Yes Means Yes: Student's Guide to Dating and Sexual Consent

During one's years in high school, there is often a heightened interest in things like dating. This interest is typically accompanied by a curiosity about and overall interest in sex, particularly as students transition toward college. Sex is a topic and an activity that should not be taken lightly, as it isn't always a welcome or pleasurable experience for every individual. In fact, it can become an act that is degrading and painful. Sexual assault is a problem for both women and men. In efforts to reduce the number of sexual assault cases, there are rules that people, including teens, must understand and follow before they ever touch someone in a sexual manner. Even students who have no current plans for sexual activity should be aware of these rules. Failure to understand rules about dating and sexual consent can lead to misunderstandings, rape or sexual assault, and even arrest.

What is Consent?

When it comes to sex between two people, consent is crucial. Although it may seem straightforward, consent in terms of sexual intercourse may be confusing to some. It involves both parties openly discussing and giving unequivocal verbal permission to proceed in a sexual manner. Both parties should be clear about their intentions before initiating any form of sexual contact, from touching to penetration. One should never assume that consent is given. In addition, if a person is pressured or harassed into engaging in sexual intercourse, it is not considered consent. Consent is given as an affirmative and clearly stated "yes".

What is Sexual Assault?

When a person has sexual interaction with another person (or persons) without their consent it is considered sexual assault. This includes pressuring or coercing individuals into sexual activity by either verbal or physical means. Sexual assault also includes sexual exploitation in addition to unwanted sexual contact such as fondling and penetration. It is, in general, an umbrella term that also includes rape. Obscene phone calls and voyeurism are also forms of sexual assault. Both men and women, children and adults, can be victims of sexual assault.

What are Personal Boundaries and Why is it Important to Communicate Them?

When people are dating or in some other form of personal relationship, it is important that they set personal boundaries. Personal boundaries are healthy limits that a person sets between themselves and another person to ensure their comfort in a relationship or situation. These may be boundaries in terms of sex or other physical interaction, or they may be boundaries in terms of time spent together, privacy, or behaviors that are and are not acceptable. It is important for couples to discuss boundaries as it helps them to better understand each other's wants, needs, and limits more fully. When personal boundaries are discussed, the risk of unintentional misunderstandings are reduced. Healthy boundaries should make a person feel as if they are their own person and in charge of their own happiness.

What are the Dangers of Drugs and Alcohol in Relation to Consent?

Drugs and alcohol have the ability to impair a person's mood, behavior, and how they perceive the world around them. Both alcohol and drugs can cloud one's judgment and cause them to do or say things that, under normal circumstances, they would not do. In addition, a person who is in a drugged state may not be fully conscious of their actions, or fully conscious in general. In this state, a person cannot give consent. If sex or sexual contact occurs when a person is intoxicated and that person later feels violated, the person who instigated or actively pursued the sexual activity may be found guilty of sexual assault. If there is any question as to whether or not a person is drunk or on drugs, it is important to avoid any sexual contact, even if the couple in question is dating.

What to do if Someone is not Respecting Your Boundaries

When establishing boundaries, it's important to have a clear course of action or consequence that will take place if the boundary is not respected. This must be an action that one is willing and prepared to take if necessary. For example, a person might choose to separate themselves from the individual who has chosen to ignore the boundaries that are set. This separation could be for an hour, a day, a week, or longer. In the event that one's personal boundaries are violated, and proper notice was given, one should follow through on the stated consequences. This is an important step that will either reinforce the seriousness of the boundaries that have been set, or make them appear to be false threats that aren't to be taken seriously.

What to do if Consent Has Been Breached

If a person's refusal to give consent is ignored, and any form of sexual contact has been initiated, it can be considered sexual assault. Regardless of the type of sexual assault or contact, a teen should contact his or her parents or legal guardian and the authorities as soon as possible. If a rape has occurred, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. One should not change their clothing, shower, brush their teeth, or clean up in any way that might remove physical evidence or DNA.

