Saturday, 18 June 2011

Consent: Some Things To Think About

By: Arti Mehta and Chanelle Gallant.
*a sampler collected from various sources*

*Note: TPYWTGIOW = the person/ people you want to get it on with


1.       Nonconsensual sex does not occur in a vacuum. Instances of non consensual sex happen not just because someone wasn’t able to say no, but because we live in a society where conditions are ripe for nonconsensual sex. We live in a rape culture where it’s expected that we blame the survivor rather than the society which allows violence to happen. While sexual assault and abuse can happen to anyone (and folks who have caused harm can be anyone), we know that folks who experience multiple marginalizations are more likely to experience rape, assault and other forms of nonconsensual touch including two-spirited and trans women, women with disabilities, sex workers and women of colour.

2.       Assumptions suck. The best way to know is to ask. This can be so difficult because our society tells us that we ‘should just know’ when someone’s hot for us. That doesn’t mean that the only way to obtain consent is verbally, but question how you think you know when someone is into it. Smiling, flirting, being on a date, getting paid for sex are not as reliable indicators as just asking. Asking might feel really weird at first but 1. it gets easier and hotter with practice and 2. it’s easier than realizing you’ve crossed someone’s sexual boundaries.

3.       Consent is an ongoing process, even with a long-term partner. Consent must be given each time for each act. Consenting to kissing isn’t consenting to touching, consent to touching is not consent to sex, consent to not using condoms this time doesn’t mean consent to not using condoms next time, consent to a sexual activity with one partner doesn’t mean that other partners can assume consent to the same sexual activity. Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

     People sometimes balk at the idea of getting consent from partners, thinking it's overly cautious and unnecessary. Do I really need to get consent to give my sweetie a hug or kiss? We always have sex in this particular way because I know they love it! Like anything else, you can negotiate that too. Maybe your sweetie is fine with you hugging them whenever, wherever, but they want to be asked about kissing when they've had a hard day or you've just come back from a date with someone else. And now that they think about it, maybe there are times when being hugged in public will make them feel at risk of homo/transphobia etc. Why assume that your partners sexual/intimate interests/capacities/desires will remain the same? Chances are, they will change, even within the course of one day. Rather than assuming, create practical agreements what kinds of sex/intimacy you feel you no longer need to get verbal consent for--and when you'll check in again to see if things have changed.

4.       Consent is sexy. What’s hotter than telling a lover what you want to do to them? It’s also way way hotter when a lover reciprocates that desire. Communicating about your intentions and needs before the heat of the moment makes for amazing foreplay and increases the likelihood of consensual sexy times.

5.       Know yourself. Practice. What makes it hard for you to state your needs/ boundaries? What makes it difficult to listen to others’ boundaries? When do you feel reactive to people’s needs? How do you react? What self care and skills do you need when you feel rejected so that you don’t cross someone else’s boundaries? How do you check in with yourself in an ongoing basis so that you know you’re okay with what’s going on? It’s not only your responsibility to listen and respect TPYWTGIOW’s boundaries/ needs but also knowing how to assert yours. You have to practice saying yes and no and learn how hear it—these are not skills that we learn well in our society so they take a conscience effort to learn.

6.       You can ask for consent for just about anything, including non-sexy activities. For example, you can ask to borrow someone’s pencil and you can ask someone if they’d like to be hugged (or you can non-verbally ask by opening your arms and seeing how they respond before going right in for the hug). In my experience, practicing consent in the everyday not only makes folks in my life feel like I’m respecting their autonomy, but also makes it easier to ask for consent when the stakes are higher (ie: in sexy situations) because I have more practice.

7.       Work through the barriers to consent. True consent is obtained when the atmosphere is free of real or perceived threat or coercion. Think about how power imbalances in your relationship with TPYWTGIOW might affect consent practices. Eg: If you are a masculine-identified boss wanting to get it on with your femme employee, will s/he really be able to say no without repercussions? At the same time, don’t take away the agency of the other person in saying yes/ no; don’t assume that because s/he’s femme or disabled or Asian that s/he will be passive for example. Be aware of the stereotypes and assumptions you have about the communities TPYWTGIOW is a part of. Do remember that as the person who is initiating sexual contact, it’s up to you to get consent. If you think they are too high, tired, emotionally distressed, asleep, etc to give meaningful consent, then back off. Find out what’s okay before folks get drunk/ high and check in constantly. I have a partner, maybe later, I’d rather be alone, I really like you but…, I’m tired, silence, I’m not sure… they all mean no.

8.       No means no is a good start but not quite comprehensive. Consent is often more tricky than just a yes no binary. Often times you’re into what TPYWTGIOW is doing but not exactly how they’re doing it. You’re hot for the kissing but a little less tongue please! Try the “shit sandwich method” to let folks know what you want, which means sandwiching the activity you’re not so into between some compliments. Eg: “I love how passionately you kiss me, it feels so great. It’s even hotter when you use a little less tongue, especially when you touch here while you’re doing it. This is so sexy!” Consent is sex-positive!

9.       Practice emotional consent, that is, get clear about the expectations you all have about your relationships. Is this a one night stand, an ongoing relationship, a life partnership?
Know what your emotional boundaries are. Know when you go from casual to emotional investment, and learn skills to communicate changes in intimacy needs. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for or what your needs are, it might be helpful to take a look at your past sexual or romantic connections to see what your patterns are.

10.    Be accountable to the harm you’ve caused. We all screw up. The goal is to learn how to screw up less by knowing your patterns, but it also means learning how to be accountable when you have screwed up. Be proactive; talk to the person whose boundaries you think you’ve crossed, focus on their feelings--not your guilt--and find out what their needs are. They may want to talk about it and they may not—it’s important that you respect their wishes. (see attached hand out).

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