Consent marks the beginning
As this piece marks the beginning of my work with Adult Salad, I felt it would be appropriate to start with the most basic and most important aspect of any relationship, enthusiastically giving someone else the green light to enter your space and your life. Consent lays the foundation for each and every thriving sexual, romantic or platonic relationship. Someone who regards consent as an important aspect of your relationship is more likely to respect you and the bond between you. Consent is quite literally essential for the beginnings of all healthy relationships. They require a “yes” from both parties for it to even materialize.
Where and how do we begin with teaching our children, partners, and friends about the most important part of sexual interactions? In my opinion, outlining the main points to yourself is the often most helpful. Let’s make a list!
*Of course, please feel free to add more questions/points to your list. If you feel I’ve missed something big, I encourage to tweet your ideas at me (@siren8song) or send me an email (email@example.com).
How do we define enthusiastic consent?
My boyfriend says for him, the old Herbal Essences commercials come to mind. You know? The girls moaning and screaming “YES!” repeatedly while having their hair washed. While I don’t believe it necessarily needs to be that over the top, that mindset is a good one. Enthusiastic consent is a “Yes, please” or an “Please do that to me.” It is never an “Okay, fine” or a “Maybe later” or an “I’m not sure…”. Enthusiastic consent is a clear and resounding YES. Still not sure that you’ve gained the proper consent? Just ask! Here’s how.
How do we ask for consent and at what point do we ask for it?
Early and often! We must ask for consent anytime we touch someone else’s body, enter their personal space, or when the activity changes. As a rule of thumb, there are two good ways to ask. You can be straightforward and ask the question. For example, “May I kiss you?” or “Can we have sex tonight?”. You can also obtain consent by telling the other person what you want to do and then wait for them to extend a verbal or physical invitation. For example, “I really want to kiss you” or “I would love to have sex with you tonight.” Asking the direct question often leads to a very immediate and clear answer. However, phrasing it as something you would like to do can help the person you are asking feel less pressured. Remember, just because someone has given consent for one thing, doesn’t mean they have given you the green light to plow right through the bases without verifying first. For example, if someone has consented to oral sex, don’t assume they’re up for penetrative sex.
In this case it’s better to ask permission than forgiveness, because that would be rape.
What method is true to your personality? Does it make you uncomfortable to ask the question outright? Keep these things in mind when approaching a partner.
How do we know when someone has given their consent?
Once you have asked the question or opened up the conversation, the ball is in their court. You will know you’ve gained enthusiastic consent when the other person has said some version of “yes, please” (remember, nothing less than this counts). However, a person can also give their consent with a physical reaction. If you say to your date “Hey, I really want to kiss you” and they then proceed to pull your face close to theirs, chances are you’ve obtained their consent.
What do we do when someone says “thanks, but no thanks”?
This can be kind of awkward, but it doesn’t need to be for long. Sulking or pushing the issue is not allowed. This kind of behavior is manipulative and disrespectful. It can make the other person feel guilty and even obligated to change their mind. It doesn’t matter if they’re a spouse, friend with benefits, significant other, or one-night stand. If they decline, stop. Don’t try asking another way or augmenting your request. Instead, ask if anything you were doing is still okay and continue to do that or ask them what they would rather do instead. Reassure them and ease the tension of the awkward situation by letting them know that you respect their choice and that you’re still happy to do other things with them.
How do we tell someone asking for our consent “thanks, but no thanks”?
Having to reject someone’s advances is just as uncomfortable as being the rejected one. Honesty is the best policy here, but be gentle. If you don’t want to get physical, keep it honest with an “I really enjoy our time together as platonic friends. I would prefer we kept it that way.” If you are already physically involved with someone, but aren’t ready for something they have suggested, you could respond with a “I like that you are comfortable enough with me to try something new. I’m just not ready for that yet.” Both examples here lead with a positive before politely declining.
What do we do if someone revokes their consent?
