Monday, January 21st, 2019

The Talk 101: How to do it with consent

Posted on November 10, 2014 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By: Lorraine Kessler

Remember in the last column I said talking about sex is awkward and taboo? Surprise! We’re going to be talking about how in order to do it, and do it right, we’re going to learn how to talk about sex. Consent is necessary during sex and is already used in nonsexual situations. You wouldn’t take your roommates sweater without asking, right? You don’t go around eating a French fry off of stranger’s plates at a restaurant (usually) but if you do, you ask to take one! We ask before we touch what belongs to someone else, and that includes their bodies. The culture we live in is full of scripts that do not require asking before touching, but that is not a healthy way to interact with people. Let’s start with the definition. Consent is an enthusiastic yes that is given free of coercion, manipulation or threats, physical force, or incapacitation; Consent can be communicated either verbally or physically and often is communicated both ways.

Let’s start with why consent matters. Short story: Sexual acts that are performed without consent are sexual harassment or sexual assault. Asking for consent and requiring that other ask us for consent is a way to protect our bodies. If we all insist on asking people before we touch them, we could decrease the number of unwanted physical and sexual contact. Consent matters because you are the owner of your body – you decide how and when it is or isn’t touched and that’s what consent is all about. Asking consent increases communication between partners and should be used during all kinds of sexual or romantic relationships, from one-night-stands to long-term relationships. Folks should be checking in with people, even people they’ve been sleeping with for a year, to make sure everything is okay and that each act is wanted, enthusiastically, without coercion of any kind. Consent and boundaries are fluctuating, changing things and it’s important to revisit with your partner to make sure everything is good to go.

Consent, as I’ve said, is an enthusiastic yes given freely; Consent is not lukewarm, is not given under pressure or nagging, and is invalid when given if the person is intoxicated. When alcohol or other drugs are concerned, consent cannot be given – if you are too intoxicated to operate heavy machinery or to sign a legal document, you are not fit to give consent. If you are passed out, you also cannot consent, even if prior consent was given! Consent must be enthusiastic and on-going. A person can choose to revoke their consent at any time: even if consent was given in previous sex acts, even if it was given earlier that day, even if you’re in the middle of a sex act. If you aren’t sure if someone is consenting, it is best to take a step back, discuss with them, and opt out if you’re still unsure. Even if you’ve been texting all night and the person has given consent to do such and such activity, if you show up at their dorm and they revoke consent, you have to back off! If someone gives a wishy-washy answer, that is not consent. Sorry, Robin Thicke, the lines aren’t blurry at all.

So, if all that isn’t consent, how do you “do” consent? It’s not complicated. You just ask, and ask frequently, and about everything. The language of consent is easy to learn, but because it’s taboo to talk about sex, it can require some practice. If we are not asking, it is easy to default into dangerous scripts that assume consent where there may not be. To avoid this, practice asking before touching anyone. Ask a long-time friend “can I give you a hug?” before you actually do so; Ask your date, “can I hold your hand?” before you reach for it. Consent is not only communicated verbally, though. If we reach out for a hug, and our friend also reaches out for a hug and is smiling, they are probably consenting. Watching someone’s body language for cues, then following up with verbal consent is a great way to double-check yourself. Above all, consent requires us to get comfortable talking about sex acts. Bottom-line: If you can’t talk about it, maybe you shouldn’t do it.


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