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

22 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 (US)
Pages (from-to)315-328
Number of pages14
JournalPsychology and Sexuality
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Sexual consent
  • sexual agency
  • sexual trauma


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