What is Consent?

What is consent? Saying yes or no to something? Well, yes, partly. Surely, it is something more though? Giving and receiving consent feels vital, where all involved know exactly what’s happening, to be expected and with whom. This, for me, is really the fuller aspect of being consensual, with everyone knowing, agreeing and happy with what’s happening, may happen and with whom. Though, not just in regard to any type of sexual relationship, but every aspect of life.

Being consensual for me is not just saying yes. It must be an informed yes. All parties being fully aware of everything that they are agreeing to. Regarding sex, fully understanding any potential health risks (STIs, pregnancy, HiV, etc.) involved, both to themselves and their partner/s. Plus, respecting any religious, moral and cultural views of their partner/s, all of which need discussing and negotiating.

I lay in bed one night pondering over what makes full consent so, so important to me. I feel it relates, at least in part, to abuse.

An experience

Consent has always been an important part of how I lived. Well, I thought it was. Sometimes I’m oblivious to things. I appreciate when people call me out on something. Consent was/is one such thing. I guess I’d always connected it solely to sexual activity. That without consent sexual abuse was occurring, which it is.

I share this experience with the consent of the other person involved. On the first or second day of a residential for the Pink Therapy diploma I’m currently studying, Sue taught me the expansiveness of consent (for further insights into Sue’s work, I recommend visiting their website https://thefeelinstitute.com). Students were all involved rotating in pairs asking each other questions. At the end of the two minutes together with Sue I reached out, in my mind, gently to hold Sue’s hands as a gesture of thanks. As my hands lightly touched theirs, Sue stepped back, saying, as far as I recall, “please don’t touch me, I haven’t given you permission”.

I admit at the time to being completely floored, embarrassed, unsure of what I’d done wrong. I think I apologised, certainly resolving to speak with Sue later, which happened. They explained about Betty Martin’s wheel of consent, which was new to me, covered in more detail later in the week. A light bulb went on. I’m grateful for the initial awkwardness I felt, that allowed me to be open to learn and change. Both consenting we hugged. 

A small example. Later in the week there was something in my room Sue wanted to see. A book or handout. Reaching my room, I walked straight in expecting Sue to just follow me. They waited at the entrance. Seeing that, I remember thinking “Sue’s waiting for consent to come in”. I said “come in”, specifically adding, “…if you want to”. Following the whole wheel of consent discussion and workshop it seemed appropriate to add that last part of my sentence, something I probably would not have thought about doing before. To me, it seemed to then be more of an invitation, a choice, which could more easily be declined, rather than any type of command. This leads to more thoughts on many aspects of wider consent, that there isn’t space or time today to write about here. Maybe another day.

For further insights into Sue and their work, I recommend visiting their website – https://thefeelinstitute.com