Information and Resources

Defining Consent

What is Consent?

We define consent as an agreement. More specifically, consent is an agreement that exists between sexual partners who are sober.
Alan D. Berkowitz suggests that consent exists when:

  • Both parties are fully conscious.
  • Both parties are equally free to act; one is not coerced constrained.
  • Both parties behave positively and clearly communicate their intent.
  • (Berkowitz, Alan D. (Ed.). (1994). Men and Rape: Theory, Research, and Prevention Programs in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.)

What does all this mean? Basically, before we are engaged in sexual activity with our partner, we need to be absolutely sure he or she wants to be doing what we are doing. How do we figure this out? The best way to get consent is verbally. The answer to our inquiry will generally be "yes or no." If the answer is "maybe," then more communication is necessary. If the answer is "no," then we leave it alone. A coerced "yes" is not a willing "yes" and consent only exists when each party is free to act without being coerced or constrained.

Often, rather than get into a difficult or uncomfortable conversation about sex, we try to judge our partner's willingness to be sexual through their body language. While it is important to read our partner's body language, relying on this alone for consent can be dangerous. It is very easy to misread signs and signals coming from a person, so if we have not verbally communicated about sex and our partner is not actively and willingly participating in what is happening, it is best to assume we do not have their consent.

Drunk sex seriously jeopardizes everything we've been addressing. If alcohol or drugs are involved in our sexual interactions, the risk for committing an assault goes way up. Remove the alcohol and drugs and greatly reduce your risk.

Consent can be withdrawn at any time. It is possible our partners may consent to sexual activity and for a variety of reasons, may want to stop. Those reasons may range from fear to pain to discomfort to simply, a change of heart. Whatever the reason, once our partner wants to stop, we no longer have their consent and we must stop.

Consent to one sexual act is not necessarily consent for another. In other words, consent for oral sex is not automatically consent for vaginal or anal intercourse. Consent for sex today is not automatically consent for sex tomorrow or for sex next week.

Silence, or the absence of "no" does not equal consent. Be careful not to assume that consent exists because the person is not putting up a fight or because they haven't said anything at all.

Remember, the key to consent is communication. Talk early, talk honestly, and talk often.

Defining Rape

What is Rape?

According to the Washington State Rape Law(RCW Chapter 9A.44), rape is defined as: "sexual intercourse between persons without consent. The penetration can be in any form: penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth by an object or a sex organ. Either sex can be the victim or perpetrator of penetration."

In other words, the following are considered rape, when:

  • -Someone mentally coerces or physically forces you to have sex.
  • -There is penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth made by anything including a penis, finger(s), a bottle, or other object.
Page Updated 10.01.2015