The dictionary says it’s permission for something to happen, or an agreement to do something. The law says it’s when a person “freely and voluntarily agrees” to something. And current day teachings say that the only real consent is enthusiastic about how to get clear about consent – so let’s dig a little deeper.
For starters there are 4 recognized types of consent: implied, expressed, informed and unanimous.
Implied consent is not expressly granted by a person, but rather implicitly granted by a person’s actions (or inaction) in a particular situation.
Express consent is clearly and unmistakably stated, rather than implied. It may be given orally, in writing, or non-verbally with a clear gesture such as a nod.
Informed consent is consent given by a person who has a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications, and future consequences of an action.
Unanimous consent, or general consent, is consent given by all parties.
And then there’s the newly coined term, enthusiastic consent. Essentially it means that anything other than an enthusiastic YES, is a no.
This movement is the product of several high profile ‘date’ rape court cases, where
there are three components that have to be proven: firstly that sex occurred, secondly that a person did not consent, and thirdly that the accused knew the other person did not consent.
In the words of the NSW Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Pru Goward, enthusiastic consent means that “you must explicitly ask for permission to have sex.”
The person you’re with must have the full capacity to make a decision about whether they want to have sex, without force, coercion or deception. This means that there are certain situations where a person simply cannot consent – such as when they’re asleep, or intoxicated.
Equally, just because someone consented to having sex in the past, doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed yes the next time, or any time after that.
And, importantly, consent can be withdrawn at any time during sexual activity.
It’s a lot to take in for both young adults navigating dating, and for the parents exploring clarity on consent, as they raise kids to be aware of and respectful of language, terminology and best practice around the issue.
United Nations agencies and other independent sex education initiatives now advocate that consent, and the etiquette around it, needs to be taught as part of a comprehensive program. One that delves into the grey areas to give clarity across the board from a young age.
The main issue here is separating out how consent is defined culturally, and how it’s defined legally. Legally speaking, enthusiasm is a tricky concept to ‘prove’ in court. It’s not typical, clear cut, black and white legal language, and is therefore challenging to define in court.
But instilling the enthusiastic consent model from a young age means teaching that, even in non sexual settings, we should always be certain our peers are willingly participating in an activity with us. It means that we should always look for an affirmative and, to be clear, that affirmative should be positively enthusiastic.
It’s the most ethical way to engage in any personal relationship, and the most respectful way for parents and educators to approach a topic at the heart of working to end the prevalence of sexual offenses. Hope you understood how to get clear about consent!