Understanding Consent

Consent happens when all people involved in any kind of sexual activity agree to take part by choice. They also need to have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. Find out more about what ‘freedom’ and ‘full capacity’ means in the context of consent according to Brook.

Someone doesn’t have the freedom and capacity to agree to sexual activity by choice if:

  • They are asleep or unconscious
  • They are incapacitated from drink or drugs, or have been ‘spiked’
  • They are pressured, manipulated, tricked or scared into saying 'yes’
  • The other person is using physical force against them

Please bear in mind, however, these are just a few examples of what consent doesn’t look like.

Another way of thinking about it is consent is someone saying ‘yes’ only when they REALLY mean ‘yes’ because it is something they genuinely want to do, not because they feel like they should or don’t understand what it is they are agreeing to. This is sometimes called ‘enthusiastic consent’. By communicating with your partner, discussing what they do and don't want and what you do and don't want, you can ensure consent. 

If you don’t understand consent, or what actions may be considered non-consensual, watch the Thames Valley Police explain consent in this short video.

Communicating Consent

Practicing consent doesn’t have to interrupt the flow of sex. It means paying attention to your partner’s actions, words and sounds every time you have sex and throughout each sexual encounter.  

According to Brook, you should take a moment to: 

  • Ask your partner if sexual activity is what they want and if it feels good. 
  • Listen to what they say. 
  • Read your partner’s body language.  

Here are some examples of the sorts of questions you might ask your partner to establish what they want and how they feel. 

  • What would you like to happen next? 
  • How are you doing? Do you want to carry on?  
  • Fancy going on top?  
  • I’d like to try ___, what do you think? 
  • You seem tired, do you want to rest/stop?  

The absence of a ‘no’ doesn’t equal consent. Sometimes ‘no’ is hard to say. Pay attention to your partner and pick up on what they might be trying to say. If you aren’t sure, double check and keep communicating. Never assume! 

Consent might sound like:

  • That feels good 
  • I like that 
  • Do that again 
  • Do it this way 
  • Touch me here 

Non-consent might sound like:

  • I’m not in the mood 
  • Maybe later 
  • Get off 
  • I’m tired 
  • Not now 


Remember, if you say ‘no’, or if someone else says ‘no’, whether through words or through body language, you must always respect their wishes immediately, and they must respect yours. 

You also pay attention to non-verbal cues.   

Cues for consent might look/feel like:

  • Looking at you, smiling and nodding 
  • Being relaxed and happy 
  • Being enthusiastic and responsive 
  • Kissing you back and touching you 
  • Responding to you with their body 

These signs might show consent at that moment, but remember: consent needs to be sought every time you have sex and throughout every encounter, including when you want to try a new activity.  

Non-consent might look/feel like: 

  • No eye contact 
  • Crying 
  • Frozen or frightened facial expression 
  • Shaking 
  • Passing out 
  • Incoherent talking 
  • Sleeping 
  • Confusion 
  • Rigid or tense body 
  • Silence or stillness 
  • Flinching 
  • Resistance 

Always stop any sexual activity if you notice any of these signs.  

Giving consent

Practicing good consent involves checking in with yourself and thinking about your feelings, emotions and body.  

  • Mental: what am I thinking?  
  • Emotional: how am I feeling? 
  • Physical: how is my body responding?  


Although our bodies give us cues, we always need to take our thoughts and emotions into account as well. Just because your body is responding in a certain way doesn’t mean you have to have sex if you don’t want to. 

Withdrawing consent

You have the right to withdraw consent at any time and, when you do, you partner(s) should respect your wishes immediately and without question. Just because you have consented to one thing doesn’t mean you have consented to something else, and it’s completely OK to say no or stop at any point if you don’t want to continue. 

You don’t have to explain to your partner(s) why you have withdrawn consent if you don’t want to. And you can give consent again if your feelings change and you want to continue. 

Consent (Short Course)

Safer Students