How to ask for consent before and during sex

The dara & co guide to consent.

Sex Life

Asking for consent can be many things. It can be awkward. It can be fun. It can feel out of place. It can be arousing!

However it plays out, consent is a mandatory part of sex. But when we don’t see conversations of consent in our media or learn about it in our education, it can feel daunting to approach.

You may have heard narratives claiming that consent ‘kills the mood’, while others espouse that ‘consent is sexy’. Rather than branding consent as one thing or another, we’ll focus on how to navigate the conversation.

What is consent?

Under Irish Law, consent is present when someone freely and voluntarily agrees to participate in an act.

A person cannot consent to sex if they:

  • Are forced

  • Are asleep or unconscious

  • Are under the excessive influence of alcohol or some other drug

  • Are mistaken as to the identity of their partner(s) or as to what they are consenting to

This tells us that consent is needed:

  • For every type of sexual act (including sending nude photos)

  • Every time you engage in a sexual act (even if someone has consented to an act previously)

  • As you move from one sexual act to another

Before sex

In some ways, asking for consent ‘before sex’ isn’t clear in practice. It may lead you to think you only need to ask for consent before penetrative vaginal, frontal or anal sex.

We know sex takes many forms. Let’s imagine a scenario between two people from kissing to penetrative sex with some other intimate acts along the way. Here’s how asking for consent before each step might play out:

  • Can I hold your hand?

  • Is it okay if I kiss you?

  • Can I touch you here?

  • Do you like it when I touch you like that?

  • Is there anything you really like that you want me to do?

  • Is there anything you don’t like that I should steer clear of?

  • Do you want to see [X part of me]?

  • Can I take your clothes off?

  • I last checked on my sexual health on [day/date]. What is your sexual health like?

  • Is it okay if I put my mouth on you there?

  • Do you like giving/receiving oral sex?

  • I brought a condom, if you want (me) to put it on?

  • Do you want to go inside? Or, do you want me to go inside?

Some people have a hard time being so direct with these questions. It is human to struggle with being explicit like this, especially if you don’t have practice with it. You might feel vulnerable to rejection.

It can be helpful to remind yourself that if someone says no, it’s about their boundaries, not about you. It is not a value judgement on your attractiveness or a distinct signal of whether someone likes you.

During sex

Consent should be enthusiastic and ongoing. It is not about the absence of ‘no’. This means we should check in with our partner(s) during sex to see if they are doing okay.

Some ways you can do that is:

  • Does it feel good when I do [X]?

  • Are you enjoying this?

  • Would you like me to keep going?

  • Do you need a break?

  • This feels really good for me. Is it the same for you?

  • Let me know if something hurts or if you want to stop

Always remember the enthusiastic element of consent. If someone responds in a not-so-certain way, it is best to refrain from proceeding. Make sure not to badger someone about their answer, too.

If you’d like a break, for whatever reason, say so. You can always try another time. It could be in ten minutes, an hour, another day, or even another week.

Dean O'Reilly
Dean O’Reilly is an LGBTQ+ activist, sexual health promoter, psychology graduate, DEI professional and self-proclaimed ‘Little Monster’. If you’ve ever seen a 20-something filming himself taking an at-home STI test, you’ve probably seen him before.

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