What does Consent mean?
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Consent is a practice, not a transaction.
We all could benefit from deepening our understanding of consent because negotiations of power are a part of so many aspects of our lives. We tend to associate consensual and non-consensual acts exclusively with sex, but really anytime there is an interaction between people there are elements of power and accessibility being worked through in real-time.
This week we wanted to build on the basics of consent, and specifically take a look at why we need to shift our thinking about the nature of consent. Consent isn't a transaction, it's a practice. It will always be more complicated than just "giving" and "receiving" consent.
More than giving and receiving
When we frame consent exclusively as an agreement between two sexual partners we can ignore the complexities of consent and frame it as transactional. Consent does not only exist within sexual scenarios and is something we practice rather than give/take. That is why we are working to reframe consent as a constant practice for everyone!
Consent is Practice
Reframing consent as a practice expands the contexts where consent is relevant (which is everywhere!)
Thinking of consent as a practice reframes it as is an improvable skill that we work on throughout our lives, in different relational contexts both sexual and non-sexual.
Think about a boss demanding that you complete a task vs. a partner demanding that you complete a task. These circumstances have different power
dynamics and they will elicit different responses
from us - specifically in terms of how much power we have to say yes or no.
Consent is relevant in many contexts at all ages. No one is "too young" to learn that they have the power to set their own boundaries, especially around physical touch. By framing consent as a skill, and effectively desexualizing it, we can work to create a culture of consent and make sure folks are constantly improving upon their consent communication skill set! Some ways to practice consent include:
Asking instead of assuming. Clarification is often essential to understanding. If you're wondering how someone might be feeling, or what they may have meant with certain words or body language, ask them!
Regular honest check-ins. Check-ins are a way for everyone can make sure they're on the same page, and if not, folks can discuss how to make things feel better! Starting a regular dialogue about consent and boundaries is a great way to make sure this practice is self-sustaining.
Identifying and breaking down power dynamics. Power dynamics exist and affect people's ability to advocate for themselves, their needs, and sometimes consent. If you feel like a power dynamic is getting in the way of you practicing consent, or setting a boundary, identify it and try to have a conversation about breaking it down so that you can feel more comfortable expressing your needs and boundaries. In terms of power, consent should feel equal in terms of power.
Be prepared for a no. We'll talk about this more in a later zine but for now, it's important to mention that when you are practicing consent people might say no to you, and that is okay! It is good to be prepared for someone to say no, or set their boundary. It's important for us all to do the personal work to be able to accept a no without it having a negative impact on ourselves or our relationships.
Set and listen to boundaries. A boundary is a personal limit that is communicated to other people to clearly delineate comfort and discomfort. Boundaries can be strong, meaning they should never be pushed, or loose, meaning they are malleable. Boundaries can change over time and can change depending on whom we are interacting with, where we are, or how we feel that day. Boundaries communicate personal limits and ensure your safety and comfortability. It’s important to have conversations about boundaries. Boundaries work best when other people are aware of them and understand their significance. We all have boundaries already, but we also have ideas embedded in our subconscious that make it difficult to have and maintain boundaries, talking about boundaries is helpful for everyone!
We hope you enjoyed this little intro to consent as a practice. Keep an eye out for more consent content coming up and let us know in the comments how you practice consent in your everyday life!