A few weeks back, I wrote about consent. This lead to a friend reaching out to me wanting to know more about my thoughts on consent. I thought perhaps it would be helpful to share those thoughts here as well. So with their permission, here are some more of my thoughts thoughts on consent.
The question that prompted this conversation: Could you elaborate on what consent is?
-To be pretty straight forward, any sexual encounter that you do not enthusiastically and vocally consent to is a form of assault or harassment. There is a spectrum here, but that’s my pretty cut and dry version.
-This is where we can start to split some hairs. There are areas considered “gray areas of consent” otherwise known as implied consent. This accounts for the times when no one has enthusiastically said yes to something, but they maybe aren’t saying no either. Verbally. Perhaps they aren’t enthusiastic, perhaps their body isn’t fully into it. But they aren’t say “No”. The absence of the “No” can lead some to argue that it was still consensual, or at least not assault.
-Then it starts to get a little messier. Sometimes the word “No” is used, but isn’t necessarily listened to. Some hear the word “No” and find ways to coerce their partner into an unenthusiastic “Yes”. Coercion is the kindest way of phrasing it, but others (I would be one of those others) would use words like pressure, harass, or even guilt. This is probably the most problematic part of consent that challenges our current culture.
-A fact to throw out there as well: most sexual assault encounters (70%) are with people you are in some form of a relationship. Yes, sometimes strangers rape strangers, but more often than not it is someone you are already in some form of a relationship with raping you (45% with an acquaintance, 25% with a partner).
-For a few decades, consent has been taught as “No Means No”, and this is problematic because it does not put the focus on enthusiastic consent. It leaves room for pressuring your partner into the answer you want. “No Means No” leads to coercion, it leads to gray areas, it leads to confusion. It can lead to one partner believing they had consensual sex and the other feeling totally violated. Slowly we are shifting consent teachings to “Yes Means Yes” and that the absence of a yes is still a no. “Yes Means Yes” also puts the focus on enthusiastic consent and participation.
-Enthusiastic consent is a good thing, and should always be the goal. Why would you want to be engaging sexually with someone who isn’t into it?
-In the case of long term relationships, consent can be a bit more fluid. Because you are familiar with each others non-verbal cues, body language, boundaries and comfort zones, and have a sexual history, this can allow for a spectrum of communication types. That is why I say vocal consent instead of verbal consent. In my relationship, we have established our boundaries and comfort zones and respect that. We both feel empowered and safe to say no, verbally or otherwise, and trust that it will be listened to, because there is a history of that. If your partner does not understand and respect non-verbal cues, boundaries, comfort zones, however, that is not consent.
-I am 27, almost 28, and these are definitely beliefs I have learned through trial and error. I have learned through experiences and relationships what I am comfortable with and not comfortable with. I definitely had boyfriends and guy friends that made me feel pressured, uncomfortable, degraded, that I continued relationships with. I thought that was the normal, or that I was the one at fault for the experience. As I got older, I have realized that is not the case. Now if I have a male friend who regularly makes me feel uncomfortable, I don’t put up with it. We are no longer friends. And I think a lot of women go through similar experiences. The women I know were much different in how they held themselves in high school than they are now. And to be perfectly honest, so are the men. My partner is very respectful, values consent, was raised by a woman who drilled that into him, but he will also admit that he made mistakes when he was younger. And the men I am friends with now are much more respectful and thoughtful than the boys I was friends with ten years ago. We all had to learn how to treat each other, respect each other, and respect ourselves.
So what are your thoughts on consent? What have you learned over the years?
I am grateful that this project has lead me to meaningful private conversations. More and more people are reaching out to me to ask questions, share their thoughts and experiences, and it has lead to some beautiful moments.