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Heck Yes! Moving Towards a Culture of Enthusiastic Consent

By Leslie Massicotte, Teens Climb High Specialist

Let’s pretend that while you’re reading this blog post, you’re really hungry. You can feel your belly growling, your mind going to the next time you can eat. Now think of your favorite food--picture it in your head, the mouthwatering smells that fill your nose, the thought of the rich, tasty deliciousness making you salivate…. Imagine how freakin good it’s going to taste when you get to take a bite.

At this very moment, if someone asked you, “Would you like some [insert your favorite food here]?” I think most of us would respond with a resounding “YES!” Or maybe some moans of pleasure or some other sounds of happy bliss.

This is the kind of ‘yes’ I want to see in relationships and dating. This has to do with consent, or gaining permission to do something. Consent can be for something as simple as getting a high 5. Someone asks, “Can I have a high 5?” The answer is “Yes!” Boom: consent.

There are a bunch of important aspects of consent that make it a little more comprehensive, though. Thinking about French fries can help us understand:

Consent must be:

  • Freely given--consent can’t be forced, coerced, or given under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

  • Reversible--it’s ok to change your mind in the middle of something and take back your consent.

  • Informed--it’s important to have all the knowledge and facts about what you’re about to engage in and to have taken the time to think about what you want.

  • Enthusiastic--consent needs that resounding “YES!”

  • Specific--if you say yes to one thing, it doesn’t mean you’re saying yes to everything.

In particular, it’s enthusiastic consent that I feel is often not understood. Learning how to say “yes” (to dating, to kissing, to holding hands, to having sex…) is not something we usually teach teens in sex ed class. Often, the focus is how to say “no” to unsafe sex, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy.

But the YES! is needed to ensure that everyone is super down for what they’re getting into. Am I ready to date this person? Am I ready to kiss them? Am I ready to have sex with them? You want that answer to be YES! before you get into things like dating or kissing or having sex. It’s the same for skydiving--you wouldn’t want to be like, “Um, maybe I wanna do that?” No, you wouldn’t go skydiving unless your interest is an enthusiastic “YES!”

So how do we get to this “YES!”? It starts with being informed, feeling ready, and trusting your partner.

To get to “YES!” it’s super important to be informed. This means that you know what is about to happen and you understand the benefits and risks. You have taken the time to consider what you know and what you want in order to make an informed decision.

The second step is to feel ready--physically, mentally, and emotionally. Is your body ready for this, is the time and space acceptable for this behavior or conversation, and do you feel physically safe? Are you mentally excited for this next step or are you overthinking and second guessing yourself? Are you happy, excited, and maybe a bit nervous or are you unsure, sad, or scared?

And thirdly, it’s important to make sure you trust your partner and feel safe and happy discussing next steps and engaging in the behaviors you decide upon. Even in hookup scenarios, where relationship commitment isn’t part of the equation, trusting that you’re safe and that your partner will respect your boundaries is key.

What I want for you, as a young person or otherwise, is a world where you can look your partner in the eye and without a doubt give an enthusiastic YES! to being intimate. You have thought about it and weighed the risks and benefits. You feel ready for this next step (be it a kiss, holding hands, or having sex), and you trust that your partner respects you.

True, this might sound intimidating, but the good news is that, regardless of your background or situation, you can learn and practice the communication skills required for an enthusiastic yes. Here are 3 tips for practicing enthusiastic consent you can try:

  1. Practice using enthusiastic consent with your parents, with your friends, or if you’re dating, with your romantic or sexual partner. You can practice asking things like, “Is it ok if I give you a high 5? Is it ok if I hug you? Is it ok if I kiss you? How do you feel about having sex?”

  2. Practice talking about consent. Starting the conversation can be the hardest step because it might feel weird or awkward to bring this type of stuff up, especially with someone you’re crushing on. To start the conversation, you could say something like, “Hey, I’d like to have a conversation about consent--can we talk about it?”

  3. If it feels too scary to practice out loud, try writing the conversation down. Enthusiastic consent can still be given via text, although you might miss some of those subtle clues (like body language and tone of voice) that help in serious conversations like these. I know texting is the communication of choice these days (I’m guilty of it too!), but I would encourage you to practice reading or saying the words out loud because you may get to a point when you might want to try it out in person.

Now, am I ready to go eat that delicious piece of pizza I envisioned at the beginning? HECK YES.


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