What is consent?

Consent, by definition, means permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. Consent is more than yes or no. It is a dialogue about desires, needs, and level of comfort with different sexual interactions. It is clear, communicated, enthusiastic, ongoing, and can be renegotiated or withheld at any time. Healthy sexual interactions are rooted in consent and respect.

When an activity is consensual, it means everyone involved has agreed to what they are doing and has given their permission. Non-consensual sexual activity, or any form of sexual behavior without someone’s agreement or permission, is sexual assault.

However, consent is not only limited in its importance to sexual and romantic relationships, but in any interaction between people. It is in every day and in every interaction. It is important to always be open with the people around you about what makes them comfortable and what makes you comfortable. Consent can look like asking for a clear and enthusiastic yes before sexual activity, but equally looks like asking a friend or loved one if they are comfortable with everything from a hug to your choice in nickname or respecting someones wishes when saying they are not interested in going on a date with you when you ask the first time. It is not only the baseline of a healthy sexual relationship, but also the baseline of respect in all relationships.

How do you establish consent?

  • Ask for consent. Don’t assume someone is OK with what you want to do, always ask them.
  • Be direct. If you are unsure that you have their consent, ask again.
  • Communicate. Don’t be afraid to talk and communicate your boundaries, wants, and needs. Encourage your partner to do the same.
  • Don’t mix drugs and/or alcohol with sex. Intoxication impairs decision making and can make it impossible to gain someone’s legal consent. Mixing drugs and/or alcohol with sex can lead to risky behavior, such as unsafe sex.
  • Make it fun. Consent does not have to be something that interrupts sex; it can be a part of sex. Checking in with your partner throughout sexual experiences can be a great way to build intimacy and understand your partner’s needs. It can help partners create a healthy and satisfying sex life.
  • Remember: Sex without consent is sexual assault. 

How do you practice consent?

  • Respect the yes, respect the no, respect indecision (it is not a yes). A partner saying nothing is not the same as a partner saying “yes.”
  • Listen and pay attention to words, feelings, non-verbal communication, and context.
  • Having established consent for one activity does not mean that consent has been established for all activities. Consent is ongoing.
  • The person wishing to initiate or change an act is responsible for initiating the conversation about consent.
  • Consent is not a contract; people can change their minds. No one should be forced to engage in something they agreed to earlier without an in-the-moment check-in. Our wants and desires are fluid, as should be the agreements that we make when it comes to how we relate to our bodies.

Why is consent important?

  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • 46.4% lesbians, 74.9% bisexual women and 43.3% heterosexual women reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes, while 40.2% gay men, 47.4% bisexual men and 20.8% heterosexual men reported sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 women has been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration or alcohol/drug-facilitated completed penetration.
  • 1 in four girls and 1 in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.
  • More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.
  • Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. Only 12% of child sexual abuse is reported to the authorities.
  • In 8 out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them.

Find your state’s consent laws here. Access the National Sexual Violence Resource Center Statistics About Sexual Violence here.