Why consent matters now more than ever
I’ve been thinking a lot about consent, following an uncomfortable shibari lesson recently in which I was the model.
This article is for you, if you’ve ever found yourself being touched or kissed in a way that didn’t feel right to you and you didn’t say anything.
The bigger picture
In today’s liberal and sexually free society, we all know about consent, don’t we? We’re currently in this weird sociological space, post #metoo, where conversations about consent are normalised and free speech is flourishing. This free speech includes Facebook groups where men discuss their sexual gratification of beating and raping women. The fetishisation of sexual abuse in the 50 Shades series hasn’t helped either, backed up by the increase of violent porn. Greater free speech brings greater hate speech and hate crimes and fewer sex offence convictions. Is this progress?
How does this impact indiviudal consent?
Let me know if either of these 2 situations sound familiar to you:
#1 You’ve been touched in ways that weren’t part of the consent conversation (if there was one), as the conversation was too rushed, too narrow, or had a skewed power balance.
#2 If there wasn’t a conversation, you didn’t feel you had the autonomy or the right to make decisions about what happened to your own body.
While I’ve only had one cisgender women client say she’s never experienced either of these, I have had plenty of cisgender male clients who have had this happen too. And I’ve yet to see a trans or non-binary client who hasn’t had these experiences.
Why should I seek someone's consent?
Let’s start with the who: with your long-term partner, with your children, with your colleagues – wait – I thought consent was only about sex?
Every time you make your young daughter sit on Uncle Jeff’s knee when she doesn’t want to, what is she learning about consent and body autonomy?
The earlier you introduce consent into a conversation the better. For example, I seek consent to talk about potentially delicate topics with clients, even if that’s what they’re there for. Why?
- Asking for consent slows down the conversation and gives both parties time to reflect on what they’re doing.
- It creates a more open atmosphere to express opinions and a change of direction.
- It shows respect for the other person and reminds both of you that the interaction is one you are choosing to share.
- It creates more intimacy and connection as you build trust and share vulnerability.
- It allows you to relax and enjoy what has been agreed.
What can I say?
It can feel awkward, clunky, or formal to ask for consent but doesn’t have to. Try:
- Is this ok?
- What would you like me to do?
- Would you like to try…?
- I’d really like to…, can I?
- Shall we do more of this?
Is consent only about safety?
Yes and no. It is about ensuring any intimate interaction is something all participants want. It’s also more than that. It’s about feeling safe in our own bodies.
Body autonomy is not only a mental understanding of the sovereignty of our being, it’s also a physical reality of being present enough in our own skin to know what does and doesn’t feel good in the moment.
In order to be able to really experience this, we need to feel safe enough to allow our feelings to fully permeate our body. This isn’t possible if we’re in flight, fight, or freeze mode or disassociating from our bodies. When we’re in a situation that we didn’t consent to, where our body feels unsafe, we’re already in a trauma response so unable to articulate our boundaries. In other words, consent is hardest on the fly. Moreover, body autonomy is a prerequisite.
How much body autonomy do you have?
Do you feel that you have complete control and decision-making over your body (100%)? Or do you feel other people and social or cultural influences has as much or more say as you do (50% or less)?
This isn’t a trick question and there’s no shame in realising that the body you live in doesn’t feel fully yours. Actually, it can come as a huge relief. Finally, we understand why we just can’t have meaningful consent conversations.
If all these other people and influences have a say about what happens to your body, then how can you advocate for yourself?
Would you like to get better at this?
The good news is that you can learn to meaningfully and deeply connect with your body. You can learn to not only hear your inner preferences but also articular them. These are skills that can be learned.
Just like cooking, some people find this easier than others, but absolutely everyone can follow a recipe and learn to have authentic and useful consent conversations. If you want to learn more, please get in touch. I’m here for you.