Do the test! Consent checklist

We have put together a fairly comprehensive, but non-exhaustive, list of verbal and non-verbal ways which can help you spotting that consent is being given. We have been inspired by the tables used by the great sex educators from American website Scarleteen, but have also added some suggestions of our own.

When looking at the examples here below, please remember that consent is not a fixed, or permanent state. It is always subject to change, and can vary from person to person. Never be afraid to ask, or (conversely) to state what it is that you like and don’t like. Sex should always be a dialogue and not a lecture, between participants who have just as much right to explore their preferences in a safe manner.

1. To begin, let’s think of some ways we can ask about consent (or establish it):

  • Can I [do whatever sexual thing]?
  • I’d like to [do whatever sexual thing]: is that ok? No? Would you perhaps like to do anything else instead?
  • How do you feel about doing [whatever sexual thing]?
  • Are there things you know you don’t want to do? What are they? Mine are [whatever they are].
  • Is there anything you’d like us to do so you feel comfortable or safe doing [whatever sexual thing]?
  • I'm really interested in doing [whatever sexual thing] with you, and it feels like the right time for me: does that feel right with you too?
  • Do you want to do or try anything new/different when we’re together?

2. How to not establish consent

The following type of questions, instead, do NOT establish consent, and can mean that the person you are with has not properly understood what active consent means. If someone says any of the following to you, you should NEVER feel pressured to say yes or agree.

  • Let's do [whatever sexual thing.]
  • I want [whatever sexual thing].
  • You really liked it when I [whatever it was you did before], I’ll do it now.
  • I heard guys/girls really like it when someone [does whatever], so let's do that.
  • Let's just do it: I'll take care of you. You're okay, right? You trust me, don’t you?

3. Here are some examples of what verbal expressions of consent, as well as non-consent, can look and sound like:

Possible verbal signs of consent

Possible verbal signs of NON-consent

yes

no

yes

maybe

definitively / I'm really sure

I am not sure

I know

I don't know

I'm excited / turned on

I'm scared / this isn't turning me on

Don't stop!

stop

Yes! / heavy breathing / moans

[silence]

More!

no more

I want to.

I want to, but

I feel really good

Wait, I feel worried about…

I want you / it / that

I don't want you / it / that

Touch me there

Not there

I still want to

I thought I wanted, but…

That feels amazing / nice

That hurts

Mmmmmmm.

[silence]

I love this

I love you/this, but

I want to do this right now, like this

I want to do this, but not right now/this way

I'm ready

I'm not sure I'm ready

Keep doing this

I don't want to do this anymore

[insert praise to your deity of choice here]

[no such praise]

This feels so right

This feels wrong

YES!

[silence]

I like it this way!

Please, not like this

4. Here are some examples of how non-verbal expressions of consent and NON-consent, can look and sound like

However, please bear in mind that consent needs to be enthusiastic and clearly given and, we’ll repeat it again, can be withdrawn at every moment. This means that while a partner might be enthusiastically consenting to something and express this in one of the ways summarised here below, they may not necessarily agree to another sexual activity.

At the same time, please pay attention to the non-verbal signs of non-consent, and, if ever spot any of them, check whether your partners feel safe and at ease.

Possible non-verbal signs of consent

Possible non-verbal signs of NON-consent

Direct eye contact

Avoiding eye contact

Initiating sexual activity

not initiating any sexual activity

Pulling someone closer

pusing someone away

guiding someone's hand to be touched in a certain place or way

Avoiding touch

Nodding yes

Shaking head no

Feeling comfortable being naked (or ways of being vulnerable sexually)

Discomfort with nudity (or being otherwise vulnerable sexually)

Laughter and/or smiling (upturned mouth)

Crying and/or looking sad or fearful (clenched or downturned mouth)

"Open", relaxed body language, like loose and legs, relaxed facial expressions, turning towards someone

"Closed" body language: tense, stiff or closed arms and legs, tight or tense facial expressions, turning away from someone

Sounds of enjoyment, like an enthusiastic moan, heavy breathing

Silence or sounds of fear or sadness or whimpering or a trembling voice

Changing positions, responding physically to touch

"Just lying there"


This course has been created by GenPol, a think-tank on gender and politics based at the University of Cambridge, in cooperation with Serlo.

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