Explaining consent at UT

What does consent mean? 

If consent is not involved in your sexual activities, it becomes sexual violence. There is no room for interpretation or assumptions or misunderstandings.

Communication about sexual activity can’t afford to be vague. But the intricacies of consent can be hard to understand. The consequences of misunderstanding can be irreversible, unacceptable and detrimental to those involved. 

Our bodies are ours and no one else’s. Participating in sexual activities means sharing your body with someone else — with permission. Everyone deserves to choose when that permission is given. And a solid understanding of what means yes, what means no and what those words mean is essential.

Consent is defined by the University as a voluntary, mutually understandable agreement. They say consent must be clearly indicated and that the willingness to engage in sexual activity must be freely communicated with each instance and without any incapacitation.

In short, choice of clothing, level of intoxication, ability to communicate and sexual history should not be used as excuses to assume consent. Consent is simple, and if it isn’t given or if it is rescinded at any time, no sexual activity is acceptable.

Violations of consent are enforced by UT’s policy, as well as by federal, state and local laws. If violated and reported, there are serious consequences for engaging in sexual activity without mutual, voluntary and clear consent.

Consent in practice 

In practice, consent can seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Before engaging in sexual activity, talk to your partner. This might seem awkward or un- comfortable, but discussing sexual activity is key to getting consent.

When you’re unsure of whether or not you have consent, just ask your partner. Never make assumptions. A quick, affirmative conversation can go a long way toward ensuring that all parties involved are safe. 

Remember that relationships themselves do not signal consent. Just because you are dating someone does not mean they consent to having sex with you every time you want to. Talking honestly with your partner is key here. 

Consent can be revoked at any time. Whether you’re having sex with someone and you’re uncomfortable, or someone you’re having sex with seems uncomfortable, prior consent is not constant. You can stop whenever you want. And you have to stop if your partner wants you to. 

Pay attention to how your potential partner is acting. If at any point they seem uncomfortable or wary or distracted or tense, just ask. All you need to do is ask. 

Also be aware of situations where your partner is incapable of consenting. Someone who feels coerced, or incapacitated by alcohol or drug use cannot give consent. Even if you’re also intoxicated, you must get consent. Being drunk is never a valid excuse for committing acts of sexual violence. 

This is probably the hardest part of the consent guidelines for college students to understand. A lot of college social life — especially dating and sex — includes alcohol, and understanding the line here can be complicated. 

A rule of thumb for this: If you wouldn’t let someone drive themself home, don’t have sex with them. 

Learn more 

If you’re still confused, UT’s Voices Against Violence offers comprehensive violence prevention and response programs. Use these services — a lack of understanding can seriously harm your partner, and the consequences on nonconsensual sex can follow both participants the rest of their lives.

Pursue a solid understanding of what consent means, and plan for situations where your understanding may be tested. If you’re not mature enough to ask for consent or don’t understand the severity of the situation, you should not be having sex.