Chapter 1 - Consent Subchapter: Yes No I Don’t Know

Yes: The Action Zone

Key points 

  • If both people say yes, you can move to the Action Zone.
  • Both people need to agree (and continue to agree).
  • The yes needs to be an active agreement, not just the absence of a no.
  • Yes is only valid if freely given.
  • We need to avoid pressure and coercion, though respectful persuasion can be okay.
  • Sometimes we go along with what other people want, and that can be okay.
  • Sometimes a yes can come with conditions.
  • The Action Zone has its own rules.
  • The yes is limited.
  • You can change your mind at any time.
  • Moving to a new decision means going back to Stop Ask Listen.


About yes

The Field Model diagram with two anonymous characters that have answered Yes, and are in the Action Zone.


One possible response to a shared decision is to say yes.

In the Field Model, if you both say yes, then you can move to the Action Zone and start acting on the decision.

But there’s more to yes than meets the eye, so let’s unpack the details.


Both people need to agree

If one person is a yes and the other person is no or I don’t know, then there’s no agreement and you can’t go to the Action Zone.


The yes needs to be an active agreement, not just the absence of a no

You can’t say, “You didn’t tell me to stop, so I assumed you were cool with it.” That’s not an excuse. If it’s a shared decision, you have an obligation to actually find out if the other person is saying yes or not.


Yes is only valid if freely given

In intimate personal relationships, yes is only valid if freely given, so you need to avoid coercion and pressure.


A man yelling at a woman in the car, grabbing her arm. She looks startled.


What’s coercion?

  • Threats of violence to you or someone else
  • Threats of other sexual violence such as sharing intimate images
  • Threats of reputation trashing ("I'll tell everyone you're crap in bed or that you are frigid or a slut.”)
  • Undressing themselves in front of you
  • Blaming you for getting them aroused, and saying they can't stop now
  • Becoming violent or aggressive, or even just angry and frustrated

If a yes is given as a result of coercion, it’s not a real yes, and any action is a line move.


What’s pressure?

  • Repeated pleading (“Please have sex with me? Come on, please, let’s do it. What about just half sex?”)
  • Constantly finding counter arguments when the other person says no (“We’ve got plenty of time before your housemates get back. Even if they get back early we’ll hear them coming in. Even if we don’t hear them, it doesn’t matter.”)
  • Insisting that an earlier yes applies now (“But we did it last week and you loved it.”)
  • Manipulating emotions ("If you really loved me...")
  • Holding the relationship to ransom purely to apply pressure ("I'm going to have to break up with you if you don’t…”)


The last example in particular highlights a grey area between applying pressure and just talking about your own needs.

For instance, someone could say, “You won’t have sex with me, so I want to break up,” to pressure the other person into having sex, or they could be simply saying how they feel about the relationship and what they’re going to do.

The difference is subtle and mostly about intent: saying something in order to pressure another person into changing their minds, versus saying the same thing as an explanation for why you are doing something without any expectation that the other person will change.

Either way, the guiding rule we should always come back to is a yes given in response to pressure is not a genuine yes.


Coercion and pressure are different to persuasion

A couple sitting on the bed, the man looks sooky and the woman is trying to persuade him to watch a horror movie.


In any relationship, we try to influence each other all the time.

This is a normal and healthy form of interaction if it is done respectfully, that is with recognition of the other person’s inner world, their rights and freedoms, and following the basic Field Model rules.

So it’s fine to make an argument or to portray an option as appealing, that’s normal persuasion. If it’s done with recognition of the other person’s inner world, their rights, freedoms, thoughts and emotions, then it’s respectful:


“Do you want to have sexytime?”

“Not now.”

“Maybe later?”


“But it’ll be so good.”

“That’s a hard no.”



But when the persuasion is unwelcome, insistent, or high stakes, that’s when it turns into pressure or coercion:


“Do you want to have sexytime?”


“Come on…”

“I’m not in the mood.”

“It’ll be quick.”


“But I really want to.”

“No maybe later.”

“Let’s do it now. It’ll be so good.”

“Can you not?”

“Come on, why are you being like that?”

“I said…”

“When did you get so frigid?”


