Sometimes consent is awkward. We live in a culture where people take certain liberties without asking permission. People are used to that. We’re used to having old Aunt Marge pinch our cheeks and leave lipstick smudges. When someone comes at us for a hug, sometimes we just grit our teeth and get through it instead of feeling comfortable saying “no.” Breaking out of that mold means asking first, and that’s a skill that requires practice.
Why yes, consent IS sexy
I’m a fan of consent. When I helped organize and marched Philadelphia’s Take Back the Night Rally in April, I carried two signs. One said “Consent is Sexy” and the other said “Fuck Rape Culture.” I loved both of them. I received knowing looks from some people, and others honked horns and gave me thumbs up. It felt fantastic. You might say that I’m consent obsessed. I wanted to get a vanity plate for my car and decided that the best possible option would be, you guessed it, “CONSENT.” I have developed programs about this topic and presented them to high school students, fraternities and sorority members, and once, for the executive leadership on a Navy base. I had a bit of an epiphany when my good friend, The Redhead Bedhead sent me a picture that said “Communication is sexy. Consent is mandatory.” Well shit. Yes it is. Consent is mandatory. I never realized that by saying “consent is sexy,” the underlying implication is that consent is optional. Sometimes I wonder why we need to rely on catchy gimmicks like that to drive our point home. Why do we need to play around with words to convince people that consent is necessary? That’s not to say that I disagree with the premise that consent is sexy. It definitely can be. I once did a talk on consent and a woman came up to my afterwards and said “I’m pretty sure if a man asked if he could kiss me, my panties would hit the floor.” Now I don’t say that to encourage people to be manipulative and ask for consent just because they think it’s going to get them laid. That’s not the goal. The idea is that sometimes, consent can be downright hot.
…Unless it’s not
But here’s the other piece of it. Sometimes consent is awkward. We live in a culture where people take certain liberties without asking permission. People are used to that. We’re used to having old Aunt Marge pinch our cheeks and leave lipstick smudges. When someone comes at us for a hug, sometimes we just grit our teeth and get through it instead of feeling comfortable saying “no.” Breaking out of that mold means asking first, and that’s a skill that requires practice. The first few times you catch yourself going to hug someone and realize mid-reach that you didn’t ask first, you’re going to feel a little self-conscious when you suddenly pull back and say, “shit I’m sorry, is it okay if I do that?” Some people will reply, “of course it’s okay, why wouldn’t it be?” However, when you find that one person that says, “I’m so glad you stopped and asked because I’m really uncomfortable being touched,” you’ll be glad you did.
If we start respecting other people’s personal space and frequently check on boundaries to make sure that we’re staying within them, we can create a culture of consent. Checking boundaries is not a one-and-done thing. Boundaries change over time, and vary based on circumstances, which makes it vitally important to ask for consent each time. Now does that mean that I ask my boyfriend every single time I want to kiss him? Of course not. If you and another person can arrange a system by which you give extended consent (with the full knowledge that consent can be revised at any time), there is no pressing need to ask for a kiss every time. Once you’re comfortable with a person (and a specific activity) you can create boundaries that feel comfortable. With new people, however, it’s better to err on the side of caution than unintentionally violate a boundary. I know I’m probably more sensitive than the average person because of my history of sexual trauma. I realize that makes me nervous about transgressing boundaries because it can be intensely triggering when my boundaries are crossed. Then again, with 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men having experienced some form of sexual violence, it’s probably better to assume that the person you’re interacting with actually has some kind of trauma history.
Yes. YES! Hell yes! Fuck me! Please! Don’t stop! — Verbalizing consent
So what’s the takeaway? Consent can be sexy. But even when it’s not sexy, it’s still necessary. Instead of seeing consent as a luxury, we need to start seeing it as a prerequisite. Ask first, and even more importantly, respect the answer. “No” doesn’t mean keep asking. “I’m not sure” is not an invitation to start trying to convince me or to keep going and assume I’ll stop you if you go too far. Wait for the verbal yes. Preferably, an enthusiastic “yes!” Think of it this way: would you rather be ripping each other’s clothes off or pestering your partner until they give in? Which will be more satisfying for them? Which will be more satisfying for you? If you’re still skeptical, just try it a few times. See what kinds of reactions you get. After all, asking for consent goes a long way toward verbalizing your wants/needs outside of the bedroom, which makes everyone’s life better. How does that sound? (See what I did there?)
What do you think about consent? Leave me a comment below and we’ll start a conversation!