Earlier this month, the UK observed the Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week. The whole week was dedicated to the cause to raise awareness and encourage dialogues and conversations in organisations and institutions and to help and create safe spaces for any victims to be able to speak out on the same. Taking forward the conversation, we are going to talk about consent.
It’s not just a single “yes” or a single “no”
On the face of it, consent may appear to be a simple question that can be answered through a yes or a no. Consent does include a yes or no answer, but it is also so much more than that. Consent is an ongoing process of discussing boundaries and what you’re comfortable with. Consent means you and your partner, both need to agree upon the level and amount of intimacy and have to give permission before engaging in any intimate and/or sexual acts. Consent needs to be taken in any sexual relationship – whether it is a Tinder date, a hookup or a one-night stand, or even if it has been a long-standing romantic relationship. It also does not matter what the gender, sexual orientation or profession the person is, as consent is a universal concept.
What to keep in mind when thinking or talking about consent
- Consent should be communicated in as clear terms as possible. It is always better to verbally ask for consent than take cues from someone’s body language.
- Consent for one activity should not be understood as blanket consent to any and every sexual activity. One must ask for consent at every step in moving forward. For instance, if one consents to kissing, it does not automatically mean that the person has consented to go all the way.
- One must never work with the assumption that if a partner has consented to a particular sexual activity today, they get an unlimited validity to do whatever they want. Consent has an expiry date and that ceases once the act for which consent was taken was performed.
- You are allowed to change your mind at any time. This may become an awkward or an uncomfortable situation for some people, and that is why it is important to maintain a strong communication channel with your partner, especially when it comes to one’s needs and desires.
- If a person is underage or intoxicated, they are not in a position to provide consent, irrespective of what they may say in that state.
How to ask for consent
This is not an exhaustive list but here are some ways to ask for consent:
- Is it ok if I touch/kiss you like this?
- Are you comfortable?
- Are you sure you are ready to take the next step?
- Is this working for you?
- Do you want me to keep going?
- Do you want me to stop?
- How does that make you feel?
- Do you want to give this a go?
- Will you be comfortable trying something new?
- Can I talk to you about my fantasies?
Physical cues are important too
When asking for consent, the person should keep in mind that the other person has every right to say no. However, one has to keep in mind that while ‘no’ means ‘no’, there are other phrases, gestures and body language that also mean no.
- I am not very comfortable doing this right now.
- This doesn’t feel right/nice.
- I don’t feel like it.
- I am not in the mood for this at the moment.
- Let’s do something else instead of this.
- Stiffening of the body.
- The person tries to physically push their partner away.
- The person seems to be frozen or lost.
I would like to end this blog with John Oliver’s wise words from his show ‘Last Week Tonight’: “Consent is like boxing. If both people do not agree to it, then one person is committing a crime”.
Find out more: “Enough is Enough” is an SU campaign that tackles issues around sexual and gender-based violence and provides consent workshops for all incoming students.
Surabhi Sanghi is a SOAS Digital Ambassador, pursuing a master’s degree in South Asian Studies and Intensive Language (which also means she gets to be in London for one whole extra year). She has a background in history and is interested in the religions of South Asia. She is a dog person and her only wish is to be able to pet all the dogs in London.