Overview of Sexual Communication
Let's Talk about It: A Guide to Consent and Sexcessful Communication (UC Davis Health Education and Promotion, CARE). This was developed by students and professionals to assist you in enjoying physically and emotionally safe, pleasurable and fulfilling sexual experiences. It covers a variety of topics such as:
- Healthy Relationships
- Texting, Sexting and Dating Apps
- Exploring your desires and boundaries
- Step-by-step communication
Sexuality can be a fun and fulfilling part of life. It is your choice whether or not you are sexually active, what kind of sexual activities you partake in, when, and with whom. In order to have fulfilling sexual experiences, it is important to communicate these wants and needs to your partner(s) and, additionally, take into account theirs. This communication might seem awkward or difficult, but there are simple steps you can take to communicate effectively in order to have a fun and safer sex life.
Sexual Rights & Responsibilities
The types of sexual encounters that each person prefers are unique and can change over time.
- It is your right to choose if and how you express your sexuality. You have the right to have control over your own body: it is your right to choose whether you want to be sexually active, when, with whom and in what manner. It is also your right to change your mind and stop at any time during any sexual activity, for any reason.
- It is your responsibility to respect the rights of others. Only participate in sexual activity with a partner who is freely, knowingly and enthusiastically consenting.
Consensuality refers to the process of co-creating mutually pleasurable, safe and fulfilling sexual experiences. Consensual sex is sexual activity that both people clearly desire and explicitly agree to.
Consensual sex can occur when one person asks to initiate a certain sexual activity, and the other person(s) responds with a free and knowing “Yes.” Ideally it should be enthusiastic as well.
- Free: Without the presence of threat or coercion.
- Knowing: Aware and understanding of the sexual act. Consumption of alcohol and/or other drugs impairs one’s ability to establish consent. If someone is unconscious (e.g., sleeping or passed out), they are not aware and cannot give consent.
- Enthusiastic: Expressing an authentic, active and excited, “Yes.” Silence or passivity does not imply consent.
Consent is an ongoing process throughout sexual interactions. This means that:
- Consent must be obtained for each sexual activity. Consent to one thing does not imply consent to anything else. It does not matter whether someone has consented to any kind of sexual activity in the past. Consent cannot be inferred from the fact of a prior or current acquaintance or relationship.
- Consent can be withdrawn at any time.
Tips for talking with your partner about consent
- Think about your desires and boundaries
- With an open mind, ask if they are interested in being sexual with you
- Make specific requests
- Speak up if you are unsure
- Speak up if you change your mind
- Check in with your partner
- Ask if you want to do something else
- Ask every time, and be open to any response; accept a “no” as readily as a “yes”
Considerations for casual sex or hook ups and consent
While consent is legally required for all types of sexual encounters, it may look a little bit different in the context of casual sexual encounters. These encounters might involve someone you don’t know very well or have never been sexual with in the past, so understanding their sexual likes and dislikes in addition to their boundaries might be tricky. However, regardless of your relationship type, consent is ALWAYS mandatory for any kind of sexual activity. In order to ensure everyone is enjoying themselves, here are some suggestions for navigating casual sex or hook ups.
- Engaging in casual sexual encounters might require more verbal vs. non-verbal consent and specific communication to ensure consent is present. While it may seem awkward at first, it is always a good idea to explicitly establish consent.
- Just because your last partner liked a certain act doesn’t mean your next partner will also like that act.
- In addition to asking your partner what they like, be sure to communicate your desires and boundaries as well.
- Refer to the section above “Tips for talking with your partner about consent” for ideas on how to successfully communicate with someone you might be sexual with.
Consent is also required by California law and by the University of California Standards of Conduct for Students. Sexual conduct without consent, or after consent has been revoked, is sexual assault. The UC Sexual Harassment Policy prohibits sexual assault.
For more information, refer to the Sexual Assault Resource Page.
Positive and harmonious sexual interactions are possible when partners balance their power and control. Some ways to do this include:
- Listen actively (check your understanding and ask for clarification).
- Speak assertively (not passively or aggressively).
- Consider your partner’s thoughts & feelings as important as yours.
- Participate equally in decision-making processes.
- Be mindful of how your privileges (e.g., age, gender, class, race, stature) influence your thoughts and actions and affect your partner.
- Openly discuss respect, power and control in your interactions.
Sexual interactions can be harmful and destructive when there is an imbalance of power and control between partners. Flagrant or subtle tactics used to control or overpower include, but are not limited to:
- Criticizing, insulting, degrading or humiliating
- Intimidating or threatening
- Minimizing or ignoring your partner’s thoughts & feelings
- Not being conscious of how your privileges impact your partner
- Physical or sexual harassment (e.g., unwanted touching or grabbing)
These are also signs of an abusive relationship. If you think you may be experiencing or perpetrating abuse, we encourage you to seek assistance from campus resources.
Sex and Alcohol and/or Other Drugs
If you are under the influence of alcohol or other substances, you are still responsible for obtaining consent for any sexual activity you initiate. If someone has consumed alcohol and/or other drugs, you cannot make assumptions about their capacity to give consent. In order to give consent, one must be free, knowing and aware of the sexual act(s). They also must be able to cooperate, which is not possible if they are physically incapacitated due to alcohol and/or drug consumption. Alcohol and other drugs reduce one’s awareness and ability to understand the situation. That means a “yes” under the influence may be invalid and any sexual conduct that you initiate could be sexual assault. There can be a thin line between being tipsy but still coherent, and being intoxicated to the point where your or your partner’s reasoning is sufficiently impaired. The amount of substance one has consumed is not a reliable indicator of how intoxicated one is, as everyone has different levels of tolerance. There are also many other factors that can intensify the effects of a substance, such as interaction with other drugs, sleep deprivation and having an empty stomach.
More Resources on Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs.
If you think you or someone you know might decide to be sexually active, please remember the following information to help ensure that sexual experiences are safe, healthy and pleasurable. Many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) -- including HIV -- have no symptoms, which means they can be transmitted without either partner’s knowledge. Therefore, it is important to:
- Get tested annually STIs/HIV and seek treatment if necessary.
- Use a condom or barrier method correctly every time you have oral, vaginal or anal sex.
- Consider taking Emergency Contraception (also known as EC or Plan B) if you have had sex without condoms or another birth control method, or if your birth control method fails (i.e., the condom breaks).
More Sexual Health Resources:
- SHCS - Sexual Health Services
- SHCS - Sexual Health Contraception Resources
- SHCS - STI Testing Options
- Counseling Services Your campus resource for free, confidential and professional counseling services addressing relationships, sexuality and much more. CAPS staff also makes referrals to local therapists for those seeking longer-term therapy.
- Center for Advocacy, Resources and Education (CARE) If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual violence or assault, CVPP is a free, confidential on-campus resource that can offer support and guidance during times of trauma.
- UC Davis Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex Asexual (LGBTQIA) Resource Center The LGBTQIA Resource Center offers a welcoming environment with information and resources for sexual minorities on campus.
Other Recommended Resources
- Talking About Sex (And Sexual Health) (American Sexual Health Association) Looking for the right words to use with your partner? This resource can point you in the right direction!
- Talking To Your Partner About Sex (Sexuality and U) A great article to help expand your communication skills.
- Communicating with Your Partner about Sex (Advocates for Youth) A quick bullet-list of tips about communicating with your partner about sex.
- Sex & Masturbation (Planned Parenthood) Planned Parenthood resource that addresses issues related to sexual health, including myths and drug and alcohol information.
- Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (ETR Associates) Learn how to build your skills in communication, refusal, negotiation, relationship building, and how to reduce your risk of sexual assault.