Whenever you are engaging in anything sexual with other people, it’s important to get consent beforehand and as the sexual activity changes. Consent is important for any sexual activity, whether the context is a casual hook-up or an ongoing relationship.
According to Northeastern’s Policy, “Consent means a voluntary, affirmative agreement to engage in sexual activity proposed by another; it requires mutually understandable and communicated words and/or actions that would demonstrate to a reasonable person agreement by both parties to participate in sexual activity.”
Consent must be freely given, without physical force, threats, intimidating behavior, duress or coercion. Silence, a lack of resistance, previous sexual relationships or experiences, and/or a current relationship may not, in itself, constitute consent.
The initiator, or the person who wants to engage in a specific sexual activity, must obtain consent for the partner(s) for each sexual act. Both parties may be initiators at different points. A persons initiation of a sexual act constitutes consent to that act, but not necessarily to subsequent acts.”
Consent should be mutual, ongoing, and enthusiastic. “Affirmative agreement” means you are making sure your partner(s) actively agree to sexual activity.
Being with someone should be fun! Think of consent as a way to check in with your partner(s) to make sure you’re on the same page.
How do I know if I have consent?
You need to have clearly communicated via actions or words that you and your partner(s) are interested in the same activity. “Mutually understandable and communicated words and/or actions” can include reading body language to tell if your partner(s) is interested in what you want to do, such as leaning in halfway for a kiss and waiting to see if the other person will close the space between you to kiss you.
But relying on body language alone is tricky because it may not constitute consent! Sometimes people misread nonverbal cues or assume their partner is interested, when really their partner is not consenting. For this reason, we encourage you to get verbal consent by asking your partner(s) directly. Getting affirmative verbal consent helps avoid ambiguity and confusion as to whether you have your partner(s) consent.
94% of Northeastern students report preferring that someone directly asks for consent to sexual activity. (National College Health Assessment, 2020)
Ways to ask for consent:
- I’d really like to [describe sexual act]. What do you think?
- What do you want to do?
- What would be good for you?
- Can I kiss you?
- Would you like it if I [describe sexual act]?
- I had fun last weekend. Do you want to do that again?
If your partner responds by:
- Saying “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure,” “This isn’t a good idea,” “I just want to cuddle,” “I want to go to sleep,” “I should go home…”
- Clearly saying “No”
- Tensing up
- Moving your hands away
- Turning away
…that means you do not have your partner’s consent! These are signs your partner isn’t entirely comfortable and you should stop.
Who should ask for consent?
From the Title IX Policy’s definition of consent: “The initiator, or the person who wants to engage in the specific sexual activity, must obtain Consent from the partner(s) for each sexual act. Each participant may be an initiator at different points of sexual activity.”
This means any person, regardless of gender, can initiate a sexual act – and the person who initiates must get consent from their partner(s).
Consent can’t be given:
- By minors. In Massachusetts, that means a person can legally consent to sex at age 16
- If someone is forced, threatened, or coerced
- If someone is incapacitated through the use of drugs or alcohol, regardless of whether consumption was voluntary or involuntary
“Incapacitated” means someone is unable to make clear and rational decisions. Some signs of incapacitation include slurring words, stumbling, vomiting, and passing out.
How do I say no?
You or your partner shouldn’t feel guilty for turning down sex and you shouldn’t feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do. You can say: “No” or “I don’t want to tonight.” or “I don’t want to ___, but I do want to ___.”
It’s also about feeling safe and comfortable enough to communicate if something doesn’t feel good. You should be able to say “I don’t want to do this anymore” or “That doesn’t feel good, can we try something different?” without feeling threatened.
*This data was collected in a Northeastern University 2018 National College Health Assessment.