Everything you need to know about consent for sexual activity

What is consent?

Consent is words or overt acts indicating a freely given agreement to have sex by someone who is mentally clear enough to make such a decision.

If you or your partner feels pressured, manipulated or intimidated, then you have not established explicit consent and any ensuing sexual activity is sexual violence.

 Effective consent is informed, freely, and actively given, mutually understandable words or actions which indicate a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity. Consent is not effective if it results from the use of physical force, threats, intimidation, or coercion. And consent for one act of sex is not consent for another act of sex.

Consent does not exist when you have sex with someone who you know to be, or should know to be, incapable of making rational, reasonable decision about a sexual situation is a violation of New York State Law. Being intoxicated is not an excuse for such violations, and this certainly includes someone whose incapacity results from having ingested a so-called "rape-drug."

Respect for another member of the community is an expectation that all members are expected to uphold at all times, including in the context of sexual interaction.  Respect means paying heed to verbal and non-verbal cues, desires, boundaries, and behaviors of others.


 What does that really mean?

We get mixed messages about sex all the time.   Advertisers use sex to sell their products, sexual imagery is in the movies and television program we watch, the books we read, and the music we listen to.  Yet, it can be difficult to have conversations about sex with the people with whom we want to be sexually active.

When it comes to sexual activity most of us have been taught that “No means No,” but sometimes it’s difficult to understand what that really means.  At the heart of the idea of consent is the idea that every person, regardless of gender or relationship status, has a right not to be acted upon by someone else in a sexual manner unless s/he gives clear permission to do so.

That means that you have the right to decide:

  •  if you want to engage in sexual activity

  • when, where, and with whom you want to be sexually active with

  • what types of sexual activity you want to participate in

It also means that deciding not to be sexually active is just as acceptable as deciding to be sexually active. 


Specifically ---

  • No means no, but nothing also means no.  Silence and passivity do not equal permission.  If you decide to have sex, you need to communicate that to your partner.  Passively allowing someone to touch you in a sexual manner cannot be assumed to indicate consent. 

  • No one is entitled to engage in or heighten levels of sexual activity like they are running through the bases.  The idea that kissing always leads to fondling, which always leads to petting/fingering, which leads to some sort of intercourse is a notion that is based on male sexual patterns and beliefs, only.  Mutual exchanges must involve the expectations and desires of each person involved.

  • Consent requires that the person initiating the sexual activity get permission to do so, and that permission does not exist in the absence of resistance. 

  • Consent to one form of sexual activity does not automatically imply consent to other forms of sexual activity.

  • Consent means you can't make assumptions about what your partner does or does not want.  Absence of clear signals means you can't touch someone else, not that you can.

  • The idea of consent completely rules out any need to show the use of force, or any type of resistance. 

  • We can't play the game of "If s/he doesn't want it, s/he'll stop me."  That's based on antiquated resistance requirements.  It's not her/his job to resist, but yours to respect her/his boundaries, and to find out what they are if they are unclear.

  • To be valid, consent must be given prior to or contemporaneously with the sexual activity.  You can't put it in first and see if she likes it later.

  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time, as long as that withdrawal is clearly communicated by the person withdrawing it.

  • Just because someone wants to be alone with you doesn't mean that you have a sexual license.

  • Just because someone kisses you doesn't mean it's automatically going any farther.

  • Making someone touch you is as bad as touching someone else, where no consent is given.

  • Men often ignore the subtle signals sent by women that what is happening is not okay with them. 

  • When you get to a point where someone says no, it's time to back off completely, or have a conversation about where the interaction is going. 

  • If you get a "No" and keep right on pressuring and continuing to interact sexually, you run the risk that your behaviors are a coercive influence on the other party. 

  • If someone won't touch you, and you have to physically manipulate them to get them to touch you sexually, you automatically have a consent problem.  Unless they freely give consent, you can't take it.

  • There are circumstances, as well, where even when consent is given, it is not valid.  Consent would be invalid when forced, threatened, intimidated, coerced, when given by a mentally or physically incapacitated person, or when given by a minor. 

Want more information? 

If you want to talk privately about consent issues you can talk to someone at the Counseling Center, Weigel Health Center, VIVA, or Crisis Services.

Programs about consent, safer sex, and related topics for Residence Halls, student organizations, or other groups are available from Health Promotions.  You can schedule a program by calling (716) 878-6725, e-mailing, or like their Facebook page

  This information is adapted from materials by SUNY Binghamton, Alan Berkowitz, and The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management