Consent is a skill, and you can practice it (non-sexually) by:
- Asking friends if you can hug them before you hug them
- Offering people options when you first meet them (“I’m open to a hug or a handshake, whichever you’re comfortable with”)
- Asking permission to enter someone’s “bubble” (“My bag is behind your chair – mind if I get it?” or “You have a thread on your shoulder – want me to take it off for you?”)
Asking for consent is not just a good idea -- it’s necessary. Nobody is ever allowed to make you feel like you have to do something you’re not comfortable with. Touching without consent is not sex, it’s assault.
Practicing consent teaches us to be comfortable and confident saying “yes” or saying “no,” as well as being comfortable and confident hearing “yes” and hearing “no.” It makes us better listeners, better sharers, and better partners.
Some ways to practice consent (sexually):
- “I really want to _____________ you. Do you want me to?”
- “Is this okay with you?”
- “Can I take off my/your _______________?”
- “Do you like it when I _____________?”
- “What would you like me to do for you?”
Consent and the Law
The age of consent to sexual activity in Canada is 16 years old. In some cases, the age of consent is higher (for example, when there is a relationship of trust, authority or dependency). In other words, a person must be at least 16 years old to be able to legally agree to sexual activity.
The close in age exceptions include; 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 is a criminal offence. 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 2 years or older than the 12 or 13-year-old, any sexual activity is a criminal offence.
A 16 or 17 year old cannot consent to sexual activity if:
- Their sexual partner is in a position of trust or authority towards them, for example their teacher or coach
- The young person is dependent on their sexual partner, for example for care or support
- The relationship between the young person and their sexual partner is exploitative
- The following factors may be taken into account when determining whether a relationship is exploitative of the young person:
- The young person’s age
- The age difference between the young person and their partner
- How the relationship developed, for example quickly, secretly, or over the internet
- Whether the partner may have controlled or influenced the young person
Resources for further learning on consent:
Respecting Sexual Consent
Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region is available at 519-741-8633 a 24 hour support line
Ontario-wide supports can be accessed:
Assaulted Women’s Helpline 1-866-863-0511
Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868
Talk4Healing for Indigenous Women 1-855-554-4325
Male Survivors of Sexual Violence 1-866-887-0015