Consent means to give assent or approval. In relation to sexual behavior, consent is a mutual, unambiguous, unimpaired agreement for sexual activity.
Consent requires words or actions indicating voluntary agreement and is required at every stage of a sexual encounter. The absence of “no,” or the absence of resistance does not equal consent.
Cooperation or “going along” also isn’t enough to establish consent--it’s about active and willing participation.
Absence of Consent = Sexual Assault
The key element of a rape or sexual assault is the lack of consent.
Consent does not have to be verbal, but it does have to be clear, unambiguous, and voluntary. It must also be given by someone who is capable of doing so and not “incapacitated” by sleep, unconsciousness, or intoxication.
A consensual encounter is marked by mutual willingness. Partners are respectful of each other’s boundaries, carefully looking for active signals to ensure that sexual activity is wanted at every stage.
In a sexual assault or a rape, there is no such respect or care. Instead, there is disregard, intimidation, and sometimes physical force.
Checking in About Consent
Asking about consent doesn't have to be awkward!
Consent is fundamentally about good communication: paying attention to your partner, asking questions and respecting the answers, and seeking out and honoring feedback about wishes and boundaries. It's about paying attention to words, body language, and comfort levels. It can be as straightforward and direct as “Do you want to have sex?” It can also be about asking if something feels good, or noticing and acknowledging a change in energy or comfort level.
Remember that the process of ensuring consent is ongoing. Checking in with each new activity or escalation is essential. Ways to do this might include asking:
Is this okay?
Do you want to try XYZ?
I want to XYZ-- do you want to?
Consent is really about making sure each person involved is with it, interested, and freely participating.
Consent and Alcohol or Other Drugs
Alcohol and sexual assault are often talked about together, but alcohol does not cause sexual assault.
It is true that alcohol use is associated numerically with sexual assault. Someone who is incapacitated due to alcohol (unable to give a verbal, enthusiastic, and consistent “yes”) is not able to consent to sexual activity.
Incapacitation and Sexual Assault
Engaging in sexual activity of any kind with someone who is unable to give meaningful consent is sexual assault.
If the person you are with is impaired in a way you can or should be able to recognize (stumbling, slurring words, not making sense), you must assume they are too impaired to give consent.
Alcohol- or Drug-facilitated Sexual Assault
Alcohol is the most often used date rape drug.
Victims of alcohol facilitated sexual assault are assaulted after they have consumed alcohol, become incapacitated, and therefore have not been able to decide freely about sexual interaction (consent).
Engaging in sexual activity with someone in this condition is sexual assault, even if you are also drunk. The person who continues to initiate and act is at fault.
Responsibility for Obtaining Meaningful Consent
Alcohol use may negatively impact your judgment about whether another person is able to give consent. This does not remove your responsibility for obtaining meaningful consent. When in any doubt about a person’s ability to consent, do not engage in sexual activity with them.
Being inebriated is not a defense against sexual misconduct. Each individual has the responsibility to be sober enough to judge whether your potential partner can meaningfully consent.
Even if a survivor of sexual assault drank alcohol or willingly took drugs, they are not at fault for being assaulted. You cannot "ask for it" or cause it to happen.