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Cougar Health Services sexual health

Consent and sex: What you need to know

Close up to two peoples' shoes

College students around the country have lots of questions about consent and sex. So let’s talk about it. WSU has a specific definition of consent when it comes to sexual activity: it must be clear, knowing, and voluntary. Consent is important because it involves giving and getting permission. This ensures both people feel comfortable and makes the experience that much better.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to have an awkward conversation that completely ruins the moment or sign a contract to get consent. Getting clear, knowing, voluntary consent is easy. Getting and giving consent is ongoing and involves checking in with your partner both verbally and non-verbally. For example, ask yourself:

  • Do they look happy to be there?
  • Do they say “yes” when you ask if they like what is happening?
  • Do they know what they are consenting to?

Alcohol or drug use can impact the ability to give consent.  When someone is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, they lose the ability to be fully aware of what’s going on around them. If someone doesn’t know what’s going on, then they’re unable to give consent. Ask yourself, “Do I feel comfortable letting this person drive right now?”  If your answer is not a definitive and instant ”yes”, then it’s a good time to step back and assess whether or not that person is able to give consent.

In a nutshell, consent means giving and getting permission to engage in sexual activity.  It means you and your partner both really want to be doing what you’re doing, and you’re both excited about it and enjoy it. Getting and giving consent is about being a good partner and making sure everyone is in agreement.

Want to learn more? Check out this video by sex educator Laci Green entitled, Wanna Have Sex? (Consent 101). (Please note this video includes strong language and sexual content.)


Consent isn’t just for sex

Consent isn't just for sex

Reading about consent is much different than getting or giving consent in a real-life situation. If you’re like most people, it takes practice before you’re comfortable having open conversations with someone about sex.

Giving and getting consent isn’t exclusive to sex. We have many opportunities in day-to-day life to practice setting our own boundaries and respecting other people’s boundaries.

Practice giving consent

Let’s use a non-sex scenario for example. You get an invitation to a party early in the week and you instantly commit to attend. But later on, what sounded like fun a few days ago sounds less appealing today. You might think that if you don’t go, they’ll be annoyed at you or it will hurt their feelings.

Sometimes we might feel bad when we say no, especially when we initially said yes. But, being clear and open about where you stand doesn’t mean you’re being rude or awkward. Remember, you’re the only one who knows what’s best for you – so it’s up to you to protect your needs.

The key is letting the other person know what you do and do not want. Your wants can change, and that’s okay. It’s important for the person on the receiving end to respect your boundaries.

Practice getting consent

Be ready to be respectful of whatever answer you receive when you ask for consent. Let’s go back to the party example, but this time you’re throwing the party.

If you invite a friend to a party and they cancel at the last minute, you might be annoyed. You might have really looked forward to having them there. But you have to be respectful of their decision.

Here are some tips for being respectful when someone else says “no”:

  • Try not to take it personally. There could be more going on in the situation than you know about.
  • Don’t pressure someone to do something they’re not interested in doing.
  • Understand that everyone can change their mind about decisions they make.
  • Remember, people communicate desires and limits in ways beyond words like “yes” and “no”. Body language and facial expressions can also give you indications about how someone is feeling.
  • If you feel like you’re getting mixed messages, don’t hope or assume the other person has consented! Stop and check in with that person to make sure you’re both on the same page about what’s happening.

Consent is simply making sure your boundaries, and the boundaries of others, are respected.

If you’re interested in learning more about consent, you can request a workshop for your group, chapter, residence hall, or department.