How to Get Consent — and How to Ask For It

By Rachel Haas

It can be hard to ask for something — help, advice, even an extra ketchup packet sometimes. But asking gets us one step closer to what we want, and that is what consent is all about.

NO MORE is proud to join the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in celebrating Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) with their I Ask campaign. Asking for consent is healthy, normal, and a necessary part of everyday interactions — and that includes in personal relationships.

The truth is that is feels easy to use consent in small everyday interactions, versus our most intimate and often most vulnerable moments. We explored this last year after Babe.net published a piece detailing an anonymous woman’s account of being violated by the comedian Aziz Ansari. That piece tipped off an important, and sometimes frustrating, online and offline discussion of what consent means and how to ask for it — or even whether or not it’s needed.

We won’t rehash that debate, because we — like so many others celebrating SAAM — believe consent is important at each and every step of a sexual encounter. Talking openly about sex is integral to understanding consent, and to learning how to communicate, understand, and respect sexual boundaries. Unfortunately, sex is still a very taboo subject — but if we can’t talk about sex with our clothes on, how are we ever going to be comfortable talking about it with our clothes off?

That’s why NO MORE teamed up with Healthline last year to create Your Guide to Sexual Consent, which lays it out in plain English — meant to be read before you take your clothes off (or at least before you take them off in a sexual encounter). We think the entire thing is worth a read, but let’s break out two big topics — when and how to ask for consent, and consent under the influence of alcohol.

When and how to ask for consent

It’s crucial to ask for consent before engaging in sexual activity. Talking openly about what you both want and setting boundaries is important in any relationship, regardless of whether it’s casual or long term.

In any sexual encounter, it’s the responsibility of the person initiating sexual activity to ensure that the other person feels comfortable and safe. You might worry that asking for consent is going to be a total mood killer, but the alternative — not asking for consent and potentially sexually assaulting someone — is unacceptable.

Consent is important and necessary, but it doesn’t have to be a buzzkill! Here’s some ways to talk about consent:

You could get right to the point and ask:

● Can I kiss you?

● Can I take this off? What about these?

● Do you want to have sex, or would you like to wait?

● Can I [fill in the blank]?

You can also take the opportunity to use open communication about sex and boundaries as foreplay. Here are some ideas:

● I think it’s hot when we [fill in the blank]. Do you want to do this?

● It feels so good when you [fill in the blank]. Do you want to do this?

● Can I take your clothes off?

● Can I kiss you here?

If you’re already in the heat of the moment, you could say:

● Are you comfortable with me doing this?

● Do you want me to stop?

● How far are you comfortable going tonight?

Remember that consent needs to be ongoing. This means even if you’re in the middle of a heavy make out session or foreplay, your partner needs to consent before you take things to the next level.

Consent under the influence

Consenting under the influence is a tricky subject. It’s unrealistic (and not legally accurate) to say consent isn’t possible if the parties have been drinking. Plenty of people drink and remain coherent enough to consent.

However, studies show a direct relationship between excessive alcohol consumption and the risk for committing sexual assault. Approximately one half of sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, the person who’s been assaulted, or both.

If either party is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it’s even more important to communicate your own boundaries and be extra sensitive to your partner’s boundaries. Here are some good guidelines to follow:

● If you’re initiating sexual activity, you’re responsible for obtaining consent. In the case that either person is under the influence, the definition of consent — clear, ongoing, coherent, and voluntary — is just as important as ever.

● If someone is stumbling or can’t stand without leaning on something, slurring their words, falling asleep, or has vomited, they’re incapacitated and cannot consent.

● If someone doesn’t exhibit any of the above signs, but you know that they’ve been drinking or taking drugs, The Good Men Project recommends asking something like, “Do you feel clear enough to be making decisions about sex?” And regardless of what your partner says in response to that, if YOU feel they’re not clear enough, then just stop.

Consent can be sexy, and it can definitely lead to better sex — but it also leads to better relationships. Communication is key in all successful relationships, and that begins before you enter the bedroom, and doesn’t stop when the action starts.

We hope you’ll start integrating consent into your everyday life if you haven’t already — check out our entire Guide to Sexual Consent with Healthline, and start saying NO MORE to sexual violence.

Rachel Haas is the managing director of NO MORE, a campaign to raise public awareness and engage bystanders around ending domestic violence and sexual assault. Launched in March 2013 by a coalition of leading advocacy groups, service providers, the U.S. Department of Justice, and major corporations, NO MORE is supported by hundreds of national and local groups and by thousands of individuals, organizations, universities, and communities who are using its signature blue symbol to increase visibility for domestic violence and sexual assault. To learn more visit www.nomore.org.