Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) may be almost over, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop considering the importance of raising awareness. One of the most important ways to be a good ally in the fight to end sexual assault is to get educated. That’s why the theme of this year’s SAAM is #IAsk.
#IASK champions the message that asking for consent is a healthy, normal, and necessary part of everyday interactions. We love these examples below of asking for consent in different situations. Created by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, this series of downloadable guides are a great way to educate yourself and your community about prevention.
For downloadable and printable versions of this information, please click here. All material below © 2019 National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
#IAsk For Consent
What if you want to kiss someone, but you aren’t sure how they’d feel? When you want to get close to someone — whether you’re hooking up for the first time or in a long-term relationship — it’s important to know how to ask for consent.
What is Consent?
When someone gives consent, they’re giving permission for something to happen or agreeing to do something. This means they need to know specifically what they’re agreeing to — so make sure what you’re asking is clear. For example, “Do you want to mess around for a while? Like cuddling and making out, but not having sex?”
When and how to Ask for Consent
Always ask for consent before you begin any sexual activity, including kissing, cuddling, and any kind of sex — even if your partner consented in the past.
Ask in a way that makes it clear it would be okay if they said “no” — otherwise you might be pressuring them to do something they don’t want to do. For example, “Do you want to go back to the bedroom or hang out here and watch movies?”
What is Not Consent?
Your partner may not tell you “no,” but that doesn’t mean they’re saying “yes.”
If someone says nothing, “um… I guess,” or an unsure “yes,” they’re likely communicating that they don’t really want to do the thing you’re asking about. In these cases, you don’t have clear consent. Check in with your partner about how they’re feeling — or suggest another activity. For example, “You seem unsure, so why don’t we just watch TV tonight?”
Pay attention to your partner’s body language. If they pull away, tense up, look uncomfortable, laugh nervously, or are quiet or not responding, you should check in. For example, “You don’t seem too into this. Do you want to stop or take a break?”
Dealing with the “No”
Sometimes your partner will say “no,” and that’s okay. Reassure them that you’re glad they can be honest with you. For example, “That’s okay; maybe we could do that some other time.”
Why Consent Matters
Talking about what your partner wants to do ensures sex is consensual and makes it more enjoyable. You’ll feel more confident about what you’re doing, and your partner will feel comfortable getting close to you.
#IAsk for Digital Consent
Consent should be a part of your interactions with others when you’re texting or using social media. Although you aren’t talking face-to-face, you should always consider how your actions might make another person feel and ask questions if you don’t know.
Just because technology connects us 24/7 doesn’t mean that your partner is always available. Some people enjoy rapid-fire text conversations, while others only like to text to make plans.
Check in with your partner about how often you would like to text each other and what you consider a reasonable amount of time to respond. For example, “How do you feel about texting at work? I’m cool with it, but I also have a lot of down time.”
Ask your partner how they feel about you sharing and tagging photos of them and posting about your relationship online. Find out if they’d like to see what you’re posting first, or maybe they’re okay with you sharing without asking every time. For example, “I love this picture from our last date. Is it OK if I post it to Instagram?”
Sexting means sending sexual photos, videos, or messages from your phone or computer.
Not everyone feels comfortable sexting, and that’s okay — there are good reasons to have concerns about sharing a private image. It’s never okay to send unwanted sexts — even to a long-term partner. If your partner is okay with sexting, ask them before you send anything. For example, “I’d love to show you exactly how I’m feeling — can I send you a pic?”
Just like any other kind of sex, digital sexual interactions should feel exciting, comfortable, and safe for everyone involved. If someone says “no” to sending a nude photo, respect their choice and move on. Never pressure, coerce, or guilt someone to send photos — especially nude photos. For example, “That’s cool — I can’t wait for our date on Saturday!”
If someone shares a nude photo with you, don’t share it with anyone.
Sharing intimate photos with someone they weren’t meant for is a violation of trust and could be illegal. It can also be a crime to store or share sexual photos of someone under 18, even if you are also under 18.
#IAsk How Power Impacts Consent
Consent can be complicated when one partner holds more power than the other. By being mindful of the ways power imbalances may impact consent, you can take steps to ensure your partner feels comfortable communicating their needs.
What is Power?
Power is the ability to influence the actions and choices of others.
Power can be obvious, like in the case of a supervisor or mentor, or it can be less apparent like when there’s a difference in sexual experience.
Imbalances of Power
Relationships have a power imbalance when one person has the power to influence things like money, a place to live, a job, or a reputation.
Having power over someone can influence how comfortable they feel saying no to sex — someone may fear negative consequences for not consenting.
When someone abuses power over a partner, they may use verbal threats or not. Either way, consent is never possible when someone feels they don’t have a choice.
Examples of Imbalances of Power
Age differences and sexual experience: An older or more sexually experienced adult may make a younger or less experienced adult feel they need to “prove” that they are mature or experienced.
Level of ability: Some adults who have physical or intellectual disabilities, older adults, or those who need assistance from a caregiver may rely on their partner in some areas of life, but their decision-making in other areas should still be respected.
Position in society: Someone may have more social privilege than their partner — through their education, job, wealth, citizenship, or other factors.
Privilege: White privilege, male privilege, and other unearned advantages are part of the power some of us bring to relationships.
Before asking for consent, consider how holding a position of power might influence the situation. Ask yourself: “Would this person say yes if I didn’t have power/authority over them?”
Make Consent Clear
If there’s a difference in power between you and your partner, your partner may feel less able to tell you their needs.
Let them know they can tell you when they’re not interested in doing something.
Ask questions in a way that communicates you’re okay with their answer — no matter what it is. For example, “I hope you know you can tell me how you’re really feeling – saying ‘no’ is always okay.”