Sometimes we pressure ourselves

Sometimes we are the ones applying pressure to ourselves, without any direct influence from the other person. This is because we internalise all sorts of influences, beliefs and feelings which lead us to say yes when actually we want to say no:

  • Feeling like certain kinds of behavior are expected in a relationship, and you have to go along with it to be “normal”.
  • Being worried about disappointing the other person or hurting their feelings, worrying that if you say no then they will go and find someone else.
  • Wanting to please the other person and make them happy because you love them so much.
  • Feeling obliged to have sex because you can physically see your partner's arousal and you feel responsible.
  • Worrying that even if you say no, the other person won’t listen—or it could even make them angry.


Taking the pressure out

Pressure from other people, pressure from ourselves—can we ever really be pressure free?

Sometimes! But sometimes it’s really hard to avoid feeling pressured to say yes. The goal here is to be sensitive, aware, and realistic.

  • You can check that the other person isn’t feeling pressured
  • You can help them feel less pressured by making it clear you’re okay with whatever they choose
  • You can pay more attention to what you’re doing and saying, and ease back if you think you’re putting on too much pressure
  • You can speak up or back away if you’re feeling pressured
  • If you’re pressuring yourself, you can challenge your own thinking, or just take a step back to give yourself space to choose something else.


At the end of the day, we at least want to feel comfortable with what we’re saying yes to and why.


Sometimes we go along with things and that’s okay

In any relationship you get times when the other person wants something and you don’t, but you decide to say yes anyway because you decide that in this instance, you can see the value in making your partner happy rather than getting your way on the decision.

This is completely fine if that’s a decision you make freely, for yourself—if you choose to make your partner happy, even at some cost to yourself, then that’s okay. But if you’re going along as a result of pressure or coercion, then that’s not okay.


Sometimes our yesses come with extra conditions

Image simply says, "Yes, but..."


Sometimes we’re happy to say yes, so long as some other conditions are met: 

  • “Yes, if we can do it before yoga.”
  • “Yes, but I want you to come to ice skating tomorrow.”
  • “Yes, so long as it doesn’t take too long.”


Yes if, yes but, yes so long as—these are all conditional yesses.

Here we’re basically introducing a second decision into the mix and saying either that we’re willing to trade (“I’ll say yes to this if you’ll say yes to that.”) or limiting the scope of the decision (“I’ll say yes to this part of the decision, but not that part.”).

Conditional yesses are totally fine, so long as both people agree.


Rules in the Action zone

If both people say yes, you’re in the Action Zone and you can go ahead with the decision, but there are rules!


The yes is limited

A woman and a man on a couch, the guy leans right in to kiss the woman and she pulls back and asks what he is doing.


When you say yes, you’re agreeing to that decision at that point in time. You’re not agreeing to any other decisions, or any decision at any other point in time.

  • If I agree to hold your hand, it doesn’t mean I agree to kiss you.
  • If I agree to sex tonight, it doesn’t mean I agree to it tomorrow.
  • If I agree to send a nude to you, it doesn’t mean I agree to send a nude to your friends.


Every yes is limited to that decision, at that point in time.


You can change your mind at any time

A man and woman eating popcorn on a couch – she spits out a mouthful into her lap.


When you start taking action, you get new information about the world. You start kissing someone—now you know what it’s like to kiss them.

This new information changes you—you’re a different person. And this new person might not feel the same way about this experience: you thought you’d like kissing this person, now you’ve started you’re like ew no.

It makes total sense that you might say yes to something, and then once you start, you change your mind. You might not even start the action—just the passing of time might be enough for you to change your mind: you said yes at 6:15pm, but by 6:30pm you’d gotten interested in something else entirely.

So another rule of the Action Zone: you can change your mind at any time. If you change from a yes to a no, then you’re both in the End Zone, and the End Zone rules apply, namely that the other person needs to respect your no.


Moving to a new decision means going back to Stop Ask Listen

A man and a woman on the couch, the guy looks up and asks, "I don't know.... Do I?"


If yes is limited to this specific decision at this point in time, then if either person wants to change the action then it’s a new shared decision, and both people need to go back to Stop Ask Listen to find out where they both stand.

  • “Do you want to go from kissing to undressing?” New decision.
  • “Do you want to go from dinner to a walk along the river?” New decision.
  • “Do you want to go from living together to getting married?” New decision.


As we’ve said elsewhere, Stop Ask Listen doesn’t need to be a big deal, it can be quick and subtle or as long and obvious as the decision requires.

What’s most important is that both people know they can’t assume agreement to a new decision, no matter how small it seems, and that a new decision means both people need to check in with each other.