Sexual consent

Consent is an essential element of a healthy, egalitarian relationship. This seems clear in theory, but it is complex in reality. What is consent, really?

Sexual consent is a person’s voluntary agreement to engage in a sexual activity. It must be an informed and freely made choice. As well, the person themselves must clearly demonstrate this choice. In other words, a third party cannot agree on someone else’s behalf.

Consent can be expressed in words, attitudes and actions, at the moment of sexual activity and for each sexual activity. As well, silence does not mean “yes.” The idea that silence equals consent does not apply to sexual consent.

For CALACS L’Ancrage, consent must be given enthusiastically: a strong yes, a “wow,” a passionate response to touching and kissing. A pout, a lack of response to kisses, or an “um, okay…” are not consent.

Consent can be renewed or withdrawn at any point, even during sexual activity that has already begun.

To consent to sexual activity, it’s essential to feel:

  • FREE to accept, refuse, change your mind without risk of consequences. Giving in to sexual relations following physical constraint, threats, manipulation or insistence is not consent.
  • SAFE, meaning not afraid of being subjected to physical or psychological violence (humiliation, intimidation, insults).
  • RESPECTED in terms of your needs, choices, pace and interests, without pressure or blackmail.
  • BETWEEN EQUALS, meaning being equal to one another in terms of rights and freedoms (age, physical and mental ability, position of authority).

If a person is not in a state to be able to give consent (for example, if they are intoxicated with drugs or alcohol), sexual consent is not valid, even with an enthusiastic “yes.” [1]

[1] Excerpted from: Bergeron, M., Hébert, M., Fradette-Drouin, L., CALACS Entraid’Action, CALACS Agression Estrie, CALACS Laurentides, L’Élan-CALACS, La Pointe du jour *CALACS Sept-Îles, Regroupement québécois des CALACS. (2016). Programme Empreinte : Agir ensemble contre les agressions à caractère sexuel – Guide d’animation auprès des jeunes de niveau secondaire. Montréal, Québec: Université du Québec à Montréal.

Age of consent

In Canada, the legal age of consent is 16. However, there are exceptions for young people age 12 to 15.

Consent can be valid if the younger person:

  • is age 12 or 13 and the age difference is less than two years. For example, a 12-year-old can consent to sexual relations with a person under age 14.
  • is age 14 or 15 and the age difference is less than five years. For example, a 14-year-old can consent to sexual relations with a person under age 19.

At all these ages, consent is not valid if the relationship is one of authority (teacher, doctor, psychologist, coach, etc.), dependence (a person providing care), trust or exploitation, even with an enthusiastic “yes.”

A child under the age of 12 cannot consent to sexual relations under any circumstances.