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The Lovehoney Guide to Consent

Consent must be the foundation of every sexual encounter.

In theory, this is straightforward enough but differing interpretations and longstanding myths about sex and consent can make it far more complicated than it needs to be. In this guide, we’re breaking down what it is, why it’s important, how it’s influenced, some myths to look out for, how it can be asked for, and how it’s given or not given. Be aware, be safe, be respectful and remember, consent is sexy.

A note before we begin: this guide covers all things consent, including when consent is not given and it is considered sexual assault. If this topic could be triggering for you, feel free to head back to our advice guide hub here.

What Is Sexual Consent?

Consent is defined by law as when a person agrees to an activity by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

The key terms here are choice, freedom and capacity as they cover the circumstances where someone has been coerced into giving consent or is physically or mentally incapable of giving consent. When this happens, any permission which may or may not have been given is negated.

A person is unable to give legal consent if they are:

  • Under the age of 16
  • Pressured, bullied, manipulated or tricked into sex
  • Intoxicated by alcohol or drugs (including if they have been spiked)
  • Asleep or unconscious
  • Scared or physically forced into sex
  • Too mentally or physically unwell to make a choice

Sexual consent is an agreement between all participants involved which is given continuously, clearly and enthusiastically to engage in any kind of sexual activity.

It’s an ongoing process of respecting and communicating your boundaries which needs to happen before and during play and can be withdrawn at any time. This includes (but is not limited to) kissing, touching, oral sex, penetrative sex, using toys, BDSM play and anal sex.

Enthusiastic consent is a fairly modern view of what the ideal baseline of communication should look like and is even becoming part of the laws around consent in some places. It focusses on the positive expression of a yes, not the absence of a no.

Here is a video which explains it with everyone’s favourite cuppa:

Tea and Consent

Why Is It Important?

Any kind of sexual activity where consent is not given is sexual assault. Sounds heavy but it’s true.

Sexual assault and rape can be extremely damaging to the victim’s physical, mental and emotional health and as for the perpetrator, not only are they causing serious harm to another human, but they can also get into a lot of trouble with the law.

Besides, knowing that someone actually wants to do something with you and is communicating that is super hot.

What Does Consent Look Like?

Enthusiasm from all parties is what needs to be focussed on here. If you are both clear on what’s going on and eagerly saying “yes!”, “hell yeah!” or “yes, please” to whatever is about to happen, get going and have fun, but just remember it doesn’t stop there. Continue to check in with each other every time you switch things up or take it to the next level by saying things like “is this okay?” “do you like that?” “do you want me to do you like this?”

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This applies to anything from taking someone’s top off or touching someone you’ve been making out with to going down on them or penetrating vaginally or anally.

It can also look like discussing what you want and don’t want together and respecting those decisions without trying to change anyone’s mind. “No”, “I’m not sure” and “I don’t know” means no, and “yes” doesn’t really mean yes if they seem uncomfortable or you’ve had to convince or force them to say it.

Sexual consent does NOT look like:

  • When someone pulls away, stops moving, goes quiet or is visibly upset
  • Feeling like you have to keep going even though you’re uncomfortable for fear of how the other person might react
  • Saying yes to sex because it seems easier than saying no
  • Having sex or touching someone inappropriately when they are asleep or unconscious
  • Assuming someone wants to have sex or you can perform a certain sex act on them just because they’ve previously said yes to it at another time
  • Convincing someone to have sex
  • Secretly removing a condom midway through play after agreeing to wear one (A.K.A. stealthing)
  • Assuming someone wants to have sex because they have been flirting, kissing, or are wearing a particular style of clothing
  • Assuming someone wants to have sex because they’ve invited you back to their place and vice versa
  • When there is a significant power imbalance or they are too young
  • Assuming you have permission to engage in sexual activity with someone you’re in a relationship with (even if you’re married)

If any (or more) of these circumstances occur during sex, consent has not been given.

How Should I Ask For Consent?

Think asking for consent kills the mood? Think again.

As long as you are making it clear to your partner (or partners) what it is you are asking for, feel free to get creative with your consent-raising skills. Here are a few examples which range from sweet to downright steamy for you to start with:

  • “Can I kiss you?”
  • “I want to feel you, can I take this off?”
  • “Which piece of clothing would you like me to remove first?”
  • “Is that okay?”
  • “What would you like to try next?”
  • “I want you to enjoy every second of this so let me know if you want to slow down and we will.”
  • “How would you like it if I did you like that?”
  • “Where would you like me to put my tongue?”
  • “I’ll only do this to you if you say please.”
  • “I’ve been thinking about you all day, how would you feel about me watching you play with yourself?”

Fuah. See how hot you can make it?

How Can I Give My Consent?

Firstly, pay attention to how you’re feeling about the situation. Do you feel safe? Are you comfortable? Do you feel emotionally prepared to do this? These are all questions you should ask yourself before giving consent to someone else.

If you’re feeling comfortable and 100% keen to continue or intensify things, let your partner know, make sure you’re both on the same page about what is being suggested, and check that they’re up for it as well – it takes two to tango after all.

You can give your consent through verbal and non-verbal cues or a mix of them both as long as your agreement is clear and unmistakable.

Exploring consent is particularly important if you’re recovering from an assault.

Also, reflect on whether feelings of love, lust or infatuation are involved which may make it difficult to refuse or withdraw consent.

This also can come in the form of gender inequality, if there are two people of different genders participating.

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It’s all far easier said than done, especially when you’re caught up in the moment of a sexual fling but try your best to understand your motivations and remember that the most important thing is you and your partner’s well-being.

If your partner asks you to do something and you’re not completely sold on it, you are completely within your rights to say no and/or not to do it. If you agree to something and then realise halfway through that you’re not into it, you also have the right to withdraw your consent then too and your partner must listen. It’s all about communication and respect.

When you're ready, here are some words to communicate enthusiastic consent:

  • “YES”
  • “Ohhh, more please”
  • “Faster/harder/stronger/softer/slower”
  • “Keep going”
  • “Don’t stop”
  • “I love the way you’re doing me right now”
  • “Can you do X again?”
  • “Yes, if we go slow”
  • “Sounds amazing”
  • moans

Tone and non-verbal behaviour are everything. Think of what sounds and looks positive to you. Flinching is not enjoying something, smiling is.

Consent and BDSM

Any BDSM practitioner will be able to tell you how essential consent is to the world of kink. When we’re pushing our mind and body further than what is comfortable during activities like bondage, impact play and dominant/submissive scenes (to name a few), continuous consent and a respecting of boundaries is priority numero uno.

How do you make sure of this? Discuss exactly what you want to do and where your boundaries are before you begin – you can even write it down to be extra clear – agree on a safeword (which ends play immediately if spoken) and check in throughout.

If you want to add in some BDSM to your play with a partner and they’re not interested, don’t force it. Read more about how to practise BDSM safely in our advice hub.

To Finish

Listen to yourself and one another.

Our ideas around consent are ever-changing as we hear stories and understand things about each other. Keep learning, stay safe and have fun.

If you have experienced any kind of sexual violence, please remember that it is not your fault. If this guide has brought up anything for you or a person you know and you would like to talk to someone about it, you need some support, or you want to know more, here are a few great resources for you to take a look at:

Rape Crisis: England & Wales


The Survivors Trust

NHS: Help After Rape and Sexual Assault

Read more Relationships & Dating Advice from Lovehoney

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