Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Three Handshakes

Sexpression Warwick logo
"Three rounds of handshakes allow students to explore the concepts of consent, physical boundaries and negotiating consensual sexual activity."

Desired outcomes for the activity

This section summarises the knowledge, understanding, or skills that students are expected to acquire by the end of the activity.

  • To explore what consent feels like and explore what makes giving/getting consent more or less difficult.
  • Show what consent looks like beyond the simplistic ‘no means no’ context.
  • Practice negotiation and agreement.
  • Develop communications skills, especially around a person’s boundaries, wants and needs.

The activity

This section explains how to conduct the activity, and might include a step-by-step description or session plan for the activity.

A reflection on how to adapt this activity to a socially distanced environment can be found in the reflection below.

In this activity, participants will be asked to shake hands with each other in three different situations. Before beginning, explain that consent is important to this activity. Make it clear that people only need to shake hands with other people if they want to.

  • Handshake One
    • Ask everyone to shake hands with each other and give them enough time to shake hands with as many people as they’d like
    • When they’ve settled back down, facilitate a short discussion based on the following questions:
      • How was that?
      • How did it compare to your other experiences of handshakes?
      • What makes a good handshake?
      • On a scale of 1-10 how was it?
  • Handshake Two
    • Ask them to shake hands again, but this time to 'negotiate' the handshake.
    • You may want to provide some example questions to ask each other, such as...
      • Which hand would you like to shake with?
      • Do you want to shake up and down or side to side?
      • How firm would you like it to be?
      • How long would you like it to go on for?
      • Would you like to wash/dry your hands first?
      • Do you want to do something else altogether? E.g fist bump, hug, high five, waving.
    • Allow them time to shake with as many people as they’d like to again.
    • Now regroup and facilitate a discussion based on the following questions:
      • How was that?
      • On a scale of 1-10 how was it?
      • How did it compare to the first handshake?
      • Did anyone prefer the first handshake?
  • Now is the point at which the activity can be linked to the concepts of consent, physical boundaries and sexual activity.
    • In the first kind of handshake, people take part in the activity (handshakes in this example) the way they think they are expected to, or just take part in someone else’s handshake.
    • This is often the approach people take to physical boundaries/sex, as they feel unable to negotiate or say what they want. Instead, they rely on what they think the interaction should be like.
      • For example, this may look like thinking ‘proper sex’ involves penetration of a vagina or anus. Some people enjoy this as it can be spontaneous and exciting, however it can also lead to sex which isn’t enjoyable as people don’t know what their partner or partners enjoy. It can also result in people having sex which is not consensual, like feeling forced to take part in someone else’s handshake, or a type of handshake which you don’t enjoy.
    • Then explain that the level of discussion involved in the second handshake is not necessarily ideal to apply to all physical interactions/sex either as negotiating every single aspect may make physical interactions/sex much less fun and spontaneous.
  • Third Handshake
    • Explain that in the third handshake you want them to try and find a balance between the first and second handshakes.
    • It should be fun and spontaneous, but you should still find ways of communicating with the other person to check that you’re both happy with what is happening, and both feel comfortable stopping when you want to.
    • Regroup after the third round of handshakes and facilitate a discussion based on the following questions:
      • How was that?
      • How did that compare to the first two?
      • On a scale of 1-10 how was it?
      • What did you do or say to communicate about the handshake? (E.g how they stood, looked at each other, the words they used)
  • A final discussion might focus on some or all of the following questions:
    • Are there times when people might feel like they can’t say no to a handshake? Did that happen in this lesson? Why?
    • How might our self-esteem affect how much we feel we can have the handshakes/interactions/sex which we want?
    • What makes asking for what you do/don’t want more difficult?
    • What makes it easier?
    • When people have sex, how might they be closer to the third handshake?
    • Are there times when its more important to communicate than others?

Activity resources

This section includes copies of resources used in the activity, and any relevant background research or supplementary reading.

This activity does not require any materials, but it may people useful to point participants towards some of these resources about consent and negotiation at the end of the session:

Reflection on the experience of planning and/or delivering the activity

This section includes a reflection by the member of staff or student who submitted the activity, on their experience of developing and/or facilitating the activity.

    Sexpression often uses this activity when teaching consent in schools. Depending on how the facilitator controls the discussion, it can take between 30 and 60 minutes. Participants tend to be initially quite quiet, and give short answers but become more engaged and have more to say as the session continues.

    In these sessions we often follow up the activity with a more explicit discussion of consent and what can affect the ability to give it.

    Possible COVID-19 alterations:

    • Due to COVID-19 this activity poses added health risks. Depending on government guidelines at the time of the activity, certain alterations can be made to the activity. For example:
    • Turn it into a discussion about what people would do if they were doing this activity.
    • Ask people to thoroughly wash their hands before/after (and wear masks if necessary).
    • Only get people to shake one other person’s hand.
    • These changes can actually be used to facilitate further discussion around safe sex and consent. Explain to the participants why these changes have been made to the activity, and that the way we consider whether to shake hands with each other and under what circumstances during social distancing is a good way to think about negotiation during sex.
    • Facilitate a discussion on the questions you might ask someone before you are willing to shake their hand, (e.g. have they displayed any symptoms). What might need to be negotiated before you shake hands with someone? (e.g. have you both washed your hands recently, will you be shaking other people’s hands before/after, do you want to shake hands at all or would waving be more comfortable?)
    • Talk about how this can be translated into a sexual context. For example, a person may consent to certain sex acts but not others (e.g sex with a condom but not without, only sex with someone who has recently been STI tested, only having sex whilst maintaining social distancing.)


    If you would like to know more about this activity, please use the contact details below.