What is Consent?

Columbia Policy and New York State Law require “affirmative consent” in sexual relationships.Affirmative consent means a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity.Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions clearly communicate willingness to engage in the sexual contact or activity. It is important not to make assumptions. If there is confusion or ambiguity, participants in sexual activity need to stop and talk about each person’s willingness to continue.The definition of consent does not vary based upon a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Read the full Policy Definition. | Read the full NYS Law Definition. | Watch a video about consent. 

There are many different definitions of consent in the context of sexual relationships. Some can make “consent” seem technical, legalistic, and overly complicated. Most basically, consent requires communication. In sexual relationships, it is about communicating your own interest, listening to your partner’s interest, and moving ahead with sexual activity only if you both agree. Importantly, silence or lack of resistance does not demonstrate consent. A person who is incapacitated by alcohol or drug use or for any other reason cannot consent. And — consenting to one type of sexual activity (e.g. a kiss or other sexual contact) does not imply consent to another activity. How do I know if someone is incapacitated and cannot consent? Common warning signs that a person may be incapacitated or approaching incapacitation as a result of alcohol or drug use include, for example, slurred or incomprehensible speech, vomiting, or unsteady gait. Alcohol and drugs can lower inhibitions and create confusion over whether consent is freely and affirmatively given. Keep in mind:  the impact of alcohol and other drugs varies from person to person.