Optional or Obligatory? Exploring Undergraduate University Students‘ Attitudes, Opinions, and Beliefs Around Verbal Sexual Consent


  • Brittany A Matchett Dalhousie University
  • Matthew S Numer Dalhousie University




Introduction: For the last 20 years, sexual assault on university campuses has occurred at epidemic levels. This may be caused by undergraduate students primarily using non-verbal cues to communicate sexual consent, despite high levels of miscommunication and misinterpretation. Explicit, verbalized consent is known to lead to fewer misinterpretations of consent; however, less is known about students‘ beliefs around verbal consent. Objectives: To explore Canadian undergraduate students‘ attitudes, opinions, and beliefs around verbal consent, and to investigate whether students believe verbal consent is always required during sexual encounters. Methods: This study used a qualitative description approach. Data was collected from 31 Canadian undergraduate students in a Human Sexuality course through an open-ended question embedded in an interactive course textbook. Students‘ responses were analyzed using thematic analysis. Results: Many complexities exist in undergraduate students‘ attitudes, opinions, and beliefs around verbal consent. Four major themes emerged from the data centring on familiarity, socio-cultural norms, reliance on non-verbal cues, and acknowledgement of the importance of verbal consent. Conclusion: The majority of participants believed that verbal consent was not required in all sexual encounters. Partner familiarity was a significant factor in using verbal consent. Social norms such as verbal consent being viewed as awkward or embarrassing were key barriers to students‘ use. Verbal consent was viewed as an ideal, while non-verbal consent was viewed as realistic. 


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