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Consent

Consent is when someone understands what they’re being asked to do, and they give their permission clearly and freely – without feeling pressured.

It is an important part of healthy relationships, including intimate and sexual online relationships. Knowing your boundaries, respecting other people’s boundaries and being able to talk about consent is important in positive online relationships.

On this page:

What is consent?

Consent is the informed and freely given agreement to engage in an activity. It involves one person seeking permission from the other before engaging in an activity and the other person ‘affirming’ or giving their permission for that to happen. 

You may be asked to give consent when you’re online, using digital devices or with someone in person. For example, you may be asked to give your consent to receive marketing material when you make a purchase from a company online.

Consent is also an important part of personal relationships, both online and offline. Understanding consent starts early in life and it’s important to talk to children about respectful relationships and how to set online boundaries. This will help them to understand the importance of consent before they become involved in an intimate or sexual online relationship as an adult.

Age of consent

There are different laws about consent depending on your age, the age of the person you are communicating with online and which state or territory in Australia you live in. Find out more about laws relating to consent at Youth Law Australia.

Consent in intimate relationships

Whether you’re meeting someone online for the first time or you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s essential to check in and ask the other person if they’re OK with what’s happening.

What you need to know:

  • Consent must be checked first – make sure the other person agrees before you engage in online sexual activity, like sending nudes or having a nude video call. You also need permission to share an intimate image or video of them. See our advice on consent and sending nudes.
  • Consent must be freely given – a person must not be pressured into agreeing to something against their will. They have to be old enough to give their consent and not be affected by other factors, such as being under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the point that they can’t freely consent. If you’re being pressured or manipulated to do something that you’re not comfortable with, this may be a form of coercive control.
  • Consent must be clearly communicated – you have to actively agree to give your consent to online sexual activity and you must actively seek someone else’s consent. This is sometimes called affirmative consent. A person saying ‘maybe’, ‘I am not sure’ ‘or ‘I think so’ isn’t giving their consent. It’s important that you feel comfortable saying ‘no’. You should always respect someone’s wishes if they say ‘no’, while also being aware that some people won’t say ‘no’, but will show or communicate they are uncomfortable with what is happening in other ways. 
  • Consent must be checked regularly and can be reversed – consent is an ongoing process. Even after a person has given their consent, they can change their mind at any time and withdraw their consent. Keep checking in with yourself and the other person to make sure everyone is OK with what’s happening. 
  • Consent must be specific – just because you agree to do something once doesn’t mean you have to do it again. It’s OK to give your consent for one thing only and this does not mean you have agreed to anything else.

Set your own boundaries

Having clear boundaries will give you the confidence to talk about consent in a healthy and respectful way when you’re in an intimate and sexual online relationship.

Personal boundaries are often influenced by life experiences and popular culture, like the movies you have watched or online games you might have played.
 
Some of your experiences may have been positive, while others may have caused you confusion, distress or trauma. For example, you might have been influenced by a culture of ‘victim blaming’, where the victim of sexual violence is unfairly blamed even though it’s not their fault.

Some people learn about consent in sexual relationships from watching online pornography, but this is not always a good guide. Online pornography that minimises the importance of consent and respect may lead to unrealistic and damaging ideas about sexual pleasure and intimate relationships. For example, pornography that shows women as sexual objects and the subject of violent and degrading abuse gives a distorted view of power and consent in intimate relationships.

Questioning what may have influenced your ideas of what is (or is not) healthy, respectful and comfortable will help you to set your own boundaries around how you treat other people and allow them to treat you. Try to separate what you think you should be comfortable doing and what you actually want to do. You don’t have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, and neither does your partner. Use these questions to help set your boundaries:

  • What feels right for me in an intimate and sexual relationship?
  • What do I feel comfortable doing?
  • Do I want to send and receive nudes online? 
  • Would I want to share an intimate moment with someone else online – for example, in a live video call?
  • Would I want to record it? 
  • Am I comfortable giving permission for someone to record or screenshot this sexual activity or intimate image with others? 
  • Do I feel comfortable telling someone what I want to happen with any images or videos that I share? Should I tell them to delete them later on and not to share them with anyone else? Am I sure I could trust them?
  • Do I know what to do if someone with bad intentions uses my intimate image or videos to threaten or blackmail me?

Remember, it’s OK to adjust or change your boundaries depending on the person you are with, the circumstances and the type of intimate relationship you want.

If you’re unsure about setting boundaries, you could talk to someone you trust and ask them to give their perspective to help you, or contact a counselling and support service.

Find out more about positive and inclusive consent in relationships at Teach Us Consent and Consent Labs.

Respect other people’s boundaries

It’s important to get comfortable with having conversations about consent in relationships so you can understand and build respect for each other’s boundaries and stay safe.

You can talk about what feels right for you and how you want to interact with each other, so you’re clear. You can have fun with it and make the conversation sexy to build your connection and get to know what the other person is into or likes doing.

Before you start getting sexual, ask the other person if they give their consent. It is important they clearly agree and indicate ‘yes’ either through words or other actions. Some people may not feel comfortable saying ‘no’, but their body language shows they’re uncomfortable. If you’re not sure, stop and check.

You could ask them: 

  • Would you be comfortable doing this?
  • Can I send you a nude?
  • Would you be comfortable sharing a nude with me?
  • Do you want to explore doing this together online?
  • Are you OK with everything that is happening?
  • Is it OK if I take a picture or record this?
  • What do you want to happen with any images or videos you share with me?

Keep checking in with the other person during any online sexual activity. If they agree to one thing, don’t assume they have given their permission to do anything else – either online or offline. People might choose to be flirty or sexual online for example, but it doesn’t reflect what else they are willing to do online or offline.

As soon as someone withdraws consent, the activity must stop. Anyone can change their mind at any time because consent is always reversible.

Consent and sending nudes

Sending intimate images online can be a way to express yourself sexually and build intimacy between consenting adults, but only if everyone agrees about how and when it happens. It’s your choice whether or not you want to receive or send nude content, but it is important that it is an informed decision and done so safely and respectfully.

Safety tips for sending nudes 

  • Always get someone’s consent before sharing intimate images or videos with them or of them. Make sure you both fully understand what you’ve agreed to and have given your permission without being pressured.
  • Be clear when you share your intimate video or image that you are not giving them permission to share it or show anyone else. 
  • If you’re in an intimate image with someone else and you want to share it, you must get each other’s permission first.    
  • Always respect the other person’s rules or boundaries when they share their intimate content with you and do not record it, take a screenshot or share it without their consent.
  • If you receive an intimate image or video of someone you don’t know from another person and you can’t be sure if they agreed to it being shared, delete it. 

Learn more about sexting and sending nudes.

What to do if someone violates your consent

If your trust is breached, there is help available.

You should contact the police immediately if your personal safety is at risk or a crime has been committed.

If someone shares or threatens to share an intimate image or video of you without your consent, this is image-based abuse or ‘revenge porn’ and you can report it to eSafety and get help managing the impacts.
 
Sexual extortion or ‘sextortion’ is a type of image-based abuse. This is when someone tricks you into sending them nudes or sexual images, or records an intimate video of you during a live chat, and then threatens to share it unless you give them something (such as money or more nudes). Find out more about sextortion, including how to prevent it and what to do if it happens to you.

If someone sends you unwanted nude or sexually explicit material of themselves, it’s called cyberflashing. Learn more about how to deal with unwanted contact.

It can be very stressful and upsetting if your consent has been violated, so it may help to talk to someone and contact a counselling or support service

More information

Last updated: 18/03/2024