Consent is mandatory in every kind of sexual activity, whether it’s with a new partner or in a long term relationship. Without consent, any sexual act is sexual violence. UNC has an “affirmative consent” policy. This means that consent is the communication of an affirmative, conscious and freely made decision by each participant to engage in sexual activity. Consent requires an outward demonstration, through understandable words or actions, of a clear willingness to engage in sexual contact.
Consent can be verbal. This is the clearest and safest form of consent. Examples of giving verbal consent include:
- “That sounds great”
- “That feels awesome”
- “Let’s do that more”
- “I’d like to . . .”
- “It feels good when you . . .”
- “Would you please . . .”
- “I want to keep doing this”
- “I’m enjoying this”
Consent can also be non-verbal. There are ways to express a clear willingness to engage in sexual contact without using words. Examples of giving nonverbal consent may include:
- Head nod
- Thumbs up
- Pulling someone closer
- Nodding yes
- Making direct eye contact
- Actively touching someone
- Initiating sexual activity
However, it is important to remember that body language is different for everyone, and relying on it alone can sometimes be problematic. If you’re not sure that you’re getting a clear, enthusiastic yes from your partner, it is your responsibility to ask. You cannot assume that you have consent because someone is not physically resisting or verbally refusing sexual contact. Consent is not to be inferred from silence, passivity, or a lack of resistance.
People may be concerned about “ruining the mood” or “making things awkward” when they’re trying to get consent. You don’t have to turn on all the lights and sign a contract to move forward with sexual activity! Consent doesn’t have to be awkward. Think about it: what’s better than asking your partner what they want you to do? If we assume that we can “just tell” what someone wants to do, it creates the possibility of not getting consent from someone and really hurting them. When partners communicate and check in about what they want, it keeps both people safe and happy!
How to Ask for Consent
Here are some examples of how to ask for consent:
- “I really want this to be good for you… What do you like?”
- “Does ______(activity) feel good to you?”
- “I’d really like to _____(activity) – Would you be into that?”
- “May I . . .?”
- “I’d like to . . . would you like to? If not, what would you like to do?”
- “How do you feel about doing . . . ?”
- “What do you need to feel comfortable or safe when we . . . ?”
- “I’m really interested in doing . . . with you. Do you want to do that?”
- “I’d like to have sex tonight, would you?”
- “What do you want to do or try tonight?”
There are many ways to ask for and give consent. There are also many ways to indicate that someone’s NOT consenting to sexual contact.
Examples of Situations Where There is No Consent
Here are some examples of verbal non-consent:
- “I don’t want to”
Remember, the absence of a verbal “no” is not the same as a “yes”. Body language can also be used to communicate a lack of consent. Here are some non-verbal signals that you need to stop and check in with your partner:
- Silent/saying nothing
- Turning their head or body away from you
- Pushing you away
- Lying still, not participating
- Avoiding touch/not touching you
. Other Situations Where There is No Consent
It’s also important to remember that getting consent for one type of sexual contact doesn’t mean you have consent for other kinds. If someone is pulling you closer and they are enthusiastic about making out, it doesn’t mean that they’ve consented to activity beyond making out.
Consent also cannot be obtained by coercion or force or by taking advantage of someone who is incapacitated. Using threats or manipulation to get someone to say yes isn’t consent. Consent must be freely given, which means that a person is choosing to say yes when they are also free to say no. If someone feels like they have to say yes because saying no would result in harm or negative consequences, that’s not freely given consent.
Consent can be withdrawn at any time. Once consent is withdrawn, the sexual contact must cease immediately.
How to Easily Remember the Definition of Consent
The following graphic provides you with a good “rule of thumb” to follow when you’re making the determination as to whether you have consent to engage in sexual contact.