How to talk about or teach Consent
Updated: May 10
This is for people dating/in sexual relationships, parents of youth dating, & people making sense of past consent.
(Trigger warning: discussion of the problem of sexual assault)
As a therapist treating trauma, I frequently ponder how to prevent trauma. If more people understood consent, I think a huge amount of trauma could be prevented. I believe that sometimes sexual assault is not done by psychopaths that are intent on harm, but that there can be a grey zone where the perpetrator might not know they are violating someone. Part of the responsibilities of a therapist is to teach people how to think about consent, talk about it with your partner, and explain consent to your teen to prevent unwanted touch. My goal is that you too can carry on this conversation and explain consent to your teen or partner or loved ones.
'Consent: It’s as simple as Tea' video (2:51)
This is a gentle way of explaining consent to people using the analogy of offering a cup of tea. My favourite line is “unconscious people don’t want tea.” It runs over a lot of scenarios such as previous agreement and changing one’s mind too.
When initiating sexual activity, it is also important to know that someone with previous trauma may not provide an emphatic ‘no’ if they don’t want it. When confronted with a threat, mammals will respond with a fight-flight response or a shut down response. If someone’s system thinks that they will be able to handle the threat, they might go into fight or flight. If their system thinks they can’t handle the threat, they might respond by shutting down and not resisting a sexual advance. Mammals whose system is shutting down are not resisting or complying, they have decided that the best way to survive is to try to live another day. Our blood pressure and heart rate drops, so that if we get mauled, we don’t bleed out. In fact, our memory may even decide not to encode the sequence of events to protect ourselves and we may forget parts of it. It is common for women to not resist because their system perceives the advances as a life-threatening situation; sometimes a rapist is also a murderer and fighting back might mean being murdered as well. This shut down response is ancient, we developed it 300 million years ago.
Make sure it really is consent by getting an enthusiastic YES!
Refer to the anagram FRIES
Freely given. Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.
Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.
Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex).
Now imagine if all your sexual encounters were consensual. Talk about Sexy!!
For those of you who think that being verbal for every touch might take the spontaneity out of displays of affection and make it feel stunted, try the 90% rule of non-verbal communication (like from the movie Hitch). The initiator leans in 90% of the distance for the touch; the other person accepts the bid for touch and leans in for the remaining 10%. Think of the pause for that 10% as allowing time for anticipation.
Once you think of initiating sexual or sensual touch as a balance between verbal or non-verbal communication, it can be a subtle but meaningful change that deepens the emotional connection with your partner.
Anticipation mixed with respect is very sexy!!
I hope that you find this information useful. Please forward to a friend or colleague who may benefit from it. Wouldn't it be great to be in a world where touch was always positive?
- Ursula de Vries