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College Health and Safety

Laws Can Be Complex, But Consent Is (And Should Be) Simple

Nancy Amestoy

Campus Programs Manager, RAINN

When it comes to building healthy relationships and preventing sexual violence on campus, understanding consent is key. Put simply, consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity, and it should happen every time. The laws about consent vary by state and situation — which can make the topic confusing — but you don’t have to be a legal expert to understand how consent plays out in real life.

Affirmative communication​​​​​​​

The most important aspect of consent is communication. Consent can be both verbal and nonverbal. Practice positive consent by communicating when you change the type or degree of sexual activity with phrases like “Is this OK?” You can also let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level by using physical cues or explicitly agreeing to certain activities — either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.” Respect each other’s boundaries.

Revocable consent

Remember, you can change your mind at any time. Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean giving consent for increased or recurring sexual contact. For example, agreeing to kiss someone doesn’t give that person permission to remove your clothes. Having sex with someone in the past doesn’t give that person permission to have sex with you again in the future.

If you feel uncomfortable at any point, you can withdraw consent. It’s important to clearly communicate to your partner that you are no longer comfortable with this activity and wish to stop. If you are concerned about angering or upsetting this person, you can make an excuse to create an exit. You are never obligated to remain in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, scared or threatened. Engaging in any sexual activity without consent is assault. Refusing to acknowledge “no,” pressuring someone, or someone being under the legal age of consent or incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol is not what consent looks like.

The best way to ensure both parties are comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it. Be open and honest with your partner, this helps keep the experience safe and enjoyable.

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