What Is Consent? Navigating Intimacy In Today's World

What Is Consent? Navigating Intimacy In Today's World

When author Chanel Contos asked her Instagram audience to share their untold sexual assault experiences, little did she know she was about to start a new conversation about consent. Nearly 7000 people answered and courageously shared their stories.

The common thread? Most of these testimonies happened during schooling years, went unreported and were perpetrated by individuals known to the survivors.

Welcome to Big Sis Book Club: a brand new book series that aims to help you enrich the relationship with yourself and others through some incredible novels. 

This month’s book is “Consent Laid Bare: Sex, Entitlement & the Distortion of Desire” by Chanel Contos. But first let's have a little look into what is consent...


Defining Consent

Consent is the very foundation of healthy relationships. It’s not only the absence of “no”, but the presence of a free and willing yes.

In theory, there should be no ambiguity. If all participants do not give clear, voluntary, coherent and ongoing consent then everything should stop.

In practice however, it’s a lot more complicated than this (especially because everyone is unique). We all like different things, people and the situation may change on a case-to-case basis.

On top of that, we as women often struggle to draw a line in the sand when it comes to consent. Unfortunately because of how society is structured and due to how present ‘rape culture’ still is.

So how can you make sure you protect yourself and other people involved when entering into romantic relationships?

Photo of three girls standing one next to the other

When and how to ask for consent

Consent should be an ongoing process: get and give consent before, during and after.

Some examples of questions you could ask are:

"What do you like?"
"May I touch/hold/kiss/____ you _______?"
"Would you like it if I _____?"

"Is this OK?"
"How does this feel?"
"Shall I keep going ____?"
"What if I change to doing ___?"

"How was that for you?"
"Did you like it when we ____?"
"Would you want to do that again?"

You might worry that asking for consent is going to be a total mood killer, but the alternative, not asking for it is unacceptable.

This is why consent under the influence is generally not a green light: if the other person is incapacitated to answer truthfully, then the answer is clearly a “no”.

4 girls laughing and smiling to camera

Consent is not just about sexual consent either

Although it’s important to talk about consent when it comes to sex and intimacy, let’s remember that consent can extend to many different areas of our lives.

Talking and practising consent when it comes to family and friends is crucial, especially for kids because we’re teaching them to set healthy boundaries and have people respect them.

Taking the concept of consent out of the bedroom also desensitises it. It makes consent less of a thing people have to do when they perform a specific act, such as sex.

Asking for people’s consent for anything that involves them — their personal space, time, traumas, money, things, sexual agency — then becomes muscle memory, a necessary behaviour.

Consent is rooted in communication

There are some forms of consent you are likely to practice already, such as asking before borrowing someone’s clothes or hugging someone you’ve just met.

You wouldn’t just take a shirt from your friend’s closet and to ask someone before hugging someone follows the same concept of respecting other people’s boundaries.

If kids are taught non-sexual touch and consent from an early age, it will necessarily translate into adulthood. This includes not forcing them to hug relatives and empowering them, by setting an example to say “NO” to people who might want to touch them with the best (or worst) intentions.

2 girls standing back to back smiling and laughing at the camera

If in doubt, ask. Let’s not make it harder than it is

If you think about it, consent can be quite simple. Asking “Can I ____?” can take us a long way, sexually and non-sexually.

What if we accepted we didn’t have a Right to Touch in everyday situations? What if we decided that what matters is not our desire to touch it, but only the other person’s desire to receive it?

Some will argue that this will make the world a cold place devoid of intimacy, while others will believe this is a purely utopian view of the world. We have all accidentally offended someone at some point or made a decision on their behalf without even realising it!

This could also mean creating a more communicative world, where respect becomes the norm and physical touch is a privilege, not a right.

What are your thoughts on consent? Let us know in the comment box below or on Instagram :) 

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