I was having a conversation a couple of years back with a friend about the issue of consent. We were discussing a movement within our community to seek consent for every physical interaction between two individuals, sexual or not. Folks had begun, at that point, seeking permission every time we wanted to give a hug, or put a hand on a shoulder amongst our partners and friends, with varying degrees of reaction. Some people felt it was a nuisance and said it took away from the spontaneity of the moment, while others were grateful and relieved to have an empowered role in deciding what kind of contact was okay and when.
One of the arguments against this shift in sexual intimacy is that in the heat of the moment, putting words into a physical expression might make for an awkward pause and “ruin the moment”. While I personally feel as though this is a necessary step to take, in order to avoid the very real risk of hurting your partner, there is another reason I believe in a policy of constant consent. Asking whether or not physical contact is wanted not only gives both parties ownership over their bodies by opening space for the word “no”, it also allows for a celebration of the respectful and consensual nature of your relationship by opening up space for an enthusiastic “yes”!
I don’t want to undermine the importance of gesture, and reading body language, as these are very important ways that we express ourselves, and check in with each other’s comfort levels. I also want to be clear that it is never the responsibility of the victim of an assault to have said or done anything to avoid being assaulted; rather it is on the perpetrator for having made the decision to move forward with a sexual encounter without obtaining consent. It may feel awkward to verbalize consent at every opportunity, but I look at it like training wheels; a necessary step in the shift towards a new culture of consideration and respect. The more we see others asking each other out loud their comfort level, the more obvious and inappropriate entitled behaviour becomes.
I think the reason we find it so difficult to ask for consent in the bedroom (or bathroom, Public-park or Volkswagen Bug as the case may be) is because we don’t practice it as a norm in our day-to-day interactions with each other. When you ask to hold someone’s hand on a first date, you are opening up a dialogue and setting the precedent for whatever sexual interactions may, or may not follow. Giving your partner the opportunity to consider and voice their feelings about physical contact promotes the idea that we have control over our bodies.
Consent has a place in all aspects of our lives, and doesn’t need to be considered a hindrance or a redundancy. This is why consent turns me on, because in the end, what could yes possibly mean, if no isn’t an option?