What is sexual consent?

Consent is permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. There are several critical components of sexual consent:

  • Consent is an active process of willingly, knowingly, and freely choosing to participate in sex of any kind with another person(s).
  • There is a shared responsibility for everyone among those who want to engage in any kind of sexual interaction.
  • Consent requires voluntary, sober, enthusiastic, creative, informed, mutual, honest, and 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  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time, and consenting to one sexual activity does not automatically mean consenting to another sexual activity.
  • When there is an invitation of sex of any kind, and consent is mutually given or affirmed, the answer on everyone’s part is an enthusiastic, 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.

Read More About Consent

Columbia University: Sexual Respect

Columbia Gender-Based Misconduct Policy

Read the New York State Law definition of consent.

Watch a video about consent.

Driver’s Ed for the Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent