Consent to sex/sexual activity means actively agreeing by choice, and having the freedom and capacity to make that choice.
To give consent, a person must have the capacity (i.e. the age and understanding) to make a choice about whether or not to take part in a sexual activity at the time in question. They also must be in a position to make that choice freely, and not be constrained in any way.
• Sex is never an entitlement and consent can be removed at any time
• Consent is not determined on a pre-existing relationship or interaction
• A person can only consent when they are conscious
• Consent is an active action not a passive or implied state
• Someone has to be able to choose ‘freely’ to sex and if they are afraid or coerced, that is not a free choice
Although the issue of consent itself should be easy to understand in terms of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, in our society, there are factors that continually undermine and threaten it. The following list is not exhaustive, but examples could include perceptions that:
- if you are in a relationship with someone and they want sex, you should always have sex with them
- the types of clothes you wear are an invitation for sex
- to progress at work or in education you may be required to have sex with someone
- some activities seen in pornography such as anal sex, are what all people should want and/or are entitled to do
- some people make themselves ‘vulnerable’ to being the victim of a sexual crime, due to things like walking home alone, using drugs, consuming alcohol, being a sex worker, taking part in chemsex, going to a cruising site, visiting a dark room etc.
Further information which explains consent, including an animation about ‘tea’ and consent, can be found online
Freeze, fawn and flop
The human brain is complicated and does things automatically and instinctively which are designed to help keep us safe when we experience danger. Neurochemical processes in our brain help us to survive something dangerous by putting us into certain states such as:
- Fight – we physically fight and/or struggle for survival
- Flight – we attempt to get away from the danger by backing away, running etc
Some people perceive that if an individual does not say “no” or ‘fight off’ or attempt to “run away” from the person harming them, then they are consenting to sex, and that what then happens to them is not a sexual offence.
Although many people have heard the term ‘fight or flight’ in the context of dangerous situations, what can be less recognised is that the brain can also activate the states of ‘freeze, flop and fawn’ and by recognising what they are, we can begin to understand why saying “no”, ‘fighting back’ and ‘getting away’ are not always possible or even an option.
- Freeze – we become silent and still (this is particularly common when experiencing a sexual offence and is not a sign of consent)
- Flop – similar to freezing but unlike becoming tense, our muscles ‘flop’ which is the brain’s way of trying to protect the body from physical pain and injury
- Fawn or Submit – this is a response to ‘be-friend’ or placate the person causing us harm, in an attempt to survive whatever it is they are going to do. Again, this is not a form of consent.