Bodily Autonomy

Learn more about Bodily Autonomy

Bodily autonomy is defined as the right to self governance over one’s own body without external influence or coercion. It is generally considered to be a fundamental human right. Bodily autonomy relates to the concept of affirmative consent, which requires full and eager participation in any sexual encounter. Bodily autonomy is also applicable to each individual’s right to choose family planning options. Additionally, bodily autonomy is central to the formation of laws regarding privacy, abortion, medical treatment, and education.


Consent is an agreement between two or more individuals to partake in a specified activity. Consent does not have to be sexual but it does have to be voluntary, without outside forces or manipulations. Consent can be as easily revoked as it can be granted. Below will describe the difference between negative and affirmative consent.

“Yes Means Yes”

Bodily autonomy and consent mean that people have complete control over their own bodies, including the right to choose who they engage in sexual activity with what actions they want to participate in. Taking this into account, affirmative consent is a new model for deciding when sexual assault takes place and is the new legal standard for consent on many university campuses. Unlike the previous standard of “no means no,” which required a negative reaction as the indicator of non-consensual behavior, the affirmative consent model relies on positive affirmations to confirm that actions are wanted.1 Affirmative consent is a voluntary, ongoing, mutual decision between partners. It reinforces that silence or a lack of resistance do not equate a “yes.” Below are a list of scenarios that do not demonstrate affirmative consent:

  • If one is coerced, intimidated, forced, or threatened into a sexual situation.

  • If sex is initially consensual but a partner changes their mind.

  • If a person is incapacitated, unconscious, inebriated, asleep, or in any way unable to give consent.

  • If a person is below the age of consent.

  • If a person is silent or gives a neutral response, such as a shrug.

“Bodily autonomy means a person has control over who or what uses their body, for what, and for how long.”

Hannah Goff


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