  • Healthy Relationships: What is Consent?: Visitors to this Love is Respect page are given an explanation of what consent looks like. The page goes over how it works and what red flags indicate one's partner does not respect consent.
  • Consent is Sexy: This UGA Health Center link describes what consent is and how one knows if consent is given. It also explains why consent is sexy.
  • Consent: On this page about sexual assault and violence on the University of Vassar website, students can read up on what consent should be and what it is not. The page also discusses under what circumstances a person cannot legally give consent and reviews consent when under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
  • Consent and Consensual Sex: Click on this link to read about what consent is, how to determine consent, why it is important to talk to one's partner, and what to do if one person is unable to give consent.
  • Sexual Assault Facts: Open this link to review statistics regarding sexual assault. The statistics include the percentage of women who are victims of sexual assault and the percentage of men who are victims. Other statistics include the overall number of sexual assault cases that occur annually and the number of assaults that are committed by acquaintances.
  • What is Sexual Assault: Students or anyone interested in learning more about sexual assault should click this link to read its definition. Other information on this page helps the reader to better understand consent and how drugs and alcohol can be involved in sexual assault.
  • Sexual Assault: This article on sexual assault appears on the website for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. The article explains sexual assault, rape, and force. The article also reviews common perpetrators.
  • Crime Victim Resources - What is Sexual Assault?: The information on this page outlines the different actions that are considered sexual assault. Common effects of sexual assault and what to do if someone is assaulted are also discussed on this page.
  • Department of Justice - What is Sexual Assault: On this page, visitors will find the Department of Justice definition for sexual assault.
  • Boundaries Defined: Students should click on this article to better understand boundaries and what they mean in relationships. The article also gives an example of healthy and unhealthy boundaries.
  • How to Create Healthy Boundaries (PDF): Open this page to learn about boundaries in a relationship and how to set them. The topic of barriers to setting up boundaries is also covered.
  • Tips to Setting Healthy Boundaries in Relationships (PDF): Click on this link to read ways to set healthy boundaries and how to communicate in an effective manner.
  • Alcohol and Consent: This link answers important questions that students may have regarding sex, consent, and alcohol.
  • Alcohol & Consent: Students can learn more about consent and alcohol by clicking on this link. The article explains what can happen if sex occurs when one party is intoxicated. In addition, the page also describes signs of intoxication.
  • Alcohol, Drugs & Sexual Assault: Open this link to read about how alcohol impairs a person, signs of intoxication, signs of being drugged, and drug-facilitated sexual assault.
  • George Mason University - Consent: Read about what consent is by clicking on this link to the George Mason University website. Readers will also find out when they do and do not have it.
  • Alcohol and Drugs and Non-Consensual Sex: This article on alcohol and consent contains valuable information for any reader with questions on the topic.
  • Alcohol and Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault (PDF): Click on this link to open up this document on substance abuse and sexual assault. By clicking on the link, students can read about choices they may make if they feel they've been drugged and what signs to look for.
  • Ohio University - Consent: Explore what consent and coercion are by clicking on this link to the Ohio University site. In addition, students may also read about how drugs and alcohol affect their ability to say no.
  • Healthy Relationships: Students who are dating or want to date can discover what makes a healthy relationship by clicking on this link. There are also two quizzes to determine whether one is currently in a healthy relationship. The article also discusses boundaries and covers traits that are associated with healthy boundaries
  • Boundaries: On this page, students can read about how to set boundaries and how to enforce them. The page explains why enforcing boundaries is important and provides activities that can help people become more comfortable setting and enforcing boundaries.
  • Boundaries and Communication (PDF): Open this document to read more about boundaries in a relationship. Topics on this page include signs of healthy boundaries and tips on how to communicate.
  • Healthy Boundaries: Click on this link for two checklists on boundaries. The first checklist is for when one gives up boundaries in a relationship. The second checklist is for when there are healthy boundaries intact.
  • Related Definitions - Consent: This is a good page for students to read up on the definition of consent as it relates to relationships. Further down the page students may also read the definitions of force, coercion, incapacitation, and alcohol and other drugs.
  • How Does Alcohol Affect One's Ability to Give Consent: This link opens to a section of an article that explains how alcohol affects one's judgment and ability to give consent. It also briefly explains how to tell if someone may be intoxicated. On the page, students may also read about drugs and consent and why consent is important.

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