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Sexual consent in a long-term relationship

If you’ve been together for a while – you’re probably in a comfortable place of gauging your partner’s reactions to certain things. You can however fall into relying too much on ritualistic relationship habits, leading you to expect the same pattern of responses or results in certain scenarios. Where does sex come into this? And can you pick up on the signs if your partner’s not in ‘the mood’? looks at the fine line between consent and presumption when it comes to sex in a long-term relationship…


What is consent?

It’s obvious isn’t? ‘No means no.’ Easy. So do you still need to gauge this when you’re in a secure, long-term relationship?

[1]See where you are on this statement: consent has been defined as the ‘freely given verbal or nonverbal communication of a feeling of willingness to engage in sexual activity’. It constitutes knowing and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. By ‘knowing,’ the person can understand that an agreement has been made. ‘Voluntary’ implies that agreement was freely given. [2] ‘Agreement’ constitutes a commitment to engage in the action. 

Some food for thought there.

Verbal vs. nonverbal communication

Research has found that for the most part, the desire to have sex is expressed non-verbally, rather than outright through talking. It appears to hold true regardless of sexual orientation. Positive sexual reactions are often communicated non-verbally, but have you noticed how the, ‘not tonight babe,’ reactions are more likely to be communicated verbally? Nonverbal interactions are also very common, sometimes proving difficult to interpret.

Remember nonverbal responses may not always indicate consent though. Positive responses to kissing or touching don’t necessarily mean your partner wants full sexual intercourse. So it can be difficult to judge. In the absence of explicit verbal clarification – a person’s wants and needs can be ambiguous.

How long-term relationships engage in sexual activity

For couples in relationships, sex often gradually evolves into a more unspoken act, with couples more likely to be aware of each other’s sexual likes and dislikes. Growing as a couple could mean you’re more likely to express sexual desire more casually than you would have earlier in your relationship. However, research suggests that this may not be the case for less common or new sex acts, such as anal sex.

Something to think about

Consent among couples may be more often assumed than explicitly given, particularly for acts that you as a couple have engaged in before. Therefore, sex without explicit verbal consent among couples appears to be generally common and accepted. However, it is important you and your partner remain attuned to each other’s’ cues, whether verbal or nonverbal. Research suggests that verbal consent can improve sexual communication significantly, but is unlikely to be used among couples.

Feel the need to talk this through further? You could start by talking to us on our online forum, from the 28,000 dads on forum – you’ll probably come across someone who has been in your shoes but a little further on in the journey to be able to offer you support.

Want to read some of our related article on this subject? Take a look at these…






Footnote references

[1] Hickman, S. E., & Muehlenhard, C. L. (1999). “By the semi‐mystical appearance of a condom”: How young women and men communicate sexual consent in heterosexual situations. Journal of Sex Research36(3), 258-272.

[2] Lim, G. Y., & Roloff, M. E. (1999). Attributing sexual consent. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 1-23.

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