The Importance of Consent: Why It is Needed to Engage in Any Sexual Relationship

If you do decide to engage in a sexual or romantic relationship with a colleague or a manager, then it is important to do so within a consensual agreement that aligns with both parties’ desires, one that respects the organization’s Relationship Policy, and one that will not disrupt the harmony within your work environment. If you believe that you have reached these criteria, we invite you to seriously consider the importance of consent for all your relationships. This will create safety, trust, it will support your relationship growth, and prevent lots of drama.

First of all, what is consent? Let’s look at this thorough definition from Planned Parenthood:

“Sexual consent is an agreement to participate in sexual activity. Before being sexual with someone, you need to know if they want to be sexual with you too. It’s also important to be honest with your partner about what you want and don’t want.

Consenting and asking for consent is all about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner — and checking in if things aren’t clear. Both people must agree to sex — every single time — for it to be consensual.

Without consent, sexual activity (including oral sex, genital touching, and vaginal or anal penetration) is sexual assault or rape.

Here are the basics of consent. Consent is:

  • Freely given. Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
  • Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.
  • Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.
  • Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sexual intercourse).

You get the final say over what happens with your body. It doesn’t matter if you’ve hooked up before or even if you said yes earlier and then changed your mind. You’re allowed to say “stop” at any time, and your partner needs to respect that.

 Consent is never implied by things like your past behavior, what you wear, or where you go. Sexual consent is always clearly communicated — there should be no question or mystery. Silence is not consent. And it’s not just important the first time you’re with someone. Couples who’ve had sex before or even ones who’ve been together for a long time also need to consent before sex — every time. (Source: Planned Parenthood)”

 These notions are key to healthy relationships. The added level of complexity in a work environment is the added power dynamics. In the Army, for example, it is legally impossible for a subordinate to consent to have sex with someone from a higher rank.

 For some, this law will make total sense, for others, this will present risks considering that 10% of us meet our spouse at work and that intimacy and connection will often happen within workplaces, in ways that can also be very positive.

 What is important is to be aware of the importance of consent and how to obtain it before every intimate and sexual exchange. Moreover, you must consult with HR to make sure it aligns with your policy.

 The reflection here is that if an employee engages with someone who is much older and/or powerful, this given consent might actually not be felt or reflective of the person’s actual desires and boundaries, it might be given out of fear for his or her job security or any other consequences that would reflect an abuse of power. In this case, this relationship could then be considered as sexual assault or rape, depending on the case and laws in place.

 Therefore, if you are in a position of power, it is primordial that you make it very clear that this exchange will not and can not have any impact or connection with the person’s work position, remuneration, or any other aspect linked to your professional relationship. Make it clear that both parties are free and fully respected for their own choices. Take your time before moving in this direction in order to make sure it is felt and that you are not abusing your powers.

The same is true for the subordinate: do you really want to engage on a sexual or romantic basis with your manager, or anyone who has power over you within your work environment? What if things don’t go too well? Are you doing this because you really want to, from an emotional and physical basis, or is it more so that you feel this being asked from you, and it could help your professional growth? Take time to tune in and make the best decision. It will be a meaningful move that could have long-term repercussions.