The Culture of Consent
The Culture of Consent

When Can Consent Be Withdrawn?

by Teela Hudak about a year ago in fact or fiction

Can it happen at anytime?

When Can Consent Be Withdrawn?

When is it okay for consent to be withdrawn in a given situation? Is there a point of no return where a person must simply follow through? No matter who you speak to, everyone will have a different opinion about this aspect of consent. There are a lot of different opinions based on people's experiences and their upbringing, but the truth is that most people haven't really learned about consent. Most people have not taken the time to learn about and explore the topic. They feel they have a good understanding just because they have a basic understanding. Research actually shows that most people aren't able to correctly identify the finer points of consent. This is why it's important we continue to have the discussions exploring the different aspects of consent. So when can consent be withdrawn?

So When Can Consent Be Withdrawn?

The important thing to know is that consent can always be withdrawn. People are allowed to change their minds, reconsider the decision, even stop what's currently happening and put an end to it. Sure, it may not be a lot of fun if you want to keep going and your partner doesn't, but they still have the right to choose to stop and withdraw their consent. They are not under any obligation to continue going.

In other areas of our life, we don't expect people to follow through on pleasure activities that they are not enjoying. Say two people agreed to go play a game of racket ball. They start playing and one person decides they aren't really enjoying the game. Maybe their mood changed, or they weren't feeling well, or maybe they really didn't enjoy how competitive or noncompetitive the other player was being. They still have the choice to exit playing the game. We would consider it pretty bad etiquette if someone would get into a huff over the other person wanting to exit the game. We wouldn't take kindly to being pressured into continuing. It's likely we wouldn't consent to playing with that person again.

The same is true when talking about sex. Just because two people may agree to have sex doesn't mean that either of them should expect that the other person will again just because they said yes once. And if someone wishes to stop and reverse their consent after giving it, that needs to be respected. Sure, the other person may be upset if they were enjoying it and really into what was happening, but at the end of the day, their enjoyment should not take priority over the discomfort of someone else. Period.

Can Consent Be Withdrawn Long After the Act?

The ability to change your mind and withdraw your consent is an important aspect of what it means to have real consent. There are a number of reasons why someone may wish to change their mind on engaging in an activity. It is up to each person to decide where that line is for themselves and communicate it, but can consent be reversed well after the activity is over?

If two people engage in sexual fun and consent was obtained at that time, how long does a person have to reverse that consent? Would it be acceptable to say the next day, or after a few weeks, that consent for that particular interaction has been reversed? That the interaction was no longer consensual?

Sexual consent is an agreement to engage in mutually pleasurable activities for a period of time. The period of time varies wildly depending on the interest of the people involved, whether it is for a single moment, night, or an ongoing relationship. How consent evolves is always an ongoing process. A process that negotiates for the current moment and the future. If consent has already been given, people need to be able to trust the words at face value in the same fashion that they should be respecting whether consent was given in the first place. People need to be able to trust that their partner will communicate and withdraw consent if needed. If people cannot trust the word of consent that was freely given, then it is meaningless.

Consent can be withdrawn. It is reversible at the moment that things are happening. It can communicate the desires for the future. It cannot change the past. Consent was freely given or it was not.

Consent Creates Trusting & Supportive Relationships

Consent is all about respect. We are respecting the decisions and rights a person makes over their own body. When we respect these things, the other person feels heard, respected, and cared for. It is one of the best ways we can show someone how much we care for them and their wellbeing. It will deepen our connection with our partners and build a stronger foundation of trust within the relationship. Consent is truly key. Share this article with your partner and friends and pass on the wisdom that will make all of our lives better.

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fact or fiction
Teela Hudak
Teela Hudak
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Teela Hudak

Teela is a Vancouver-based Sex Educator & Relationship Expert. Learn more at:

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