This week we met with Sarah (she/her) of @comprehensiveconsent on Instagram to discuss the intricacies and complexities of practicing consent. Sarah is a consent educator for youth and adults, and she taught us a thing or two about queering consent, or expanding our understanding of this practice.
Creating this zine was a lesson in consent itself, and we were so grateful to work with Sarah. Check out the article below, as well as our collaborative zine!
There is a difference between permission and consent. Permission is something you give and get, but consent is a practice. A practice is never over; it's something that you practice again and again. This is what we mean when we say consent is "on-going." A transition, on the other hand, is an event that has a beginning and an ending. It is contained and eventually completed. This terminology is important. You can get permission in a moment, but consent is an ongoing practice. Consent is fluid; it can be revoked and reinstated, and it can be firm or flexible. This is why we say...
Consent is complicated.
It's more than fries. The F.R.I.E.S. model of consent was developed and created by Planned Parenthood, and it's probably what most of us learned about if we were lucky enough to receive an education about consent. The F.R.I.E.S. model definitely makes some good points. It tells us that consent must be freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific (and we agree!) - but consent is more than that.
F.R.I.E.S. teaches us a binary of giving and getting consent. It teaches us that you either have consent or you lack consent. Instead of thinking about consent as an agreement, we need to approach consent as a practice. And this practice will look different depending on the different relationships and power dynamics at play.
For instance, sometimes consent can be implicit. Sexuality Educator Dr. Nadine Thornhill teaches the concept of opt-ins and opt-outs. In longer-term partners or partners with repeated sexual encounters, folks can discuss and develop different activities or "touches" that fall under the categories of opt-ins and opt-outs. Opt-ins are the kinds of touches that you need to opt in to. This category puts the responsibility on your partner to check-in before engaging in these touches. On the other hand, opt-outs put the responsibility on you to opt-out of these touches if you're not in the mood. These are touches that you are comfortable with you partner initiating without explicit verbal consent.
Confirmation bias and implicit cues
Of course, whenever we think about or incorporate implicit consent into our mindset, we need to be aware of confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is the "tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories." Both inside and outside of sex, confirmation bias heavily influences our perception of the world. When we rely only on our perception without practice or explicit communication, we are at a higher risk for misinterpretations. For instance, moaning or smiling can mean different things depending on the scenario. Moaning could mean pleasure or it could mean discomfort. Relying on our perception alone isn't enough to determine consent.
How do you ask about changes in body language?
Simple answer: just ask! You can say, "Was that a fun moan or an ouch moan?" or "Is that a yes smile or a nervous smile?" or just ask something as easy as, "How are you feeling?" Remember, you don't get to decide when consent is implied by a partner. It's always safer (and sexy!) to ask.
The bottom line is regardless of what kind of relationship you have with someone, consent is not something you can give and get. It is a practice that will always require ongoing communication, boundary setting, learning, and unlearning too.
To learn more from Sarah, visit comprehensiveconsent.com or check out @comprehensiveconsent on IG!