active consent

Is active consent required in a relationship?

Consent is an absolute necessity for any form of intimate or physically and psychologically involving experience. This fundamental understanding is widely known, and if it wasn't before, it is now. It might seem straightforward—either you consent or you don't. But what about within a relationship? Is consent assumed, or is it essential to actively confirm consent for every intimate or sexual encounter? Understanding the concept of active consent is crucial in this context.

What is active consent?

I'm not attempting to create the definitive sexual dictionary here, nor do I claim to have exhaustive knowledge as a sexual expert. I can only offer my personal understanding of what active consent entails.

To me, active consent involves clearly granting consent for a specific activity or session. This consent might be verbal, but it can also be communicated in other ways, as we'll discuss later. The key point is that there should be no doubt about whether a person has consented when active consent is given. There should be no room for confusion; active consent means the person has unequivocally agreed.

What is the difference between active and passive consent?

I want to clarify my understanding of these terms. Active consent involves clear and explicit agreement, whether expressed verbally or otherwise. On the other hand, passive consent occurs when someone allows an action to occur without actively rejecting it or demonstrating unwillingness.

Navigating consent can become complex and ambiguous in certain situations. There might be instances where consent seems passive—when a person doesn't speak up or resist an action. However, this lack of active resistance doesn't equate to full consent. Allowing something to happen isn't the same as actively agreeing, and in some cases, it can imply the opposite.

That's why I advocate for active consent in all situations. Relying on passive consent to judge someone's willingness to participate is unreliable. If you genuinely care about your partner in any intimate engagement, insisting on active consent is crucial. And, it's equally important to care about yourself—always ensure you either provide active consent or express your opposition. Recognizing that these situations aren't always straightforward or easily categorized is essential.

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Is active consent always verbal?

Here's another aspect that can stir controversy. Personally, I don't believe that active consent needs to be verbal in every instance. While ideally, consent would be expressed clearly and confidently, not everyone explicitly asks their partner for permission before engaging in sex, waiting for a distinct verbal affirmation.
In my own relationship, the dynamics might not involve explicitly verbalized consent each time we engage in sexual activities. However, I always actively consent to it. For instance, in cases involving role-playing scenarios such as rape play, I make sure to actively consent before engaging in such activities. The way I express consent might differ from a straightforward verbal confirmation, but it remains an active and intentional agreement.

active consent

The following are examples of non-verbal active consent

In my relationship, I actively consent to sexual or BDSM activities with my partner in ways that don't always involve explicitly saying 'yes, I consent' out loud. For instance, during a kiss, if his hands move towards more intimate areas, I have a choice to make. My response in that moment—whether I move closer to him, encourage his hands, or make affirmative sounds—communicates my consent to escalate the intimacy.

Similarly, when we're in bed and my partner initiates intimate moments by placing his hand on my hip or kissing my neck without using words, my response—a movement toward him or climbing onto him—serves as active consent to engage in sexual activities.

These examples highlight how, in our relationship, I convey active consent without verbalizing it. This distinction is important; my silence or lack of response does not imply consent. I believe it's crucial to offer clear, active consent, whether verbally or through non-verbal cues, to ensure there's no confusion for my partner about my willingness to engage in intimate activities.

Non-verbal non-consent is also very much a thing

There's a misconception that non-consent is always communicated explicitly through a verbal 'no.' In reality, non-verbal non-consent is significant and should not be overlooked. Disregarding these signals is a breach of consent and is a crucial aspect to understand in the real world.

In my relationship, if I don't want to engage in sexual, BDSM, or intimate activities with my partner, I can express non-consent non-verbally. For instance, when my partner begins non-verbally indicating desire for such activities, I can communicate my non-consent by redirecting his hands to non-sexual areas or firmly breaking off a kiss. Following this, I elaborate on my feelings, especially considering my partner's placement on the autistic spectrum, where detailed explanations help in understanding.

There can be various reasons for my non-consent, such as fatigue, hormonal changes, physical discomfort, or simply not being in the mood. Being in a relationship doesn't obligate me to consent to sexual or intimate activities every time my partner desires it. It's crucial to recognize that everyone has the right to decline consent to sex or intimate activities whenever they choose, regardless of their relationship status. Whether expressed verbally or non-verbally, non-consent should always be respected.

While I've shared examples of me consenting or not to activities desired by my partner, this dynamic works in both directions and is applicable regardless of a person's gender or sexuality.

Why do you need active consent every time?

The assumption that being in a relationship automatically implies giving or expecting consent is a misconception. Each individual experiences life differently, and at any given time, engaging in sexual or intimate activities might be the last thing on their mind or even actively undesirable, even with someone they love.

Relationships don't transform individuals into round-the-clock providers of sexual fulfillment. Every person, including those in relationships, has emotions, moods, and desires that need acknowledgment, consideration, and respect before initiating any intimate action.

A deeply concerning myth, thankfully not pervasive in my social circles, is the belief that rape or assault can't occur within a relationship or marriage. This notion is dangerous and unacceptable. Rape or assault can transpire whenever one person disregards or violates another person's consent and desires. Whether it's a friend with benefits, a long-term partner, or a spouse of many years, actively communicating consent or non-consent, using verbal or non-verbal cues as discussed earlier, is crucial. Moreover, respecting your partner's wishes and emotions, especially in situations where their physical and mental well-being is vulnerable and entrusted to you, is paramount.

Final words

Active consent forms the foundation of a healthy and enduring relationship based on trust and mutual respect, rather than assuming consent as a given.

There might be a sense of obligation to fulfill a partner's sexual desires simply because of the relationship status. However, it's essential to understand that nobody should feel compelled to engage in activities they're not genuinely comfortable with, regardless of their relationship status. This fact should be crystal clear for all sexually active individuals.

For those seeking sexual or intimate interactions with their partner, it's crucial to ensure their partner is actively consenting each time. Sometimes, the situation might not naturally lead to a verbal conversation about consent, but it's essential to be attentive to active consent cues from their partner's behaviors or responses. Merely not resisting or refusing isn't equivalent to active consent—it might indicate assumed passive consent.

If there's any uncertainty about whether a partner is actively consenting to an activity, it's vital to pause and ask. Not everyone feels empowered to vocalize their refusal clearly. Active consent remains obligatory—even within a relationship. It's essential to take responsibility for ensuring your partner is actively consenting to actions each time they occur.

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