Consent to engage in sexual activity must be knowing and voluntary; it must exist from the beginning to the 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.
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.
Guidance for assessing consent:
- Prior to initiating any sexual activity, the person(s) initiating and/or continuing the sexual activity is expected to obtain consent. If at any time during the sexual activity, any confusion or ambiguity arises, individuals should pause and seek clarification regarding consent. Consent to one form of sexual activity does not constitute consent to engage in all forms of sexual activity.
- 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 should not be inferred solely from silence, passivity, lack of resistance, or lack of an active response alone. A person who does not physically resist or verbally refuse sexual activity is not necessarily giving consent.
- Consent to previous sexual activity and/or in the context of an intimate relationship does not presume consent is given in any subsequent sexual encounter.
- 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.
- Consent cannot be obtained from an individual who is physically incapacitated. Learn more about incapacitation.
- 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 fewer than four (4) years older than the minor. See more information about age of consent.