Active Consent Workshop

Posted on September 10, 2014 at 2:20 AM

Below are the handouts from a workshop on Active Content at the University of Sydney run by Nina Melksham.


Please note: You are welcome to opt out of any activity at any time, and Jo is available to help you if need to speak to somebody immediately.

Why is active consent important?

  • We live in a “coercion culture” - a culture that normalises and makes invisible many forms of coercive behaviour. The biggest norm that we have been taught that plays into this thinking is “no means no”.

  • This assumption does not account for the large proportion of people who may have difficulty identifying their emotions or with verbal communication.

  • In many cultural contexts, giving a direct no is considered to be rude or abrasive. People are taught that when you say no, you don’t actually use the word no. Instead, you provide non verbal cues, ums and ahs, and you provide an excuse of why you “can’t” do something, rather than saying you don’t want to.

Power imbalances – awareness of privilege and intersectionality


“That’s how privilege works – privilege is invisible to those who have it”

– Michael Kimmel

We cannot discuss active consent without a discussion about privilege. At its core, true consent is about people making informed decisions free from coercion. Negotiations where there is a power imbalance between parties is not impossible, but the power imbalances need to be acknowledged, discussed and made visible.

Coersion norms

(These “coercion norms” were taken from a study from Burkett and Hamilton that asked women specifically about sex that they engaged in that they did not say no to, but that they did not want.)

  • Consent is assumed - “Coercion culture” assumes that from the moment that a man and a woman begin to interact sexually, the woman is consenting to other kinds of sexual activity as well.

  • Consent is only about words - “Coercion culture” teaches women that the only way they can withdraw this assumed consent is by saying the word “no”.

  • Physical coercion is the only form of coercion - “Coercion culture” portrays rape as a man physically forcing a woman to have sex with him.

  • It wasn’t rape – I just didn’t want it - “Coercion culture” ignores the fact that sex can be coercive, even when women don’t experience a sexual activity as rape.

  • Empowered women don’t get coerced

What do we know about coercion and consent in same sex relationships, and coercion from women to men?

The majority of coercion is experienced from men towards their sexual partners, both male and female. That does not discount the existence of coercion from women to women, or from women to men, which is a real phenomenon, but simply points towards the statistical majority of coercion that is occurring.

Within both heterosexual and same sex relationships, the majority of coercion fell into a non physical category.


Setting and timing - When is the right time to start negotiating? My personal preference is to begin talking about consent early, and to be very up front about it. Why? Because of the way that the brain is wired, people become less capable of making ethical choices when they are highly aroused.

Verbal negotiation - The first step towards practicing better active consent is simply to verbally ask the person about whatever you intend to do. This can be as simple as “Can I give you a hug?” or “May I kiss you?” A good rule of thumb is to ask before any new physical activity, even socially “expected” physical activities like hugging or pecking on the cheek.

Blanket consent - It does get tiring (and at times downright unsexy) to need to ask someone every time before you do anything. You can give (or ask for) blanket consent once you feel comfortable with something happening all the time.

Phrasing of questions/statements/opinions - There is a big difference between “you don’t really want to do that do you?” vs. “is that something you would want to do?”. Avoid using negatives in this way – when you ask like this, you are not really asking a question, you are expressing a veiled preference.

  • Also remember that an explanation of “I can’t” is often a disguised no. “I would love to, but I can’t” is often actually lack of consent, phrased in an indirect/polite way. Although this is not always the case, it is best to see this as a likely no. How to tell?

Providing the experience of no being ok

Many people have had the experience of no being ok. Even if you explicitly state, several times, that no is ok you are going against years of cultural and experiential conditioning. When your partner does say no to something, especially for the first time, if you react in a negative way you will completely undermine the idea that saying no is ok.




Categories: Educational

Post a Comment


Oops, you forgot something.


The words you entered did not match the given text. Please try again.