Opinion: Key points to remember about consent this Valentine's

Body: 

You remember the flowers, romantic card, chocolate and a movie, but were you aware that you are forgetting something? February 14 is just around the corner. Valentine's Day is full of romance, love and lust, but did you get consent?

There are many ways to give consent. Consent is not required to be verbal, but verbally saying "yes" lets both partners know that engaging in any sexual activity is okay. Both partners need to be comfortable and able to choose. One should never assume that someone is consenting based on the way they look, act or dress.

What is consent? Consent is a free and active agreement between both parties to engage in sexual activity. For there to be consent there needs to be four things:

• Equal access to information;

• The ability to make choices or decisions;

• The ability to communicate the choice;

• Equal power.

When engaging in sexual activity, consent is all about communication. Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean you are giving consent to recurring sexual activity. Likewise, giving consent to sexual contact once does not mean you give consent to have sex again in the future.

The best way to ensure both parties are comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it. Consent is not present when either person does the following:

• Fears the consequences of not consenting (including use of force);

• Feels threatened or intimidated;

• Is coerced ("Come on, I thought you liked me");

• Says "no," either verbally or physically (i.e. crying, kicking, or pushing away);

• Has disabilities that prevent the person from making an informed choice;

• Is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs;

• Lacks full knowledge or information of what is happening;

• Is not an active participant in the activity;

• Is below the legal age of consent.

It is important to remember that silence is not consent. Either party can also withdraw consent at any time. Even if it starts off consensual, if one partner feels uncomfortable and communicates that they wish to stop, the other party needs to stop. Consent is the difference between sexual activity and sexual violence. Each of us is responsible for making sure we have consent for every sexual activity. If you are unsure, it is best to ask the person if what is occurring is okay and to respect the answer. Be honest and communicate with each other about what you want and don't want. Remember that only "yes" means "yes."

For additional information, contact Support Within Reach at 218-444-9524. Resources are available online at www.rainn.org and www.mncasa.org.