There seems to be more stories every day about sexual assault and harassment among celebrities, teachers, college students, athletes, and politicians. The conversations around these stories reveal many people struggling to understand sexual assault — perhaps incorrectly assuming these stories always involve violence. Sexual assault means performing any sexual activity without consent from the other person. If you believe you were sexually assaulted please visit our resources here.
What is consent?
In general, consent is not exclusive to sex — it’s about respecting personal and emotional boundaries. Consent is about getting and giving permission. However, it is more than a question and answer, but a universal right to your own body and boundaries regardless of age, ability, gender, identity, or race.
In a sexual context, consent is:
Freely given –A choice made without pressure, manipulation, or while under the influence of drugs/alcohol.
Informed – Both people need to understand the full story. For example, if the agreement is to wear a condom and your partner pulls it off, that is not consent.
Enthusiastic – Yes means yes. During sex, you should only be doing things you want to do. Beyond verbal confirmation, consent is paying attention to your partners’ actions and reactions throughout.
Communication – Communicate every step of the way, don’t assume anything goes. Ask: “Is this okay? Do you want me to go further? Should I slow down?”
Reversible – Either person can change their mind at any time. If you decide you don’t want to do something anymore you are not obligated, even if it’s something you have done in the past.
These concepts sound clear, yet college-aged adults surveyed had very different interpretations of consent (College Students divided on Consent). For instance, when asked if undressing or getting a condom indicated consent, 40% said yes and 40% said no. This ambiguity poses challenges for preventing sexual assault on campuses and exposes the need for teaching consent.
Consent should be taught early in life and continue throughout adolescence. Discussions on consent need to begin with conversations on healthy sexuality. Sex is an inherent part of life, and it is important we learn to navigate it in a healthy way. We need to feel comfortable expressing our desires and boundaries in order to have healthier relationships.
Megan is passionate about prevention education and community. She strongly believes in social justice and ending violence. Megan works as a digital educator at HCWC where she uses social media, our podcast, and community presentations to promote gender equality, advocacy, consent, and healthy relationships. She is also passionate about advocating for peace, equality, and youth empowerment. She enjoys research, watching movies, playing roller derby, and spending time at the river with family.