Thompson Rivers University

Navigating consent in the digital age

May 13, 2021

The use of dating apps/sites comes with access to potential partners outside of your social circle, but it also comes along with inherent risks.

As technology has evolved, so too has the way we navigate romantic relationships. From the development of the first dating website in 1994 to the many iterations of now-ubiquitous swipe-based dating apps, our intimate relationships are often being generated on an online platform. With engagement adapting to 2D platforms, conversations around the nuances of consent, digital consent and healthy boundaries are being reimagined and re-evaluated.

Conversations about digital consent, boundaries and safety are, unfortunately, often taking place after the fact. Just like in face-to-face relationships, digital consent doesn’t have to be complicated. Ask for clearance before sending a picture or sexting. Consent doesn’t always have to be exclusively related to sex and romance either; it’s about speaking up, checking in and ensuring that someone is comfortable, able and willing to participate in an interaction or activity. Setting and respecting healthy boundaries in all relationships and encouraging an open dialogue about consent or comfort zones can help change the collective attitude online.

Dating apps provide wider access to a more diverse population of potential matches, so while there’s a promise of variety and convenience, there’s also a need for caution and accountability in how they are used. Online communication has anonymity rooted in its design. Engagement in online interactions can result in a lack of inhibition and accountability, creating conditions for trolling, catfishing, harassing, stalking and sharing of unwanted sexualized images.

While some online spaces may not be adequately regulated, you can do your part to stay safe:

  • Ask for consent openly and continuously; consent is enthusiastic, voluntary and retractable
  • If you feel safe to do so, speak up about harmful behaviour you see
  • Set clear boundaries and expectations for the relationship; ask about and respect others’ boundaries
  • Learn how to ground yourself if you get triggered or overwhelmed
  • Familiarize yourself with the safety features of any site or app you use
  • Be aware of the risks when communicating online
  • Check if your potential partner has other social media accounts that match their dating profile
  • Do not share sexual images that others have consensually sent you
  • Email for nonjudgmental support

When it comes to managing and/or problem-solving all of the intricacies involved in online relationships, there are many supports and services available on campus. In addition to providing resources and support to victims and survivors, Sexualized Violence Prevention and Response develops and delivers educational and prevention-based programming to campus and community partnerships. SVPR also plays a key role in supporting the ongoing implementation of TRU’s Sexualized Violence policy, which identifies online violence as violence. It’s not acceptable, and it can be reported and investigated.  

You are not alone. For more information or support, reach out to the SVPR office. Schedule an appointment by emailing

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