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What is consent?
Consent comes from the Latin word consentire which means “to have the same feeling.” It still means basically the same thing. According to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center of University of Michigan, consent is defined as "...when someone agrees, gives permission, or says 'yes; to sexual activity with other persons." However, consent goes beyond sex and relationships. According to West's Encyclopedia of American Law, consent is defined as "...an act of reason and deliberation. A person who possesses and exercises sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent decision demonstrates consent by performing an act recommended by another." In layman's terms, this means anyone who has the mental ability to say yes, and then does say yes, is consenting to whatever activity is proposed. This can be anything from playing board games all the way to kissing, touching, or having sex. Consent is an important part of our daily lives.
So what does consent have to do with me?
Relationships (whether platonic, romantic, or professional) are built on consent! There have been a lot of issues lately in the world lately where people aren’t focusing on consent as much and forgetting to ask (think about #MeToo). Every relationship needs consent but a lot of people don’t know how to ask, not of their own fault, but the fact it’s not exactly taught. Thus, this article is written to teach about consent.
How do I ask for consent?
According to Dr. Lindsey Doe, “The most common or frequent way people report giving consent is by not resisting advances… It is the sexual script our culture has written... Yikes, though!" This can be harmful! By not asking for consent and explicitly receiving enthusiastic consent, there is a risk someone who does not want touches/advances won’t speak up, for various reasons.
Wait! Enthusiastic consent?
Yes! According to Planned Parenthood, consent must be:
- Freely given - Not coerced or forced into consenting.
- Reversible - You or your partners can change your mind at any time.
- Informed - No lying or deception.
- Enthusiastic! - You should want to hold your significant other's or friend's hand. You shouldn’t feel like you have to.
- Specific - Saying yes to hugs doesn’t mean yes to kisses.
Notice how each tidbit spells FRIES? Consenting to anything should feel as awesome and simple as eating your favorite fries!
How do I ask for consent?
Just ask! But be clear - don’t ask “May I have a hug?” and then try to kiss the person you're asking consent to.
And also, if someone says no, don’t try to pressure them. That’s not okay, either. The point of asking for consent is to find out if they consent or not, not to find out if you can push their boundaries.
What if I'm drunk? Or they're drunk?
Rule of thumb: if someone is too drunk/high/tired to drive (or bike or ride a tractor), they’re too drunk/high/tired to consent.
Also, if your partner/friend/whoever says “Hm… Maybe later,” that means not right now which means no.
Consent is not the absence of a no, it’s the presence of a yes!
What about when we’ve been together for a long time?
According to Planned Parenthood’s page on consent:
“Sometimes in long-term relationships… [people] find ways to consent with body language instead of words. Still, “no means no” always applies. Even in these situations, you should check in from time to time to make sure that everything you’re doing is wanted.”
So basically: It's okay to consent with body language after you've been together for a long time, but words always triumph over body language. If someone says no, that means no, stop, halt, end of discussion.
I'm still confused! Help!
Blue Seat Studios did this awesome video comparing consent to a cup of tea. Consent should be everyone's cup of tea!
So what do I do now?
Work on consent! Ask your partner “May I hold your hand?” instead of just going for it. Ask your friends before hugging! Use verbal cues instead of grabbing someone for attention. Ensure that others ask for consent, and say something if someone doesn’t.
Remember: you are allowed to say no. Stand up for that right to say no and respect others’ right to say yes or no also.