Date of Award

Summer 8-8-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sarah L. Cook

Second Advisor

Lisa Armistead

Third Advisor

Dominic Parrott

Fourth Advisor

Laura Salazar

Fifth Advisor

Sharon Smith


The high prevalence of sexual violence warrants continued research into its prevention. Understanding consensual sexual experiences holds promise for sexual violence prevention; however, sexual consent is a surprisingly understudied phenomenon. Existing research focuses on the tactics used to coerce consent and the ways in which college students initiate and indicate consent. Research that begins to articulate a theory of consent may help engineer situations antithetical to sexually violent experiences. This study is a first step toward that objective. This paper presents findings from an exploratory research study on college students’ conceptualizations of sexual consent. The purpose of this study was twofold: To investigate how college students define consent and to understand how context influences the consent process. To explore these research questions, quantitative and qualitative data were collected using Q methodology. Exploratory factor analysis revealed two groups of college students who conceptualize consent differently. One group focuses on the importance of consent to rape prevention, the other to healthy sexuality promotion. Qualitative interview data suggest contextual variables such as definition of consent and relationship type influence consent to a lesser extent than alcohol use, personal sexual experience, discrepant levels of sexual experience between partners, and feelings for a potential sexual partner. Results support replacing the current model of consent, in which consent is a contractual obligation between sexual partners, with one of sexual communication, where consent is woven into a broader conversation about healthy sexuality. The strengths and limitations of doing so are discussed and directions for future intervention research are presented.

Included in

Psychology Commons