Last updated: 2/1/2024

What is sexual consent?

Consent is permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. Affirmative consent relies on “yes means yes” rather than “no means no.”

Affirmative consent has 3 key pillars:

  • Knowing
    • Consent is an active process of willingly, knowingly, and freely choosing to participate in sex of any kind with another person(s).
    • Consent must be coherent, meaning that people who are incapacitated by drug or alcohol or asleep are unable to consent.
  • Voluntary
    • Consent requires voluntary, informed, mutual, honest, and verbal or non-verbal agreement.
    • Consent is ongoing and must be asked for every step of the way. If you want to move to the next level of sexual intimacy, just ask.
    • Consent can be withdrawn at any time, and consenting to one sexual activity does not automatically mean consenting to another sexual activity.
  • Mutual
    • Consent is a shared responsibility for everyone among those who want to engage in any kind of sexual interaction.
    • Consent is mutually given or affirmed when there is an invitation of sex of any kind, the answer on everyone’s part is a resounding “Yes.”

Consent can be given using words or actions—as long as those words or actions clearly communicate willingness to engage in the sexual contact or activity. It is important not to make assumptions. If there is confusion or ambiguity, participants in sexual activity need to stop and talk about each person’s willingness to continue. Fundamentally, consent requires communication. In sexual relationships, it is about communicating your own interest, listening to your partner’s interest, and moving ahead with sexual activity only if you both agree.

What is not consent?

  • Manipulated or coerced sexual activity is not consensual.
  • Silence or lack of resistance does not demonstrate consent.
  • A person who is incapacitated by alcohol or drug use, or for any other reason, cannot consent.

How do I know if someone is incapacitated and cannot consent?

Common warning signs that a person may be incapacitated or approaching incapacitation as a result of alcohol or drug use include slurred or incomprehensible speech, vomiting, or unsteady gait. Alcohol and drugs can lower inhibitions and create confusion over whether consent is freely and affirmatively given. Keep in mind: The impact of alcohol and other drugs varies from person to person.

Check out these additional resources to help you better understand consent:


Columbia University: Definitions from the Sexual Respect Initiative

Columbia's Gender-Based Misconduct Policy

The New York State Law definition of consent.

Driver’s Ed for the Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent


Watch the “Consent: It’s as Simple as Tea” animation.