There’s controversy about whether or not consent is, in fact, “sexy,” as the common catchphrase often seen emblazoned on buttons or t-shirts attests to. Some say it’s sketchy to frame it that way. Some ask, “why does consent have to be sexy?” “Why should it be?” or critique the use of sex to “sell” consent.

While there are no absolutes in this life (try as we might to will them into being), I’m a firm believer that:

a) consent can, in fact, take different forms

b) no matter what form it takes, consent requires at least two communicating parties to work as it should, and

c) best-case scenario, consent is invariably, wildly, sexy as fuck.

What is consent?  

Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. There are many ways to give it; it doesn’t have to be verbal, but verbal agreement can help all parties respect each other’s boundaries with more clarity.

Talking 

It’s always best to talk to your lover/partner/fuck-friend before anything goes down so you can decide if words are going to be your chosen form of communication. 

Never underestimate how hot and bothered words alone can be. Personally, I’m really aroused when I express to someone what I want, and they get me, and they’re excited about it. Under such parameters, no means no, yes means yes, and “right there, don’t stop” means “right there. do. not. stop.” Of course, a lack of “no” can’t be taken as consent. Try communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this OK?” Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”

Not talking 

If not words, then what? Well, I would say that if you don’t know your partner well, words are best. At least until you do. But that’s not a hard and fast rule. Everyone is different, as is every bond between two people, and there’s no getting around that. Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level is a way of the world, and a fine art worth mastering.

I’ve had partners who I never spoke a word to, but with whom I felt communication and consent were thriving; I place his hands on my shirt; I pop a button. He continues the act. I stare him down the whole time. Or he caresses my face, imploring me with his eyes. I nod. The kiss. It all depends on how comfortable you feel with the person in question, how comfortable you feel being honest, and how well you know what you want.

A few quick & dirty tips for practicing consent in the real world 

Consent is about communication, plain and simple. One might say that communication holds the fabric of the universe together, and then, so too does consent.

• It should happen every time. Giving consent for one rude and crude act, one time, doesn’t mean consenting to escalation or to more of the same another time. We are ever-changing beings with ever-evolving desires.

• You can change your mind about any thing, any time. One way or another, it’s important to communicate to your partner that you want to stop. Use your words. If you’re overwhelmed and can’t find those damn words, say you need a bathroom break. Go. Time-out.

• Alcohol is not consent.

• Coercion is not consent.

Sexual assault on campus 

Although sexual assault can happen anywhere at any time, it’s no secret anymore that campuses are particularly bad.

There have been a host of high profile campus sexual assault cases across Canada in recent years, all of which have highlighted a need for better university sexual assault policies, and much better consent education. Perhaps no school has come under more scrutiny than California's Stanford University. Former student Brock Turner — convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman near a fraternity party — was released from jail on Sept. 2, 2016 completing just half of a six-month sentence.

Rape culture is loud and proud and incredibly demoralizing at times. 

What does better consent education look like? 

The emphasis in most consent education is still self-defense, rather than consent or respect.

This places the onus on women, largely (or potential targets of any gender), to guard against being assaulted- such as not wearing certain things, or drinking too much. 

Hello, victim blaming.

Although it wasn’t perfect, I quite liked the “Don’t be that Guy” campaign out of Edmonton a couple of years back, because it actually addressed perpetrators in an attempt to teach men not to rape...and not to let their friends rape. Shouldn’t be refreshing, but it is.

Another issue is that LGBTQ+ communities and male victims are still very often left out of such campaigns, although a 2015 US survey showed that 8.6% of male seniors and 39.1% of “TGQN” (transgender, genderqueer, non-conforming, questioning, or as something not listed) said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact.

Better education includes everyone in its discourse.

The most critical campus reforms are truly inclusive ones that are also geared toward prevention. Bishop's University’s new mandatory sexual-assault training, for example, or McGill's new sexual assault policy.

Change is afoot, but it can be a real slog.

In the meantime, hot consensual sex can really take the edge off.

But don’t you dare take my word for it. ?