I was at the park today with my children and I saw a dad pushing his daughter on the tire swing. At first glance I thought – how wonderful, a beautiful family outing. The mom and brother were also present. But, upon further observation, I realized that the outing was anything but wonderful. As the dad pushed his daughter on the tire swing, faster and faster, she began to yell for him to stop. He just kind of laughed, calling her “a little chicken,” and continued to push her. This went on for another minute or so before he finally let her down and she stormed off, upset. The father looking as if his daughter was simply being dramatic and blowing things out of proportion. Why was this event such a train wreck? Why do I feel the need to bring it up here? Well… this incident lacked something very important. It lacked consent.
Consent is for Everybody
Now, it doesn’t matter if you’re an old man or a young girl or a tiny baby – if you say no (or another variation of it, such as “stop”), your request should be granted. At least where it has to do with your own body and your free will. Of course, saying no doesn’t always have to be listened to, like when my toddler tells me that No I cannot go to the bathroom when I wake up in the morning. You can’t control other people with your No. But where it comes to consent. Where it comes to others not respecting your boundaries, or your body, or just simply – you … well then damn it, you have full rights to demand that person listen to you when you say No.
As I was witnessing this incident I was standing a few yards away from my youngest (who is almost 2), just kind of looking around for something to preoccupy myself with. See…while the dad of this young girl was disrespecting his daughter, I was putting my daughter’s needs first. She had told me she wanted some space (I’m assuming because she was pooping), so I backed up and let her have some room. I believe respecting a person’s needs from the very beginning is extremely important. Raising a child is hard enough, but something a lot of people don’t seem to take into account is the concept of consent. Children are often taught the opposite of consent. Parents make them do tons of things they don’t want, as well as do tons of things to them that they don’t want. Children grow up thinking that it doesn’t matter what they want – which can spiral into them being either an adult who allows people to take advantage of them, or who takes advantage of other people. I believe in teaching children consent by modeling it. They need to grow up in a consent positive culture.
Consent in Romantic Relationships
Now, let’s talk about romantic relationships. Consent is extremely important in romantic relationships. A big, obvious one for this is sex (although I’d like to point out that literally everything you do to or with a person needs to be consented to, not just sex and other sexual activities). Sex is a big topic in the media right now, though, because there have been many people coming forward to talk about how they’ve been molested or raped. It’s all around disheartening that such terrible things have happened to so many people. But it strikes the question, why? Why do these things happen so frequently? And the answer is that our society as a whole is not very consent positive. We do not raise people to listen to consent, or to feel like they can deny consent. Our culture is very dominated by aggression – those who are outgoing and loud tend to be in charge because they can take charge, they know how to control. Control, unfortunately, is the opposite of consent.
Isn’t it important that you can feel you can trust your partner? Trust is the baseline for learning about, as well as granting, consent. You can’t truly give your full consent to something if you don’t feel like you can trust the person doing it. If you’re into some crazy kinks do you think you can just jump into it with any random stranger? Do you trust some random person to listen to your safe words? You need to know that no matter how kinky stuff gets, when you’re ready to stop – they will stop. You can’t be sure of that without trust.
And it’s the same for anything in a relationship – trust someone to walk alone with you down a dark alley? Trust someone to stand with you on the edge of a steep cliff? Trust someone to have your back if some creep comes up to you? Trust someone to tell you the truth about their relationship status, or STI status, or identity? Do you feel safe with this person? Do you trust them? Would they listen to you if you said No? Would they try to guilt trip you or pressure you or make you feel bad about your decision? Do they care about YOU? Or do they only care about themself? Trust. A relationship needs trust or it cannot last. Shit, a relationship can’t even function without trust. Consent needs to be top priority.
What is Consent?
Okay, so consent is important. But what exactly is consent anyway? At what point do you have guaranteed consent? Well – never. No matter how far you are into whatever it is they consented to, if they change their mind and they say No or Stop – consent has been revoked. You no longer have consent. Point blank period. There is never an expiration on when consent can be given or taken away. That being said, how do you know someone is 100% consenting to something?
