Clark Anti-Violence Education Program

Consent 101 or: Doing It with the Lights On

Sexual assault is any sexual contact or activity with a person that occurs without that persons consent. In order for individuals to engage in sexual activity of any type with each other, there must be clear consent. Effective consent is defined as a freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in sexual activity, expressed either by words or clear, unambiguous actions. Clark University strongly encourages students who choose to engage in sexual behavior to verbally communicate their intentions and consent as clearly as possible.

In other words, if you want to have sex with somebody, you have to get his or her permission. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? In truth, there can be a lot of ambiguity surrounding the terms "seeking," "receiving," "expressed" and "permission." And cutting corners on consent can land you in some very hot water! This page is designed to shed light on an activity that most people do in the dark. We offer explanations and tips in plain English for seeking and receiving expressed consent.

We want you to have great sex if you choose to have sex—safer, mutually enjoyable, consensual sex.

What is Seeking?

  • Being crystal clear about your desires and expectations.
  • Asking permission to engage in specific, named sexual behavior, whether or not you were the one who initiated sexual contact.
  • Asking permission each time you wish to progress to new, different, or more intimate sexual behavior.
  • Seeking = Sexy!


Seeking is not...

  • Assuming that someone who consents to one type of sexual activity consents to all types.
  • Assuming that someone’s previous consent to sexual activity applies to current or future activity.
  • Assuming that sexy clothes, flirtatious behavior, accepting a ride, accepting a drink, or anything other than clearly expressed consent is an invitation to sexual activity.


What is receiving?

  • Hearing clear agreement or desire to engage in specific, named sexual activity.
  • Always asking if there is any doubt about what the other person is communicating.
  • Receiving = Sexy!


Receiving is not...

  • Not hearing a specific no. (Unless your partner says yes, consent cannot be assumed!)
  • Your partner’s saying or indicating yes when he or she is under the influence of alcohol and other mind-altering drugs. A clear state of mind is required!

A note about "expressed": Verbal consent (including American Sign Language) is the clearest and least ambiguous form of communication, but people can express consent non-verbally by nodding, removing clothes, proceeding with the proposed activity, etc,. Likewise, people can deny consent with actions and gestures, such as pulling away or pulling on their clothes, etc. Whether your partner uses words or gestures, no means no.


What is consent?

  • Mutual agreement, based on a shared desire for specific sexual activities.
  • An ongoing verbal interaction, taken one step at a time, to an expressed and honest yes.
  • Mutual awareness of possible consequences of activities.
  • Each partner remains open to and respects the other partner’s expression of agreement or disagreement to engage in the activity.
  • Consent = very sexy!


Consent is not...

  • Cooperation. Cooperation occurs when someone yes says, because he or she is too scared or intimidated to say no.
  • Compliance. Compliance occurs when someone says yes, because giving in physically and mentally is the easiest thing to do. Many people ask why someone would say yes when he or she really means no. When there is an imbalance of physical size and strength, or of status or authority, it can be impossible to speak honestly of desires and limits.
  • Getting the other to say yes by threatening, forcing, manipulating, intimidating, coercing, pressuring, blackmailing, drugging, and getting him or her drunk. (This is called RAPE. It is also against the law.)


Copyright 2002 University of New Hampshire. Revised March 2010, with permission, by Denise A. Hines, Ph.D., & Kathleen Palm Reed, Ph.D.