There are a number of factors that determine if a person legally consents, from where the crime occurred and age of the victim to whether they were incapacitated during the assault. The information provided in this section does not constitute legal advice. If you have questions, you should consult the appropriate authorities and legal resources.
What is the Department of Defense definition of consent?
The Department of Defense defines consent as “A freely given agreement to the conduct at issue by a competent person. An expression of lack of consent through words or conduct means there is no consent. Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from the use of force, a threat of force, or placing another person in fear does not constitute consent. A current or previous dating or social or sexual relationship by itself or the manner of dress of the person involved with the accused in the conduct at issue shall not constitute consent. A sleeping, unconscious, or incompetent person cannot consent.” For more information on how the Department of Defense defines consent click here.
What is the definition of consent by state?
You can learn more about consent and the laws in your state here.
How does consent work?
When you’re engaging in sexual activity, consent is about communication. Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean giving consent for increased or recurring sexual contact. For example, agreeing to kiss someone doesn’t give that person permission to remove your clothes. Having sex with someone in the past doesn’t give that person permission to have sex with you again in the future. Also, not saying anything or giving non-verbal cues is not giving consent.
You can change your mind at any time.
You can withdraw consent at any point if you feel uncomfortable. In positive sexual interactions, it should be respected when you communicate to your partner that you are no longer comfortable with an activity and wish to stop. Everyone brings their own cultural history and attitudes towards sexual activity with them, so sometimes this sort of clear communication isn’t easy. The best way to ensure both parties are comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it.
Communication about consent can look like this:
- Communicating when you change the type or degree of physical interaction or sexual activity with phrases like “Can I touch you here?” or “Is this okay?”
- Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying.”
- Explicitly deferring activities, either by saying “no” or a boundary-setting statement like “I’m not ready for that.”
- Using physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable with how things are going
Communication about consent should not look like this:
- Refusing to acknowledge verbal and non-verbal cues indicating “no”
- Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more
- Engaging sexual activity with someone who is incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
- Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation or coercion
- Assuming you have permission to engage in a sexual act because you’ve done it in the past
- Assuming that lack of verbal or physical resistance means consent is given
Consent doesn’t have to be verbal, but verbally agreeing to different sexual activities can help both you and your partner clearly understand and respect each other’s boundaries.