In the post #metoo movement, consent is a hot button when it comes to how we relate to each other intimately. The tricky thing is, consent is loaded with a whole lot of emotion, and not much clarity.
For women, almost all of us have stories around a time when consent was questionable, or not present at all. While the burden shouldn’t be on us to keep the lines of consent clear, education and advocacy go hand in hand. No matter our gender, we all have work to do.
While there’s a much bigger conversation around consent when it comes to rampant sexual violence and abuse, we’re going to focus on the more nuanced understanding of it in our everyday lives.
Our Bodies Tell Stories
We all come to sexual encounters with our own rich, sometimes sticky histories. Histories that are full of connection and confusion, sensuality and shame, pleasure and impatience, touchiness and trauma. We carry these stories in our bodies, and communicating them is not always straightforward.
Consent is not black and white, and it varies from person to person, and situation to situation.
One of the healthiest ways to establish consent is by doing so before things heat up. Especially with a new partner.
This conversation doesn’t have to be heavy, but it is a good time to disclose any triggers or traumas you’re carrying with you that you feel comfortable disclosing. This discussion can be loving, playful, sexy even. Honesty is hot.
In The Moment
We don’t always take the time to explicitly state what we may want before a sexual encounter- and sometimes we just don’t know. A simple “Is this ok?” or “How does this feel?” gives people an opening to say if something is off, or if their sense of safety or security is being violated.
In the lines of consent, you always have full permission to stop things if you’re feeling uncomfortable or not into it for any reason- or if the person you’re with seems like they’re not comfortable or present.
Another added layer of complication and ambiguity, as that our words don’t always match up with how we’re actually feeling.
Sometimes our mouths say things we don’t actually believe, and sometimes our bodies want things we don’t know how to articulate- especially in the moment.
Becoming fluent in consent means fine-tuning your ability to perceive the nuances of body language. It means being able to feel the subtleness of someone’s energy, and the many ways we communicate nonverbally.
People who have experienced sexual trauma, or other forms of abuse and violence, may have difficulty setting and articulating boundaries- this is a normal trauma response, which unfortunately can lead to further trauma when those boundaries are violated
Here are some crucial tips in navigating consent:
- Just because someone consented to something one day, does not necessarily mean they want it the next.
- Yes, substances, especially alcohol, can cloud your judgment, and complicate consent. So can anxiety from previous sexual abuse, which can potentially lead to further trauma.
- It’s not just about what you don’t like, it’s also about what you do like. Be clear about your preferences and pleasure points, and ask your partner about theirs.
- On that note- you don’t owe anyone anything. You don’t owe anyone your body, your time, or your energy.
- You don’t need to stay. You can leave someone’s bed without a logical reason, and you can also kick someone out of your bed.
- Be firm. If someone isn’t respecting your boundaries, you don’t need to give them the courtesy of being polite. Be clear, be forceful, do whatever you need to do to keep the situation from escalating.
Consent isn’t Just About Sex
While it’s an important place to start, the consent conversation can be carried over to almost all of our interactions.
Whenever touching someone we don’t know, children included, it’s important to quickly check in with them, and make sure that’s something they’re comfortable with. Not everyone wants to be touched, and they deserve to have their bodily autonomy respected.
For instance when you meet a new person, if you’re a hugger, politely ask them “Can I hug you?”, versus going ahead and pushing your cooties on them unwillingly.
Another common scenario, is the term “safe space” in intimate interactions. The problem is, it’s up to each and every individual to determine what is safe for them. While no one may have the full ability to make someone else feel safe, asking about consent and clarity can help to create this space, and give people room to advocate for themselves.
Turn on Your Listening Ears
We never know where people are coming from when it comes to intimate contact. Everyone deserves pleasure that feels safe and comfortable. As we all work to become better humans, one of the best things we can do is ask the people around us what they want, and truly listen to them.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.