Consent – Fundamentally Easy

Consent. It’s fundamentally easy, yet can be culturally hard.

Content warning: This concept may be triggering for some people who have experienced consent violations in the past.

The Easy Part

Consent is about whether or not you have permission to affect and interact with another person.

  • The default answer is “no”.
  • If you aren’t sure, then the answer is “no”.
  • If the person isn’t freely and happily saying “yes”, then the answer is “no”.
  • If you get a mixed “yes/no” message, then the answer is “no”.
  • If you get a “yes” followed by any indication of a “no”, then the answer is “no”.
  • In the absense of a clear, well delivered and freely given “yes”, then don’t do the thing to or for them that you would like to do.

The Hard Part

Logistics

  • It is hard to require everyone to say “yes” before you act.
    • Many cultural practices are assumed “okay” which implies a cultural “yes” and may require an explicit verbal or non-verbal “no” to cease the assumed “okay”.
    • If you are the one doing the “cultural practice”, if the person’s affect (apparent mood) is not positive, head your assumption of “okay” to “may not be okay” and check.
  • Once we get to know people, we can often assume their answer for most things done together repeatedly.
    • This can get messy when a situation changes and we need to get pedantic about checking if *this* situation is a “yes”, or we need to assume the answer is “no” – until things either return to “normal” or a “new normal” is established.

Competency

  • A person needs to be competent to say “yes”, or their lack of competency is automatically “no”.
  • State of Mind
    • If a person’s state of mind is compromised, then they are not competent. Not only shouldn’t they sign legal forms, they can’t really consent verbally to things either. Thus their default is “no”, until they are in a good state of mind.
    • This compromise can be due to, but not limmited to, shock, lack of being informed, and or intoxication.
  • Maturity and Intelligence
    • Depending on the action, a person may not be legally able to consent, in which case the default is “no”. Please look up your local countries laws for the rules on this.
    • Some people may be of the age to consent, but due to some intelectual or other brain issues, not be able to comprehend and thus will have a legal guardian. This may be limited to certain kinds of choices or plenary (all the guardian choices).
    • Even so, young people and people with guardians can still decline consent to many things, and consent to some specific things too. The deliniation of this is beyond the scope of this write up – so if you aren’t sure, assume “no” and check with their parent or legal guardian.

The Harder Part

All of the above is just standard interactions. This gives the baseline for intimate interactions. If a person isn’t giving you a clear and free “yes”, then the answer is “no”.

Romance

  • What gets harder is that many surveys have found that in romance, the person who said “no” often wanted the other person to push a bit, rather than meekly comply.
    • Survey answers have shown that taking the first “no” as a total “NO” is a romance killer, or that requiring a clear “yes” before proceeding is, again, a romance killer.

In my opinion, I would rather accept a romance killer than risk perpetrating an assault.

Change in Consent

  • It also gets very hard when a person begins with “yes”, things are happening that seem fine, then that person says or cleraly indicates “no”.
    • If the other person says or indicates “no”, then stop what you are doing as fast as physics and reaction speed allow.
    • There is a nasty fuzzy line where it is hard to determine what that actually is – all you can do is the best that you can do.

Being Heard

  • It also gets very hard when you are hinting at “no” and the other person either doesn’t get the hint, or ignores it. These can look similar, but they are importantly different.
    • If you struggle with the part of Rejection Sensitivity that is Conflict Avoidance, then your “no” can be very poorly formed, making it quite difficult for a reasonable person to perceive that this is what you need them to hear. Some therapy and practice will help with that.
    • If the other person is not hearing your clear “no”, then you need to escalate, if safe to do so. A bit more on this further below, Abusive People
      • sometimes it is not safe to do so. That is beyond the scope of this, so we aren’t going into it. I just wanted to clearly say that this is a messy zone and sometimes we do what helps us survive and figure it out later.

The Last Part:

We often learn poorly formed rules. A good rule has a limit, and it is important to know what those limits are.

Bodily Autonomy

  • It is important to recognise that when someone (for this case example “Bob”) says “no”, they are indicating a “no” for things that are done with them, to them, or for them.
  • Their “no” doesn’t define what you do for yourself or someone else (unless Bob is the guardian/parent of that someone else).
  • This can get a bit grey zone if your intended action is changing the environment around the person who says “no”, for example, playing music
    • it may be better for you to go elsewhere to play that music, or perhaps Bob can; this requires a case by case assessment of measuring inconvenience.

Abusive People

  • If you are interacting with someone who has difficulties accepting your “no”, then I highly recommend no longer interacting with that person.
    • This includes people who want to know why you are saying “no”, and then find ways to ‘undo’ those reasons, leaving you with the feeling that you need to now say yes as you ‘don’t have a reason’.
      • Exception to this is when they are trying to enable you to do things and they give you a choice about helping you with those reasons why you’ve said “no”; that choices and your “yes” to their help is your consent.
    • This includes people that push you to clearly and loudly say “no” before they will accept it. The default should be the other way, and it is important to question why they are back to front on this thing.
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