Sexual violence is a problem on college campuses across that United States. In the past few years, federal and state legislation has been drafted in order to address campus sexual violence. A main feature of this legislation addresses an important communicative construct related to students’ sexual behavior: sexual consent. Colleges and universities are adopting an affirmative-standard of consent, which emphasizes that consent for sexual activity be communicated verbally or via unambiguous actions, mutual, voluntary, enthusiastic, and ongoing throughout the sexual encounter. Literature has explored how college students communicate and interpret sexual consent, but antecedents to sexual consent behaviors, particularly affirmative consent, are largely unknown.
The current investigation seeks to longitudinally explore the antecedents to college students’ affirmative sexual consent behaviors (i.e., nonverbal, initiating, verbal). Using the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) as a theoretical framework, hypotheses predicted that at Time 1 (T1) attitudes, norms, and perceived behavioral control would positively and significantly predict students’ (T1) intentions to communicate affirmative consent to their partner. Then, it was predicted that at Time 2 (T2)—thirty days later—intentions to communicate consent from T1 would positively and significantly predict college students’ communication of affirmative consent to their partner during their most recent sexual encounter. The final matched (i.e., completed T1 and T2 surveys) sample included two hundred twenty-five (N = 225) college students who had engaged in sexual activity during the 30 days between survey distributions. Results from the path analyses support the theoretically driven hypotheses for all three affirmative consent behaviors, and demonstrate that subjective norms and perceived control are important and strong determinants of students’ communication of affirmative sexual consent. Furthermore, multi-group invariance tested the potential moderating effects of three individual, two dyadic, and two environmental/contextual variables on the strength of path coefficients between TPB constructs for all three sexual consent behaviors. Only individual and environmental/contextual variables significantly moderated relationships within the TPB for the three models. Results are discussed with regard to theoretical implications as well as practical implications for university health educators and other health professionals. Additionally, limitations and future directions are noted.