Consent and Coercion
Sexual behavior can be any activity that expresses sexuality or leads to sexual arousal; people define “sex” in different ways. This may include: kissing; sexual touching; vaginal, oral, or anal sex; fingering, hand jobs, or masturbation.
What is consent?
Consent is the voluntary agreement to a specific activity. If one person doesn’t agree to the activity, there is no consent. For sex and sexual behavior, each person must agree to each activity. Consent cannot be given freely if someone is being pressured, coerced, or forced to participate in sexual activity. Also, if someone’s ability to make decisions is impaired (for example, by drugs/alcohol or if they are sleeping), they cannot consent. Consent is needed no matter your relationship status, how long you’ve been together, or whether you have done a specific activity together in the past.
There are several ways to make sure that there is consent between you and your partners. Here are a few:
Be clear about being on the “same page” as your partners. You can ask, “Is there anything you don’t want to do,” “Do you want to go further,” “Should I keep going,” “Are you good,” or “Do you want to stop?”
If, through words or body language, your partner seems hesitant, unsure, or scared, don’t try to force them. Stop, and then check in with clear and supportive language.
It’s okay to ask questions about what does or doesn’t feel good during sexual activity. Open communication is essential. Don’t assume silence is consent.
Get consent for every sexual act. For example, consenting to kissing doesn’t mean someone is consenting to anything else.
Just because your partner said yes in the past doesn’t mean they will say yes to similar activities in the future. Get consent every time.
If your partner is drinking or using any kind of drug, know that they may not be able to consent to sexual activity. If you’re at all unsure, don’t try to have sex.
If you’re being sexual in any way, and another participant asks you to slow down or stop, then STOP.
Here are some things to consider when thinking about if and how you will give consent:
You should feel comfortable with your decision to engage in sexual behaviors. You should not feel like you’re doing it because someone talked you into it or forced you.
You have the right to communicate, clearly and honestly, what you want and what feels good or doesn’t feel good to you.
You should feel comfortable bringing up reproductive health (birth control) and safer sex practices.
You have the right to consent or not consent to each sexual act, even if you’ve been sexual with the person or done this specific thing (even many times) before.
It’s okay to say “Stop” at any point, even if you’ve started.
If you’re fine with an activity, you can say things like, “I like it when you…” “Can we try…” “What if you tried it this way…” or “That feels good.”
Sexual assault can take many forms:
Unwanted grabbing, touching or humping someone in a sexual manner
Coercing someone into performing sex or sexual acts
Having a partner keep going after you’ve asked them to slow down or stop
Forcing someone to watch a sexual act or engage in sexual acts with other people
Taking or sharing sexual photos/videos without consent
Trying to manipulate or control decisions about using birth control
Misrepresenting their use of contraception (e.g. saying they used a condom when they did not, or removing a condom and not telling their partner)
Committing statutory rape
Everyone reacts differently to sexual assault, but if you have been sexually assaulted, you may feel:
Headaches, nausea and general physical aches and pains
Calm or tired
Random moments of fear
Restless, sleepless, or you may have nightmares
Depressed, unable to concentrate
Ashamed, dirty, or at fault
All of these feelings are normal responses to a traumatic event. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault.
What can I do if I have just been sexually assaulted?
Talk to someone you trust and feel safe with
Go to a medical facility to receive any or all of the following: testing for sexually transmitted infection and pregnancy morning after pill/Plan B pill, evidence gathering an advocate that can sit with you and support you, referrals for future support.
Consider reporting to your school or work if the assault happened there.
Call 911, the NYPD Special Victims Report Line at 212.267.RAPE (7273), or a rape crisis hotline such as Safe Horizon’s 24 hour Rape Crisis/Sexual Abuse Hotline at 212.227.3000.
If you have any questions, call Day One at 800.214.4150 to speak confidentially with a lawyer or counselor.
*Note on age of consent and statutory rape:
In New York State, the minimum age at which an individual can consent to sexual activity is 17 years old. A number of exceptions can apply depending on the ages of people engaged in sexual activities. Statutory rape laws determine what young people of different ages can consent to sexually. If you are 24 years old or younger, call Day One at 800.214.4150 to speak confidentially with a counselor or lawyer about your options.