Consent. It seems so easy. It is so easy. Three options and you just have to pick one: yes, no or maybe. Oh yeah and once you have made that choice you have to stick with it. Consistency is vital here.
Also the person who you are discussing your consent with has to respect your decision. Which needs to be clear. But also check because you might change your mind, even though you should be consistent. Perhaps you need your mind making up for you? Would you consent to that? OK, so maybe it is not easy.
Which is why I participated in a workshop all about consent last Sunday at The S Word: A Feminist Conversation About Sex and Relationships Education.
The workshop blurb said:
“Learning about consent is about the best safer sex message we can share, along with condom use, to help people have healthier, happier sex lives, so let's think about how culture and society influence why we consent to the things we do, how we can give and listen for explicit consent and how to go about identifying your personal boundaries.”
Whatever, I just hoped there would be no touching.
There wasn't any touching, just a slight threat of it. Workshop leaders Violet Rose, who is an independent courtesan and sex educator (her website is stockingsandseams.com NSFW) and Mauve, a sex and relationships educator put us into pairs.
'Oh no, we are going to have to prepare something to show the rest of the group' I fretted, fretted I tell you.
We did not have to prepare anything to show the rest of the group, we did have to sit in our pairs and ask our partner if we could hold their hand. To which they had to answer a plain 'No' every time before swapping parts.
The exercise then moved on, instead of saying 'No' we were to answer 'Yes' (no holding hands took place). For the third exercise we were to answer maybe and bargain over how we would go about holding hands.
Afterwards we discussed which exercise we'd found most challenging, the 'Yes', 'No' or 'Maybe'. I think it was just myself and two of the men in the workshop who had felt comfortable saying 'No' to our partners. Others expressed a desire to add a 'sorry' to their no. Or give a reason, or just plain cave in and say yes.
Violet Rose's personal theory is that in our Western society girls are often brought up to please others rather than themselves. I felt uncomfortable saying yes, the one thing everyone else could agree didn't push their comfort levels.
I have thought about this for a while and I think I know why I was cool with saying 'No' but my anxiety levels rose when I said 'Yes'. It isn't, as you might think, because I haven't been brought up to be polite - I've got the manners of a Southern Belle with equal rights sensibilities.
It's because whereas 'No' and 'Maybe' buy you time and invite options, 'Yes' is final and immediate - you can't relinquish a 'yes'.
I was surprised how much consent and questions over boundaries come up in every day life. Consent isn't just about sex, it's about everything you do, or don't do in life. So it's peculiar we don't spend much time thinking about it. Oh we might chant a bit of 'Yes means yes and no means no' on a march but how often do you analyse a chant?
Outside of Stranger Danger lessons at school we are pretty much taught that the polite thing to do is to blur our boundaries. So much so that many of us aren't even clear on what our own boundaries are.
Why is it that while the conversation about rape and victim blaming has never been louder, the topic of consent doesn't seem to be seen as worth exploring in much depth, when really it's the crux of the matter? And with no clear understanding of consent, discussion about rape and violation becomes difficult.
Through their workshops and other educational projects Violet Rose and Mauve would like to help develop a 'consent culture' - and they are definitely going the right way about it.
In her interview with Alisande, sex worker Jemima mentioned the importance of consent in being sex positive:
“For me sex positive means seeing sex, in all its forms as normal, provided there is enthusiastic and informed consent...”
It seems blazingly logical that sex workers such as Jemima and Violet Rose lead the conversation as acknowledged peer/community educators on consent, given that they are, as Violet Rose says, the experts when it comes to consent. Which makes me wonder if this is one of the reasons why it is not addressed with the detail required.
So, I would love us to help Mauve and Violet Rose get this consent culture going with a conversation. For those struggling to define your own boundaries take your time.
For those lucky enough to know your boundaries Violet Rose had a great piece of advice when you struggle with consent, to consider it a gift to the person asking for consent to have defined your boundaries. Even if you aren't giving them the answer they want.
You can tweet about consent with Violet Rose @violetx_xrose, Mauve works with people of all ages with a particular interest and background in working with young people to empower them to have more informed, safer, healthier and more pleasurable experiences and has a website coming soon...
Squeamish Kate will be consensually tweeting from @SqueamishBikini.