Consent is when people share their boundaries and are given clear permission before a specific activity – whether that be a hug, a back rub, a kiss, or sexual activities.
Consent is an informed, voluntary, and mutual decision that people feel good about. All people involved understand what they are agreeing to, and have had a conversation about boundaries so that each person involved feels safe and heard. Consent is an ongoing conversation, and can be withdrawn at any time if one of the people involved feels uncomfortable, even if that person gave consent in the past for the same activity. Consent can be verbal (including sign language) or non-verbal, so long as the words and actions used are clear for everyone involved. It is everyone’s shared responsibility to seek and receive consent.
Consent helps us navigate our boundaries and the boundaries of the people we interact with. It is important that we never presume or guess what peoples’ boundaries are, and always respect everyone’s right to pass or say no to any activity.
Canada’s age of consent to sexual activity is 16 years old. A person must be at least 16 years old to be able to legally agree to sexual activity. But there are exceptions to this rule. These are called close in age exceptions. A 14 or 15 year old can consent to sexual activity as long as the partner is less than five years older and there is no relationship of trust, authority or dependency or any other exploitation of the young person. This means that if the partner is 5 years or older than the 14 or 15 year old, any sexual activity it is illegal.
There is also a “close in age” exception for 12 and 13 year olds. A 12 or 13 year old can consent to sexual activity with a partner as long as the partner is less than two years older and there is no relationship of trust, authority or dependency or any other exploitation of the young person. This means that if the partner is 5 years or older than the 14 or 15 year old, any sexual activity it is illegal.
Any sexual act that is initiated upon someone without consent is illegal. For more information and support, click here.
How to have the conversation
When talking about consent, everyone needs to check in with the other person/people by asking questions to be sure you have a clear yes. Some questions a person can ask are:
- Are you comfortable with this?
- Are you sure you want to do this?
- Do you want me to keep going?
- Are you enjoying this?
- Are you okay with this?
- A person’s clothing does not give others permission to yell at them or touch their body.
- A person cannot get consent from someone if they have been drinking or using drugs.
- A person cannot get consent from someone by pressuring or guilting them into saying yes.
- A person cannot get consent from someone if they are passed out or sleeping.