Let’s discuss this for a minute. Have you heard of ‘informed consent’? That thing where you have to tell a person all the applicable (or relevant) information so they can make up their mind before consenting? Yep. That’s the one. It isn’t really consent unless it’s informed consent. If someone doesn’t have all the facts because you leave out a portion of them, then they really haven’t consented to shit. Also, if you just keep pestering and pestering until someone says yes, that is NOT consent either! Asshole. But let’s get back to informed consent. What is it? Being informed of something prior to giving consent is extremely important, otherwise you don’t know what you’re saying yes to. Say a partner has an STI and doesn’t tell you about it, then you have sex and contract said STI? You did NOT sign up for that. You never consented to getting an STI. Wrap your junk up, man. But, seriously, maybe it’s shitty that people are stigmatized for having STI’s, but if someone decides not to have sex with you because of something you have – that choice is up to them, not you. Hiding it is not going to help your case. In fact, you’re just wrecking it for all people who have STIs. If a person doesn’t know, they do not consent.
Intoxication and Consent
Which brings us to intoxication. Even though someone can physically say the word Yes while intoxicated. If you did not have consent prior to the intoxication…there is no consent. This is another lack of informed consent. Someone who is intoxicated is not properly informed (whether you explain the whole fucking universe to them or not). When someone is not in their right mind, they cannot make informed decisions. Of course, if you’re the intoxicated one – it’s up to you. I can’t tell you what to do. But for those of you who are trying to hook up with someone intoxicated… keep it in your friggin’ pants and be a respectful and responsible adult. Don’t be that dipshit that fucked someone over.
Polyamory is Consent
Consent is extremely important. Numero Uno. Polyamory isn’t polyamory without consent. Sorry, if your significant other doesn’t know you’re trying to open up the relationship you can’t label yourself as polyamorous – you’re just cheating. If you start a new relationship with someone before telling them you’re polyamorous (whether you’re dating other partners currently or not)…nope. No consent was given. Keep your partner(s) informed! Don’t be shady. If it isn’t consensual it isn’t polyamory. Why are you trying to hide it anyway? Obviously you’re doing something wrong if you feel the need to hide it. Just saying.
Open Communication and Consent
This is where open communication comes into play. Communication is extremely important. It is one of the top values of the polyamorous community, trumped only by consent. Though, if I’m going to be frank with you, they really go hand-in-hand. If there isn’t open communication then most likely there is consent lacking somewhere. And if things aren’t consensual, I bet you $1,000,000 that your communication has been complete shit. You need to be open and honest with your partner. That is the only way you will be able to receive true consent for anything.
Now some people complain that if everything has to be consented to there can’t be any spontaneity in the relationship. How do you surprise someone with something if you have to get their consent first? Well…let’s be realistic. You can surprise your partner with whatever the hell you want to. It is always their choice whether or not to agree to be a part of whatever it is. That’s where part of the consent comes in – you need to make sure you don’t pose questions or gifts as if they are a ‘take it or I’ll be upset about it’ situation. By all means it is okay for you to have feelings about things, but it is never okay to make your partner feel bad for not wanting something (or reversely for wanting something). The other portion of the consent comes into play when you actually ask the question, or surprise them with whatever it is. Allow their No to be valid. Don’t expect them to be up for anything. Don’t assume they’ll say yes. Be kind in the way you approach the situation, and allow the situation to play out naturally. Don’t try to control it.
Sexy Time and Consent
If you want to talk about the bedroom Os, people tend to find that topic a bit more complicated…but it’s really the same as anything else. Find a way to ask if your partner is up for something in a sexy way. Or you can create code words before hand so you can just sort of insinuate and they can answer without even really discussing anything (of course in this scenario you would have had an at length conversation before hand). Talk to your partner, maybe they have some ideas on how to approach it. If they prefer you take control (or you want them to take control), it’s perfectly fine for the situation to be someone tries something and waits to see if the person accepts it or not, instead of asking along the way. You need to find the right communication setup for you and your partner(s). Each person is different. The point is that you need to be aware of your partner and how they’re feeling about things throughout the whole experience. Honestly, the whole concept can bring you much closer together.
Use Intent to Promote Consent
Whether it’s on the streets or in the sheets – consent needs to be acquired first. There is a whole language of consent to learn. It’s a skill that you can work at. That you should work at. We need to start creating a more consent positive culture to both raise the next generation, and liberate the rest of us. Consent is safer sex. Consent is open communication. Consent is respect. Consent is loving someone for who they are. Consent is truth. Consent is sexy. Consent is polyamory.