Consent isn't a one-off or one-sided act (like signing a contract); it's ongoing, mutual, collaborative communication. When sex is consensual, all parties take responsibility for finding out and respecting one another's boundaries and desires.
We've probably all heard the slogan “No means no”. While true (that is what “no” means!), this mantra implicitly places the responsibility on the person experiencing the unwanted thing to stop that thing from happening – rather than on all of us to ensure our actions are welcome before they happen.
The media teaches us that sexual assaults are perpetrated by evil people, so if I consider myself firmly not-evil, the idea that I could sexually assault someone might never occur to me. But in reality, I can be not-evil and still do serious harm. If I assume consent, believing that I will hear a firm “no” if something isn't okay, I run the risk of violating someone.
If there's one thing Hollywood has taught us about consent, it's how seemingly hot and normal (not to mention infallibly orgasmic!) it is to rely on our powers of telepathy. But as with most things that Hollywood has taught us, this approach to consent is highly problematic. In reality, talking with your partner, lover or playmate about what each of you enjoys, needs and desires is a safer bet.
In recent years, the conversation in many sex-positive, feminist and queer circles has shifted from consent to the idea of “enthusiastic consent”. Enthusiastic consent means not only agreeing to something, but actively desiring that thing. It's the difference between “yes” and “hell, YES!”.
Sometimes people feel shy or awkward communicating about sex and consent (perhaps in part because of the wordless-yet-perfect sex we see in movies). If you get tongue-tied, remember that the essence of what you are communicating – that you respect the other person and are invested in their wellbeing and pleasure – can only be a good thing!
We hold regular communication and consent workshops at Other Nature. Check out our workshop listings for our upcoming topics. And if you'd like to request a private workshop on communication and consent with a group of friends, we're happy to organize that with you!