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Respecting Your Sexual Partner: Know What Consent Is and Isn’t

Close-up of couple holding hands.

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In this Article:

  • Sexual consent is an agreement between you and your partner to have sex.
  • You and/or your partner have the right to change your mind about having sex at any time.
  • Consent must be given every time, even if you’ve had sex with that partner before.

You and your partner are really getting into it when they suddenly slow things down. Do you have the green light to keep going? If you’re unsure, the answer is no. Read on to learn the importance of having sexual consent and respecting your partner.

What Is Consent?

Sexual consent is a one-time agreement between two people to engage in sexual activity. This includes, but is not limited to, vaginal and anal sex, oral sex, and genital touching.

Giving consent for one type of sexual activity does not mean there is consent for others. For example, if your partner is OK with kissing you, it doesn’t give you permission to remove his or her clothes. Also, just because you hooked up with someone in the past doesn’t mean he or she wants to do it again. Even if you and your partner have been together for a long time, your sexual activity needs to be consensual.

How Do I Know If I Have Consent?

The best way to make sure you and your partner are comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it. Consent is about communication—and it should happen every single time. Both of you need to clearly say that you want to keep going. You both can do this by:

  • Saying “yes” or “I’m open to trying”
  • Using physical cues like nodding
  • Asking “Is this OK?” when switching up sexual activity

It’s important to be honest and open with your partner. Agreeing to take part in sexual activity and asking for consent are all about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner.

You and your partner are also allowed to change your mind about sexual activity at any time if either of you feel uncomfortable. Just let each other know right away if you want to stop.

How Do I Know There Is No Consent?

You need to stop engaging in sexual activity if the other person says he or she no longer wants to participate. “No” means “no.” And even if he or she doesn’t actually say “no,” that doesn’t mean “yes” either.

Other reasons to stop—or not even start—sexual activity include:

  • You or your partner are under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Your partner is unconscious or unable to move
  • Your partner is silent or unable to speak
  • You or your partner change your mind—even if one or both of you is naked

What you or your partner is (or isn’t) wearing doesn’t matter. It doesn’t give you permission to have sex with him or her without consent.

Is There Help If I’ve Been Sexually Assaulted?

If you have been sexually assaulted, know that it is not your fault. You should seek medical care immediately.

Help is available. If you’re unsure of what to do and want to talk to someone, you can contact:

If you have experienced or witnessed retaliation following report a of sexual assault, you can contact the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office anonymously.

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