Defining Consent

Sexual activity requires consent, which is defined as voluntary, positive agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.

Communicating consent:

  • Consent to sexual activity can be communicated in a variety of ways, but one should presume that consent has not been given in the absence of clear, positive agreement.
  • While verbal consent is not an absolute requirement for consensual sexual activity, verbal communication prior to engaging in sex helps to clarify consent. Communicating verbally before engaging in sexual activity is imperative. However potentially awkward it may seem, talking about your own and your partner's sexual desires, needs, and limitations provides a basis for a positive experience.
  • Consent must be clear and unambiguous for each participant at every stage of a sexual encounter. The absence of "no" should not be understood to mean there is consent.
  • A prior relationship does not indicate consent to future activity.
Alcohol and drugs:
  • A person who is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent.
  • The use of alcohol or drugs may seriously interfere with the participants' judgment about whether consent has been sought and given.
According to Northwestern’s Student Handbook, “The use of alcohol and/or drugs by one or more of the parties involved will not be considered a mitigating factor in cases of alleged sexual assault. In fact, such use may be considered as an aggravating factor if the effect of such use is deemed to have made the complaining party incapable of giving consent.”