If the person you are with revokes their consent or has ceased active consent, stop right away. It sometimes helps to physically move to another location. When things aren’t going well with a partner of mine for any reason, I like to take a break and make some nachos with them. This may seem silly, but let me tell you why this works for me. First, we get out of the bedroom; out of the physical space where we were struggling. Second, engaging in a “lighter”, slightly distracting activity immediately helps to further remove me from whatever strange headspace I was previously stuck in. Both of these steps help me to take a step back and allow me the capability to see a bigger picture that I could have been missing before. Furthermore, moving back to an enjoyable activity with your partner can help alleviate tension and distress all while staying engaged and connected with one another. Personally, I like making nachos because the kitchen is my haven and eating is my favorite thing. Find what works for you. Other examples include taking a walk, playing a short game together, or going out for a snack/drink. Find something that will take some pressure off, but will keep you engaged with one another. Mindless activities like movies, Netflix or TV shows are a bad idea because they tend to close you off instead of opening you up. There is a good chance you’ll spend the entire episode of Doctor Who brewing about what went wrong. Once you’re both a little more relaxed, you can approach the subject – what went wrong and what needs to happen differently next time? Try your hardest to avoid finger pointing and placing blame. Talk about what would work better for you in place of what actually happened.
When is someone unable to give their consent?
Some examples of people who cannot legally give consent are those who are unconscious, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or those under the legal age of consent. Of course, this list in not all-inclusive and may vary by location. Someone who is unconscious may be sleeping, have blacked out from too much alcohol, or may have some other injury. Drugs and alcohol change the way we think and make decisions. Someone who is drunk or high cannot legally give consent to sexual activity because they are unable to think and make decisions as they normally would. A minor is someone who is under the legal age of consent. This age will vary from place to place, although it’s usually a good idea to wait until someone is over the age of 18 before engaging in sexual activities with them.
What do we do when someone acts upon us without our consent?
First and foremost, the victim always gets to decide the best course of action for themselves. The lines of consent crossed will vary in severity from an inexperienced partner accidentally rolling over a boundary to every woman’s worst nightmare. Rape culture is alive and well in our society and if you feel safe doing so, it is perfectly acceptable to combat it by letting someone know that they have violated your space by not asking for consent. It’s alright to tell them firmly and directly that you are not okay with what they have done. If you want to have a reasonable conversation with this person, then go ahead and do it. That being said, victims of nonconsensual sexual acts are under no obligation to face their attackers. While there are many options, the victim must decide which course of action is right for them.
If you have been sexually assaulted or raped your options include speaking with law enforcement and seeking medical attention as well as the support of family and friends. Speaking with a therapist after this type of trauma could be helpful if you find yourself struggling. You can also contact RAINN (The rape, abuse and incest national network) at RAINN.org or call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
When talking with young people (or anyone) about consent, please stress that enthusiastic consent is the foundation upon which all healthy relationships are built. A partner who respects your body and space is a partner who is likely to respect and care for the whole you. Your consent is a gift that you give to someone, not a trophy to be won or item to be manipulated out of your control. No one is entitled to your body and, no matter the circumstance, you are not entitled to anyone else’s. Rape culture permeates our society and culture. Women and men fall victim to sexual assault and rape every day. The good news? You can help change that. You can have a frank discussion with your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, classmates and friends about how essential consent really is. People are not objects and their bodies do not belong to you, regardless of how well you feel you have treated them or what kind of resources you have spent on them. Talk about the points that have been discussed in this posting or encourage them to watch this great video with you that parallels sexual consent and making someone a cup of tea (http://www.themarysue.com/consent-as-simple-as-tea/).
If we start with beginnings, then this is it, my dear followers. This sets the stage for everything we will discuss on this portion of Adult Salad’s brand-spankin’-new website. Enthusiastic consent is also a great place for you to start in talking to your kids or a new partner about sex. Let’s change the conversation. Let’s change the world.
Siren Song is (among many other things) a young(er) educator, mother, and life partner to more than one. She utilizes Artichoke Love and her degree in education to explore the topics of polyamory and sex in the context of family. Siren currently resides in the Midwest with family, cats, and houseplants.