Sexual consent and sexual agency of women in healthy relationships following a history of sexual trauma

Kristen P. Mark, Laura M. Vowels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Sexual consent is a crucial component of any healthy sexual relationship. Women who have experienced sexual trauma are uniquely positioned to provide insight into sexual consent given that they have lived through sexual violence in the form of non-consensual sex and can reflect upon the importance of consent. Forty-one women completed an in-depth semi-structured phone interview and their responses were analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis. The analytic process resulted in the identification of nine themes in total; three related to consent in their current relationship and six related to the communication of needs and wants. Participants were divided between consent within their relationship as 1) explicit; 2) non-explicit; and 3) evolving. In their experience of feeling empowered to voice their needs and wants, participants indicated this to be 1) evolving; 2) requiring vulnerability and safety; 3) a non-negotiable requirement; 4) inherently interpersonal; 5) something that takes work; and 6) involves echoes of shame and trauma. These results highlight the complicated nature of negotiating consent and finding sexual agency. They also provide unique insight into consent and agency in a sample of women who have experienced sexual violence and have shown resilience in their pursuit of a healthy relationship post-sexual trauma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-328
Number of pages14
JournalPsychology and Sexuality
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Sexual consent
  • sexual agency
  • sexual trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Applied Psychology


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