What is Consent?

Consent to engage in sexual activity must be informed, knowing and voluntary; consent must exist from the beginning to end of each instance of sexual activity and for each form of sexual contact. Consent is demonstrated through mutually understandable words and/or actions that clearly indicate a willingness to engage freely in sexual activity. Consent is active, not passive.

Guidance for Consent:

  • Prior to initiating a sexual encounter, one is expected to obtain consent to each act of sexual activity prior to initiating such activity. Consent to one form of sexual activity does not constitute consent to engage in all forms of sexual activity.

  • Either Party may withdraw consent at any time. Withdrawal of consent should be outwardly demonstrated by words or actions that clearly indicate a desire to end sexual activity. Once withdrawal of consent has been expressed, sexual activity must cease.

  • Consent consists of an outward demonstration indicating that an individual has freely chosen to engage in sexual activity. Relying on non-verbal communication can lead to misunderstandings. Consent may not be inferred from silence, passivity, lack of resistance, or lack of an active response alone. A person who does not physically resist or orally refuse sexual activity is not necessarily giving consent.

  • When consent is requested orally, absence of any explicit oral response constitutes lack of consent. An oral “no” constitutes lack of consent, even if it sounds insincere or indecisive.

  • If at any time during the sexual activity, any confusion or ambiguity arises as to the willingness of the other individual to proceed, both Parties should stop and clarify orally the other’s willingness to continue before continuing such activity.

  • Individuals with a previous or current intimate relationship do not automatically give either initial or continued consent to sexual activity. Even in the context of a relationship, there must be mutually understandable communication that clearly indicates a willingness to engage in each sexual activity.

  • Consent to engage in sexual activity with one person does not imply consent to engage in sexual activity with another person.

  • Consent is not effective if it results from the use or threat of physical force, intimidation, or coercion, or any other factor that would eliminate an individual’s ability to exercise their own free will to choose whether or not to have sexual contact.

  • An individual who is physically incapacitated from alcohol or other drug consumption (voluntarily or involuntarily) or is asleep, unconscious, unaware, or otherwise physically helpless is considered unable to give consent.

  • In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the age of majority is 18. Under state law, consent cannot be given by minors under the age of 13 and can only be given by a minor under the age of 16, if the other Party is less than four (4) years older than the minor.