A few weeks ago, we discussed the importance of healthy communication, a primer to start talking about a vital aspect of all interactions: consent.
Consent as a concept is so much more than just sexual consent. Non-sexual consent is present in the way we engage socially. First aid courses will tell you that the first step in administering aid is to introduce yourself and ask someone if they will allow you to help. Accepting or refusing a hug or kiss from a family member is an act of consent taught and enforced from early childhood. Asking for consent by requesting a hug or an ear to vent to from friends and loved ones is an act of exchanging consent. “Are you a hugger?” is an active form of asking consent from someone when you meet them. These exchanges are ongoing consent.
Consent is in constant negotiation, which means that once someone has said yes, that does not mean that the ‘yes’ is to be assumed in the future. It can be changed and withdrawn at any time, and that kind of active and ongoing negotiation requires tremendous communication skills. Being sure to communicate “I’m not feeling a hug” or “I don’t want to have sex anymore” is important, as is seeking active and affirmative consent.
Affirmative consent means that a lack of a ‘no’ is not consent, but a given and enthusiastic ‘yes’ is acceptable. In a sexual encounter, asking “Is this okay?” or “Do you like that?” or “What do you want” are all great (and sexy) ways to ask for consent that look for an affirmative answer from your partner. Checking in in the same vein is also essential to maintain that negotiated consent. Remember: consent can be changed and withdrawn at any time, and listening to a ‘no’ or not hearing an enthusiastic ‘yes’ is a sign to halt and ensure your partner is okay.
A common metaphor for consent is making a cup of tea; you would never make someone a cup of tea if they did not answer, said no, or were pressured into it. Making someone a cup of tea when they’re unconscious is non-consensual, as is making someone a cup of tea when intoxicated. Replace ‘tea’ with ‘sex’ and voila- consent in a nutshell.
Enthusiastic consent is a huge and necessary part of our lives and relationships, and negotiating that is a responsibility for ourselves and our society.
Next week we’re gonna talk about some of the specific ways consent can be negotiated in a casual way and examples of what non-consent can look like.
Jayme D. Tucker is a journalist, writer, and performer settled on unceded Syilx territory. They're queer, tall, and tired of answering all the same token questions when they come out; So they're answering those questions and more for thehub.LGBT Kelowna. They've written for Daily Hive Calgary, won a scholarship for fiction writing with Eat North, and is the founder of The Queer Agenda, a non-profit social group focused on sober friendly, all-ages networking for LGBTQ2IA+ individuals (currently on COVID hiatus).