Definitions, Data, and Online Resources

What is Consent?

  • Silence is not consent. Only a sober “Yes” means yes!
  • Consent is…
  • Ongoing
  • Explicit
  • Informed
  • Enthusiastic
  • Active, not passive
  • Mutual

Consent is...

  • Not the absence of “No”
  • Not to be assumed, especially based on previous sexual encounters
  • Not implied, especially by the nature of a relationship
  • Verbal + non-verbal in alignment: giggling, changing the subject, or squirming do not count as consent
  • Not valid when obtained through coercion, pressure, manipulation or deception
  • Not valid when influenced by fear
  • Not possible when one person has more power than the other
  • Not possible if one person is incapacitated due to the effects of alcohol or drugs

How to ask for consent
If you are the one initiating sexual activity, it is your responsibility to obtain affirmative, verbal consent. Asking for consent doesn’t have to be awkward. Here are some examples:

  • “Do you like it when I _____?”
  • “I’d like to _____. Is that okay with you?”
  • “Is there anything you don’t want to do?”
  • “Are you comfortable?”
  • “Do you want to stop?”
  • “Do you want to slow down?”
  • “Do you want to go any further?”

How to listen for consent
While asking for consent, you should also be listening—actually listening—to what the other person is trying to communicate. If someone is saying, “I guess we could,” or “I don’t know, but if you want to …,” then you should pick up on the fact that they are not 100 percent into it. Don’t do it.

“Listening” includes looking for non-verbal cues. A person can communicate non-consent by looking uncomfortable, discontinuing activity, squirming, crying, or in many other ways.

How to respect consent
The bottom line is that consent is about respect. You need to care about the well-being of the person you’re with and respond appropriately when they are sending you verbal or non-verbal messages about their preferences.
Need help talking about sex?
Here are some good conversation starters to help you have a healthy dialogue about sexual encounters.

  • “Do you like it when I _____?”
  • “I’m going to _____. Is that okay with you?”
  • “Is there anything you don’t want to do?” “Are you comfortable?”
  • “Do you want to stop?”
  • “Do you want to slow down?”
  • “Do you want to go any further?”
  • “I don’t want to go any further than ____.”
  • “Can we slow down?”
  • “This is great, but I’m tired. Can we finish this another time?”
  • “No.” (it doesn’t matter how loud you say it).
  • “I want to stop.”
  • “Can I ____?”
  • “I’m going to the bathroom.”
  • “I’m not comfortable with this. Let’s stop.”
  • “Do you want to keep doing what we were doing before?”
  • “It’s okay if you don’t want to do that tonight. What do you want to do?”

If your partner doesn’t consent, don’t just get up and walk out. And don’t view the “No” as a challenge to overcome. Rather, use it as an opportunity to engage in a conversation about what you’re both interested in.

When a person cannot give consent
There are times when a person cannot legally give consent, regardless of what he or she might say or do. A person cannot give consent if he or she is:

  • Incapacitated as a result of alcohol or drugs
  • Under the age of consent (16 in Massachusetts)

Consent in relationships
Sexual assault can occur in intimate relationships, so it is just as important to ensure consent in long-term relationships as it is with people you’ve just met. Relationships are about mutual enjoyment of each other’s company and support of each other’s emotional well-being, so listening and respect become even more crucial. Enthusiastic consent is critical to building strong, healthy relationships.

Rape and sexual assault:

Intimate partner violence:


Healthy and unhealthy relationships:

Sexual harassment: