Alcohol and consent

consent photo
Keep it respectful and consensual.

Consent starts with a conversation… about alcohol.

Most disclosures of sexualized violence by University students involves the use of alcohol or other substances. This does not mean that alcohol causes sexualized violence but it does mean that alcohol and other substances complicate and make some interactions more difficult to navigate. It can also make those interactions more risky in that they could more easily lead to sexualized violence.

Alcohol tends to lower people's inhibitions which can lead to acting in ways that reflect unconscious biases and/or harmful attitudes and beliefs. Sexualized violence is rooted in societal attitudes and beliefs that are sexist, racist, homophobic, ageist, abelist, transphobic, and/or xenophobic in nature.

What you need to know

When we consume alcohol, our ability to talk about consent and pick up on verbal and non-verbal consent cues changes. If you choose to drink alcohol while hanging out, hooking up, and/or dating, you need to be aware of, and sensitive to, consent cues. This is the responsibility of anyone initiating sexualized contact or activity.

Consent cues are verbal and non-verbal signals that let you know whether someone else is comfortable with what is going on. It is important to be aware of consent cues because not everyone is comfortable explicitly saying “Yes!” or “NO” when they are asked a direct question.

Clear communication is a key ingredient when it comes to intimacy, pleasure and safety, so consider these four things  when you and others are drinking alcohol and asking for consent:

  1. Do you know how someone communicates when they are sober? If not, you won’t know if they are too intoxicated to consent. If you are unsure, always assume the person might be, and stop what you are doing. Otherwise, you risk causing harm.
  2. Your ability to pick up on consent cues decreases the more you drink alcohol. This means you might misread someone’s intentions, or worse, you might cause harm.
  3. Consent is an ongoing conversation. You need consent for every aspect of your interactions with others - from asking them out, to where they want to go, to if you can kiss them or spend the night with them.
  4. Anyone who is incapacitated – slurring, swaying, stumbling, not making sense, unable to hold their head up or passed out – is unable to consent. Period.

Cues that there is no consent and you should STOP!

Verbal cues can sound like:

  • I don’t know.
  • I’m not sure how I feel …
  • I’ve never really done that …
  • Ummm, maybe, ok I guess …
  • I didn’t like that last time …
  • NO, that’s not ok, not cool.
  • Stop, quit, get off me, get out of here …
  • I don’t want to do this any more.
  • That hurts.
  • I need a break.

Non-verbal cues can look like:

  • Unresponsive or silent
  • Seems distracted
  • Becomes rigid or tenses up
  • Sharp and sudden deep breath
  • Sudden changes – no longer making eye contact
  • Avoiding eye contacting or looking away
  • Pushing someone away
  • Avoiding touch or moving away
  • Crying, looking sad/fearful, shaking head no
  • Freezing, or just laying there

Cues that you can KEEP GOING!

Verbal cues can sound like:

  • Yes!, I’m sure, I want to …
  • I want you/to …
  • That feels good.
  • Keep going/doing that.
  • I am so into you/that.

Non-verbal cues can look like:

  • Direct eye contact
  • Reciprocal sexual acts, pulling someone closer
  • Nodding yes
  • Laughter or smiling paired with other cues
  • Relaxed, open body language