Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol. 1, August 10, 1998


Consent for sexual behavior in a college student population

David S. Hall, Ph.D.

This study looks at the specifics of consent for sexual behavior of heterosexual college students. It describes the sequence of behaviors during an encounter where both partners wanted to engage in sexual intercourse or other intimate sexual behavior, and said yes and meant yes. It also describes situations wherein individuals used "token resistance", that is, they said no when they really meant yes. There were no studies found that examined consent for any sexual behavior except for intercourse in the context of date/acquaintance rape. Token resistance has been studied for rates of occurrence, but not for the effects it has on an encounter. A questionnaire was used to collect the data with assurance of anonymity. The questionnaire was completed by 264 female and 158 male college students from an ethnically diverse population in Northern California during 1994. Results, based on the 192 female and 118 male participants who reported encounters where they said yes and meant yes, indicate that the participants were involved in very diverse sequences of behaviors, but they fell into general patterns for men and women. Consent was given both verbally and/or nonverbally for each of the behaviors some of the time, but much sexual activity proceeds without specific permission. More permission was given nonverbally, and more consent was given by males than females. Participants' feelings after the encounter became significantly more positive with increasing experience level with the partner. Permission giving did not significantly change with experience level. Token resistance happens in relationships with all levels of experience, and slightly more often by males. It has the effect of reducing the overall level of sexual activity and having a less positive feeling after the encounter. There were significant sex differences in the reasons given for using token resistance.

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