Most people are familiar with the anti-rape slogan “no means no”, but does that really go far enough to explain the importance of consent? Sex without consent is rape. It is your responsibility to check for your partner’s consent, not your partner’s responsibility to say “no”.
The first thing to know about consent is that it is not simply a light switch – it is not either “on” or “off”. At any point either partner has a right to stop all sexual contact. You are allowed to make out with someone in a club but not want them to come home with you, to bring someone home with you but not have sex with them, and to stop sexual activity at any point at which you feel uncomfortable – and your partner should respect all of these decisions at all times.
It is also important to create a pressure-free environment in order for consent to flourish. That means checking regularly with your partner if things are okay. This does not have to ruin the mood; simply asking “do you like this?” when you are kissing or touching is a great way not only to check if you have consent, but also to learn what your partner most enjoys. It can also be a great way of talking dirty; imagine “I’d really like to XXX, would you like that?” If this still does not convince you, just remember that feeling pressured into doing something is definitely not sexy, and you could be breaking the law – so it is always better to ask.
If your partner asks you to stop, make sure you do everything you can to make them feel comfortable. Do not immediately stand up, get dressed and give them the silent treatment; if they like you and care about you, this could make them feel like they need to do something they are uncomfortable with. If consent is withdrawn, it is important to retain intimacy – continue to hold them (if they want you to do that) and talk to them in a way that makes it clear that you are completely okay with whatever they want, making sure you do not sound annoyed or frustrated. Remember that if you show them you are someone who respects them and whom they can trust, they will be more comfortable with you in future and your relationship can develop further.
If someone is intoxicated then they are unable to consent, and having sex with someone who is too drunk to know what they are doing is rape. It is also important to remember that arousal does not mean consent either; just because a guy is hard or a girl is wet, it does not mean they want you to have sex with them. Consent is not complicated; it is actually ridiculously simple. Does your partner seem to be enjoying sex with you? Are they smiling or laughing? Are they kissing and touching you back and actively participating? Then they are consenting. It can be that someone is too shy to do this, but if that is so, just check they are okay to keep going.
A good sexual experience requires mutual pleasure, good communication and enthusiastic participation.