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What is consent?

Consent is an agreement that 2 people must make if they want to have sex. 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:

Both partners need 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.

Both partners are equally free to act.

The decision to be sexually intimate must be without coercion. Both partners must have the option to choose to be intimate or not. Both partners 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.

Both partners clearly communicate 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 she or he is willing. Consent is not the absence of the word “no.”

Both partners are positive and sincere in their desires.

It is important to be honest in communicating feelings about consent. If one person states her or his 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.)

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