April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Yesterday was Denim Day, a day created to bring awareness to sexual assault and many of the faulty systems, thoughts, and laws survivors still have to face in order to get justice.
Naturally it would make sense to start our first Therapist Thoughts Thursday discussing the topic of consent. I’ll start with a story…
I was scheduled to meet up with a guy for breakfast. We had some rapport but were still getting a feel for one another. A few days before breakfast I started feeling anxious. Everything had been great, we were meeting in public, driving in separate cars and going to a place that was familiar to me so I was surprised by the anxiety. As I took the time to explore these feelings I realized my fear was around the potential of him touching me without asking consent. This would be our first time out alone which meant the dynamic was changing and we were seemingly comfortable which made touch more likely. That scared the shit out of me!
I didn’t think for a second that he would be creepy or invasive. I didn’t think he’d be creepy or invasive. Still we’d never engaged in touch but enjoyed one another as people so I wouldn’t be surprised if he attempted to touch my hand or give me a hug and I knew the lack of consent would cause me to shut down. In an effort to ensure everything ran smoothly I made texted the day before to express how important it is to me that people obtain consent before touching me & added “no matter how innocent the touch may seem”.
This was the very first time I had ever had a conversation about consent BEFORE the touch occurred. But there are times when I responded to someone’s touch by requesting they ask first in the future and was met with a whole lot of defensiveness so naturally saying all of this was not easy.
His response…”Oh, okay I appreciate & respect you sharing that with me. It’s kind of unfortunate that you have to share something like that, because particularly we as men weren’t sat down to be taught the importance of consent. But, again I’m appreciative as I would have likely just gone in for a hug when greeting although we haven’t established any rapport/consent.” At breakfast he was intentional about asking both times before embracing me and that made all the difference.
I’m counting this as a win for the fellas!
What is consent?
Consent happens when one gives permission for an action to happen or agrees to do something. Consent is not simply the absence of a “no” but more so a clear, sober, informed yes and includes dialogue regarding what that particular situation might entail. This means that you should be specific about what you are requesting or consenting to do (Consent to hug is not consent to also grab, grope or kiss. Sexual consent should include the type of sex and type of contraception.).
Consent is also fluid and therefore asking for consent should be ongoing. This means just because I said yes to him hugging me upon arrival that didn’t mean I would’ve been okay with hugging him before leaving. Him asking again allowed me the opportunity to say no if I was no longer okay with a hug.
When is consent necessary?
ALWAYS! We talk a lot about consent when it comes to situations surrounding sex however it is also really important in all of our relationships. And consent is not just reserved for men to ask of women. It is important that we create an environment of consent in all relationships, when looking to engage in any kind of touch, and from all genders.
Consent involves asking before touching, asking if your touch is okay once you’ve gotten permission and are engaging in the touch, asking before going further with the touch, never assuming the person is comfortable and always stopping if asked to do so or even if the person is not responding. I added that last part because it is important to remember that freeze and fawn and also responses to stress/trauma. In freeze we struggle to say or do anything even though we are uncomfortable or unsafe. Fawn is a response where we comply with whatever needs to happen to keep the other person happy in an effort to remain safe. If someone seems uncomfortable it is best to just stop until they are better able to express what their needs and desires are.
Learn more about consent & ways of asking for consent here.
When it comes down to it this was my first experience with speaking to someone about consent beforehand and I was appreciative of his response. The gentleness in his response and the intention he put into honoring my wishes made me incredibly comfortable and for sure earned him additional dates. I recognize this won’t always be the response to my request but I’m always thankful for corrective experiences.
Truth be told, he was right, it’s unfortunate that we as women have to say this to men just to feel safe. It was awkward and uncomfortable conversation to have and no time felt like the right time to bring it up but it was also necessary and I’m glad I did it. The society we live in hasn’t been clear about consent so those of us who are clear may have to do some teaching for a while. My only hope is having these conversations will give others a new perspective going forward. He gave me the courage to continue having that conversation openly and hopefully I gave him something to consider the next time he approaches someone.