Consent is defined by people officially affiliated with Brown University in the following way (abbreviated):
“Consent is an affirmative and willing agreement to engage in specific forms of sexual contact with another person. Consent requires an outward demonstration, through mutually understandable words or actions, indicating that an individual has freely chosen to engage in sexual contact. Consent cannot be obtained through: (1) the use of coercion or force or (2) by taking advantage of the incapacitation of another individual.”
For the full definition, click here.
Consent is an agreement that each person makes if they want to engage in sexual activity. The issue of consent can be a complicated and ambiguous area that needs to be addressed with clear, open, and honest communication. Keep these points in mind if you are not sure consent has been established:
Each person is equally free to act.
The decision to be sexually intimate must be without coercion, which include a consideration of the power dynamics at play within sexual and interpersonal interactions. Each person must have the option to choose to be intimate or not. Each person should be free to change "yes" to "no" at any time. Factors such as body size, previous victimization, threats to "out" someone, and other fears can prevent an individual from freely consenting, as well as others. An offender may also use these factors to manipulate someone.
Each person needs to be fully conscious and aware.
The use of alcohol or other substances can interfere with someone's ability to make clear decisions about the level of intimacy they are comfortable with. The more intoxicated a person is, the less they are able to give conscious consent.
Each person clearly communicates their willingness and permission.
Willingness and permission must be communicated clearly and unambiguously. Just because a person fails to resist sexual advances does not mean that they are willing. Consent is not the absence of the word "no."
Each person is positive and sincere about their desires.
It is important to be honest in communicating feelings about consent. If one person states their desires, the other person can make informed decisions about the encounter.
(Adapted from Berkowitz, Alan. "Guidelines for Consent in Intimate Relationships," Campus Safety & Student Development, Vol. 3, No. 4, March/April 2002.)