anything short of an enthusiastic “yes” does not constitute consent.

The absence of a “no” is not enough.

Specific: Consent is given specifically for each new level of intimacy or sexual activity.  Consent is an ongoing conversation.

Being aware of these details is the foundation to having respectful and consensual interactions. However, knowledge alone is not enough; it must be actively put into practice. Practicing consent requires ongoing communication, respect for boundaries, and a willingness to listen and respond to the needs and desires of all parties involved. Here are some ideas to help communicate about consent clearly and directly, both before and during sexual activity.

·         Would you feel comfortable if we ___ ?

·         What do you want to do?

·         Would that be okay with you?

·         Do you want us to take this further?

·         Do you want us to slow down?

·         Do you want to stop?

For many reasons, individuals may have difficulty verbalizing their thoughts and needs to others. This can include saying “no”.  Remember that a simple “no” is enough to deny or revoke consent, but if you prefer, here are some other examples of verbalizing your “no”.  

·         I don’t like that.

·         I’m not into that.

·         I’m not ready for that.

·         I don’t feel like it today.

·         I really like you, but I don’t want to do that.

·         I’ll only do that if we use a condom.

Now that we understand what consent looks like, we should also take a moment to acknowledge what consent is NOT. These examples are instances where consent cannot be given, or consent would be considered invalid.

·         In the presence of manipulation, threats, or coercion.

·         If the individual is heavily intoxicated or unconscious.

·         The individual is legally incapacitated.

·         The individual is below the age of consent.

·         A power imbalance exists where the individual fears the consequences of saying “no”.

Saying no is a fundamental right that empowers individuals to assert their boundaries. Additionally, understanding and practicing consent is essential for promoting healthy relationships and preventing sexual violence. By highlighting the importance of enthusiastic and affirmative consent, we can create safer environments where we all feel empowered to communicate our needs and choices freely. As we continue our dialogue on sexual violence, let us strive to make an impact on society- where the power of saying no is honored and where all persons are treated with respect and dignity.


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