Sexual activity typically follows an implicit sexual script or a normative sequence of behaviours that are involved in a sexual interaction. It is unclear whether or how affirmative sexual consent is incorporated in individual sexual scripts and interactions. The current research explores how sexual consent may be expressed and verified as part of individuals' sexual interactions. Undergraduate participants from an Ontario university (N = 92; 58 males, 34 females) completed a series of open-ended questions that asked them to describe their sexual experiences with a new and long-term partner from beginning to end. Analysis of presence of consent-related behaviours in participants' accounts were assessed on the basis of a priori themes and extensions of these themes. Thematic analyses identified the following themes: 1) Sex proceeding with escalating intensity of nonverbal sexual behaviour, 2) Passive behaviours that do not indicate unwillingness to have sex, 3) Indirect verbal communication of interest in sex, 4) Indications that sex "just happened," 5) Descriptions of the context in which sex occurred, and 6) Direct discussions relevant to sexual consent. Results indicated that direct discussion of sexual consent was exceedingly rare and that most sexual interactions included indirect, veiled, and coded behaviours that require inference of sexual consent or non-consent. Consent-related themes varied as a function of both participant gender (male versus female) and nature of relationship (new versus long-term). The findings of this study have implications for sexual health education, sexual assault prevention interventions, and public policy development.


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pp. 248-260
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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