What is Consent?

understanding consent

A sexual encounter is considered consensual when individuals willingly and knowingly engage in sexual activity.

  • The presence of consent involves explicit communication and mutual approval for the act in which parties are involved.
  • Consent must be freely and affirmatively communicated between both (all) partners in order to participate in sexual activity.
  • Anything but a clear, knowing and voluntary consent to any sexual activity is equivalent to a “no.”
  • It is the responsibility of the person who wants to engage in sexual activity to ensure consent of their partner. Silence, lack of protest, or no resistance does not mean consent.
  • Being in a current relationship or having had a past sexual relationship does not certify consent or entitlement to engage in sexual activity.
  • Consent must be present throughout the sexual activity.
  • Consent to some form of sexual activity does not automatically imply consent to other forms of sexual activity.
  • Consent to sexual activity may be withdrawn at any time, as long as the withdrawal is communicated clearly, and all sexual activity must cease.

If consent is not obtained prior to each act of sexual behavior (from kissing leading up to intercourse), a student risks being found responsible for violating the Emerson’s Sexual Assault Policy, and/or local and federal law.

A student found responsible for sexual assault is subject to institutional sanctions up to and including suspension and/or dismissal. A person convicted of rape in a court of law is subject to serving up to 20 years in prison.

the perks of consent

Asking for and obtaining consent shows that you have respect for both yourself and your partner. It also:

  • enhances communication, respect, and honesty, making sex and relationships better;
  • gives you the ability to know and be able to communicate the type of sexual relationship you want;
  • helps you protect yourself and your partner against STIs and pregnancy;
  • provides an opportunity to acknowledge that you and your partner(s) have sexual needs and desires;
  • allows you to identify your personal beliefs and values and respect those of your partner;
  • builds confidence and self-esteem;
  • challenges stereotypes that rape is a women’s issue, sexism, and traditional views on gender and sexuality;
  • encourages empowering positive views on sex and sexuality, and
  • eliminates the entitlement that one partner might feel over another. Neither your body or your sexuality belong to someone else.

consent in intimate relationships

When it comes to sex in your relationship, establishing consent is really important.

In intimate relationships, consent is when one person agrees to or gives permission to another person to do something. It means agreeing to an action based on your knowledge of what that action involves, its likely consequences and having the option of saying no. You both have a responsibility to make sure you both feel safe and comfortable every step along the way. Remember, your actions towards the person you’re with can greatly affect the way they feel about you, themselves, the relationship, and sex in general. Consent is an important part of healthy sexuality and both people should be involved in the decision to have sex.

The absence of “no” does not mean “yes.”

Regardless of a past relationship, their past experiences with other people, or the person they are with, everyone has the right to say “no,” and everyone has the right to change their mind at any time.

How do you know if the person you’re with has given their consent?

The only way to know for sure if someone has given consent is if they tell you. It’s not always easy to let people know that you are not happy about something. Sometimes the person you’re with might appear as though they are happy doing something, but inside they’re not. They might not know what to say or how to tell you that they are uncomfortable. One of the best ways to determine if someone is uncomfortable with any situation, especially with a sexual one, is to simply ask. Here are some examples of the questions you might ask:

  • Is there anything you don’t want to do?
  • Are you comfortable?
  • Do you want to stop?
  • Do you want to go further?

when a person cannot give consent

By law, there are circumstances in which a person CANNOT give consent, no matter what they might verbalize. One cannot give consent if:

  • the person is unconscious or incapacitated;
  • the person is physically or mentally disabled;
  • both people are not actively and mutually participating in any sexual activity. It does not matter if or what kind of sexual behavior has happened previously in the current event, earlier that day, or daily for the previous six months. It does not matter if it is a current long-term relationship, a broken relationship, or marriage. If someone engages in sexual activity without another person’s active and mutual participation, it is sexual assault.
  • when a person is under the age of consent (varies by state: 16 in MA and 18 in CA).

What if the person you're with is too out of it to give consent?

  • Drugs and alcohol can affect people’s ability to make decisions, including whether or not they want to be sexual with someone else. This means that if someone is really out of it, they cannot give consent.
  • Being with them in a sexual way when they don’t know what is going on is the same as rape.
  • If you see a friend who is out of it and is being intimate with someone, you should interrupt them and talk to both your friend and to the other person and tell them that you think your friend is not able to give sober consent As an active bystander you can take action to keep friends and other people safe. If it’s the opposite situation, and your friend is trying to engage in a sexual encounter with someone who is out if it, you should pull them aside and stop them from hurting someone and remind them that they are violating Emerson policy and will have to deal with the consequences.

Recognizing non-verbal communication

There are many ways of communicating. The look on someone’s face and their body language is also a way of communicating and often has more meaning than the words that come out of their mouth. A person is probably not comfortable with what is happening if they:

  • are not responding to your touch;
  • push you away;
  • hold their arms tightly around their bodies;
  • turn away from you or hiding their face, or
  • have stiffening muscles.

Asking questions and being aware of body language helps you to figure out if the person you’re with is consenting and feeling comfortable, or not consenting and feeling uncomfortable. If you get a negative or non-committal answer to any of these questions, or if your partner’s body language is like any of the above examples, then you should stop what you are doing and talk to them about it.

slowing down or stopping

Slowing things down

Taking your time, making sure you are both comfortable, and talking about how far you want to go will make the time you spend together a lot more satisfying and enjoyable for both of you. Here are some suggestions of what you might say to your partner if you feel that things are moving too fast.

  • I don’t want to go any further than kissing, hugging, touching.
  • Can we stay like this for a while?
  • Can we slow down?

Stopping altogether

You always have the right to say “no,” and you always have the right to change your mid at any time regardless of your past experiences with other people or the person you are with. Below are some things you can say or do if you want so stop:

  • Say, directly, “No.”
  • Say, “I want to stop.”
  • Say, “I need to go to the bathroom.”
  • In a situation where the other person isn’t listening to you and you feel unsafe, you could pretend you are going to vomit. (It’s amazing how quickly someone moves away from you if they think you are going to be sick).

If someone has attempted or completed a sexual act without your consent:

  • Know it is not your fault and there are numerous on-campus and off-campus resources.
  • An advocate from Violence Prevention and Response at Emerson College (617-824-8857)  can help you by offering support, information about options, and resources.