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What is Affirmative Consent?

Guest Blog Post by Katie Mitchell

The concept of affirmative consent has its roots at a small college in Ohio. In 1990, a
group of students, concerned about the frequency of sexual assault on campus, created
a campaign that ultimately resulted in a document called Sexual Offense Prevention
Policy. This policy clearly defined affirmative consent and became a model for future
sexual consent policies and conversations.


Many sexual health curricula position one romantic partner as the sexual aggressor and
the other partner as the victim of ongoing sexual pressure. While this scenario is all too
real, it’s not the sum total of the many nuanced encounters people have with one
another. Consent cannot be boiled down to one person establishing their limits and
defending themselves when someone tries to violate those limits. Consent is a
responsibility shared equally between both people in a relationship, an ongoing process
of communicating and respecting limits, learning not to pressure each other, and talking
openly and honestly about sexual health history, personal wants and needs, and
comfort levels. Consent takes practice, and that’s why we advocate talking to youth
early about peer pressure and sexual consent.


What is Affirmative Consent?
Affirmative consent means that both people clearly and freely agree to engage in sexual
activity. They have to be awake, aware, and able to make decisions. Consent can be
given through words or actions, as long as those words or actions clearly communicate
willingness and permission. Consent must be ongoing and can be withdrawn at any
time.


Here’s how Antioch College in Ohio defines Affirmative Consent in their policy:
● The person who initiates sexual conduct is responsible for verbally asking for the
affirmative consent of the individual(s) involved.
● The person with whom sexual conduct is initiated must verbally express
affirmative consent or lack of “consent.”
● Each new level of sexual activity requires affirmative consent.
● Use of agreed upon forms of communication such as gestures or safe words is
acceptable but must be discussed and verbally agreed to by all parties before
sexual activity occurs.
● Affirmative Consent is required regardless of the parties’ relationship, prior
sexual history, or current activity (e.g. grinding on the dance floor is not consent
for further sexual activity).
● In order for affirmative consent to be valid, all parties must have unimpaired
judgment and a shared understanding of the nature of the act to which they are
consenting, including the use of safer sex practices.

● A person cannot give affirmative consent while sleeping.
● Silence conveys a lack of affirmative consent.
● At any and all times when affirmative consent is withdrawn or not explicitly
agreed to, the sexual activity must stop immediately.
● All parties must disclose personal risk factors and known STIs.
~ from https://antiochcollege.edu/campus-life/sexual-offense-prevention-policy-title-ix/

How should I talk to my child about this?
Here’s a simple explanation you can use or adapt to suit your style:
Before having any sexual contact with another person, both people must give their
consent, or permission. There can be confusion about what consent is and what it is
not. It’s simple, really. “Affirmative” consent means that a person clearly says “yes”
when asked if they want to do something sexual. If you don’t know you have your
partner’s consent because their “yes” is not clear, then you don’t have their consent.
Consent is enthusiastic, ongoing, and unpressured. Consent can be reversed at any
time. All people have the right to stop any sexual encounter at any time, for any reason.
It is not fair, respectful, or appropriate to keep pressuring someone after they have
decided to stop.


Asking your partner for consent is easy: state what you want to do, ask if they want to
do that, too, and respect their answer.


This means Yes
● Saying “Yes”
● Clear, positive body language


This means NO
Saying any of these things:
● “No”
● “Stop”
● “Ummmm”
● “I’m not ready”
● “I dont know”
● “I’m not sure”
● “Not right now”
● Silence also means no, until you ask and they say “Yes!”

● Unclear or negative body language
There are laws about who’s able to consent. If the person you’re with is…
● Drunk or high
● Asleep or passed out
● Below the legal age of consent or much younger than you
● Disabled in a way that affects their ability to understand you


…then they can’t consent, and it’s not okay for you to do anything sexual with them.
If we want young people to understand and respect their own boundaries and the
boundaries of other people, then it’s important for them to learn about affirmative
consent.


This blog post was contributed by Katie Mitchell of SexEdVA, a division of James
Madison University working to support sexual health education, family life programming,
and positive youth development across Virginia. To inquire about partnering with them
or to find out more, visit http://www.sexedva.org or email them at jmuarp@jmu.edu.

This publication was made possible by Grant Number TP1AH000215 from the HHS
Office of Population Affairs. Contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do
not necessarily represent the official views of the Department of Health and Human
Services or the Office of Population Affairs.

Published by Anchoring Hope

We are a small collective of counselors dedicated to distributing helpful, relatable content directly to your device! We also provide counseling services to those in Virginia & an anxiety training that can be accessed around the globe!

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