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Consent: A Practical Guide

By , Staff Writers Originally Published: April 5, 2023 Revised: April 5, 2023

A big part of being a teenager is kicking back with some snacks and binge-watching movies and TV for hours on end. Sources of entertainment can be extremely influential in shaping our attitudes and actions. Unfortunately, movies and TV don’t always represent relationships, consent and sex realistically.

So, if a lot of what we see in pop culture is inaccurate, how can we know what consent looks like in practice? In this article, we’ll first illustrate examples where consent is lacking and then share a guide to what consent actually is.

Scenario #1: Maya and Rick

Over the past few days, Maya’s boss Rick has been making suggestive comments and standing a little too close to her, invading her personal space.

Today at work, he asks her to go out with him and then spend the night at his place. Maya backs away. She’s clearly uncomfortable; her body stiff, arms crossed, face pale. Maya is hoping that Rick gets the message. Rick then says, “If you want to keep working here, you’ll do it.”

In this situation, Rick uses his position as Maya’s boss to try and pressure her into a romantic and sexual relationship. Maya is afraid to explicitly say no—who knows what the consequences could be? This is not consent. It is also considered sexual harassment and is unlawful. If you find yourself in a situation like this, know that a pressured “yes” is not a true “yes.”

Scenario #2: Jack and Dillon

Jack arrives at a party and sees that his ex-partner Dillon is there. Jack feels a rush of excitement; he’s wanted to hook up with them again since their breakup a few months ago. Jack approaches Dillon, who appears to be very intoxicated, and begins to flirt with them. Jack then asks Dillon to go upstairs with him.

In this situation, consent for sexual activity cannot be given. If you are unsure if somebody is sober or otherwise able to consent, it’s best not to engage in sexual activity.

Scenario #3: Naomi and Amira

As Naomi leans in, her girlfriend Amira is unsure. Naomi kisses Amira enthusiastically and pulls her in closer. They’ve had sex before and Amira knows Naomi wants to again. But Amira is worried that they’re going too fast. Naomi begins to unzip Amira’s jeans. Amira is frozen. She’s thinking of possible ways she can tell Naomi to stop: How am I going to tell her I’m uncomfortable? Will she be disappointed if I say I don’t want to have sex? I love Naomi. Should I just go along with it? Maybe if I don’t move, she’ll notice and stop.

In this situation, it’s important to know that even if you’re in a relationship or have had sex in the past with each other, consent cannot automatically be assumed. Communicate with your partner every step of the way!

FRIES: The Guide to Consent

Consent wasn’t given in the three examples above. So what does consent look like? Here’s a guide created by Planned Parenthood that can help you learn how to convey and understand consent. Check out these FRIES!

F is for freely given: When in a sexual situation, it’s important for consent to be given without coercion. It can’t be given when being pressured (whether the person is in a position of power over you or not) like Maya was, while under the influence of drugs or alcohol like Dillon was or while asleep. Partners should respect each other, including decisions and boundaries.

R is for reversible: Even if you’re in a relationship like Naomi and Amira, consent in the past does not guarantee permission to have sex again in the future. You might choose not to have sex again because you’re not in the mood, you’re uncomfortable or because of something else entirely. No matter the reason, a person’s decision should be respected.

I is for informed: Even though it might not always be easy, it’s important to talk to your partner about what you are both comfortable with sexually, as well as things like using protection and getting tested for sexually transmitted infections.

E is for enthusiastic: Only do what you’re comfortable doing sexually. Enthusiastic consent can be conveyed through both verbal and nonverbal confirmation. It’s important to notice your partner’s body language. For example, eye contact, smiling and nodding are examples of positive body language. If your partner is nonresponsive or upset, they might be letting you know that they’re uncomfortable.

S is for specific: Finally, if you consent to one activity, that doesn’t mean you must do another. For example, agreeing to make out does not give your partner permission to remove your clothes. Asking questions and communicating beforehand and throughout can help make sure you’re both on the same page.

Now that you know what consent is, let’s see an example of what FRIES can look like in practice!

Scenario #4: Robina and Noah

Friday night, at a gathering with friends, Robina and Noah make eye contact. They’re attracted to each other, but neither one has confirmation of how the other feels. Robina, the bolder of the two, approaches Noah. They talk for an hour before deciding that once the group begins to leave, they’ll go for a drive.

On the drive, Noah asks Robina if she’d like to pull over. Robina’s heart begins to race, more from excitement than nervousness. Noah does not plan on making any moves until they talk some more. After parking, the two chat before Noah reveals that he’s been hoping to spend some time alone with Robina.

Robina, flattered, asks, “Why?”

“I’ve been crushing on you for a while and you looked so cute tonight,” Noah answers.

With no external pressures (freely given), Robina asks if Noah would like to kiss her. Noah, extremely enthusiastic, says he has been waiting for this kiss all night. The kiss becomes more but Noah and Robina check in with each other throughout their time together. They’re aware that consent is reversible and it’s important to keep communicating. After a few minutes, Noah lets Robina know that he needs a break from their makeout session. Robina smiles, pulling away, once again making conversation. They’re still enjoying each other’s company. Noah says that he wants to make sure they’re on the same page and asks Robina to inform him about how far she’d like to take things. She lets him know that she is specifically giving him consent to continue until one of them says to stop. Noah gives her the green light as well. Now, they’re on the same page and openly communicating.

“Yes Means Yes”

Everyone deserves to have positive experiences if they choose to engage in sexual activity. While movies and TV may not always offer realistic examples, we encourage you to think about consent in terms of FRIES. Even if talking about sexual activity might be awkward at times, it’s important. It’s also important that you and your partner feel safe and respected.

The more you understand your own needs and boundaries, the more comfortable you’ll feel sharing them with others!

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