As conversations about consent continue to become more commonplace, more and more people are looking at sexual consent in new ways that they never have before. Consent is about more than just desire. We are constantly analyzing a number of factors, even subconsciously, to determine what our consent will be. Our answers may change based on the specifics of the situation or the person or people involved. Sometimes we consent to things and find out extra information after. This can be upsetting if we feel that information would have changed our choice before the activity. Being able to make an informed decision is an important piece of the consent process.
What is Informed Consent?
Informed consent is the being able to understand all the risks and benefits of a particular choice. When someone gives informed consent it’s because they have had the chance to get all the information to make the decision, ask questions, and time to think it over if needed. We most commonly see informed consent being practiced and talked about in the medical field. If you’re ever needed medical treatment, especially that involved any kind of surgery, you’ve had this kind of conversation with your doctor.
When we are talking about sex, informed consent is concerned with information about what activities someone is consenting to and who will be involved in those activities. Will there just be making out? Oral sex? Anal sex? Vaginal sex? Will it just be with one person? Multiple people? What safer sex methods, if any, will be used? Is there any concern about STI transfer or pregnancy? Is there a plan in place if either of those things occurs?
People may also want to know what a person’s intentions are. Are they seeking a one-night-stand? A relationship? Friends with benefits? Is the person currently involved with anyone else? These are all factors that come in when someone is making a choice to participate, whether the conversation is had or not.
The Importance of Having Informed Consent
When we take the time to have the full conversation about consent, we provide a sense of security. There is no ambiguity about what is going to happen. Some people would argue that this makes it less spontaneous and therefore less sexy but the truth is that it leaves people in a safer and more secure place. There is no second-guessing about what will take place. No potential for lines to be crossed by accident. Less of a chance for someone to feel violated. It also gives us the chance to negotiate for what we would like to take place.
Talking about these boundaries is an important part of getting consent. We shouldn’t just be going ahead until the person says stop. Just because someone consents to some forms of intimacy doesn’t mean that they have consented to all forms of intimacy. Having this conversation before moving ahead shows respect. It respects the autonomy and personal choice of everyone involved. Respect will lead us to better and stronger relationships.
How Do We Get It?
So what’s the best way to make sure we have informed consent? Well, the simplest way is to just ask and talk about it. When you are interacting with someone that you’re interested in and things are heading in the direction of sex, ask them what they had in mind. If they aren’t forthcoming with their answer, you could describe what you’re interested in and ask them what they think of it. Encourage them to open up about what they are wanting.
Sometimes this can feel a bit more awkward because it’s not a conversation many people are used to having. It’s not often we see a good model of this conversation in movies or mainstream media. If the person you are talking to looks uncomfortable or feels that it is awkward, you can simply remind them that you are just trying to ensure you are respectful of their boundaries. The majority of people will appreciate your concern for their feelings and this can actually heighten the sexual pleasure.
If someone is still really stiff and uncomfortable, it may be a good time to take a step back. Someone that uncomfortable with talking about sex either isn’t mature enough to handle having sex or may not be that interested but are unsure of how to politely decline. Either way, the best thing to do to protect yourself would be to take a step back. If the person is truly interested, they will come around.
Practice the Language of Consent
Most people will agree that consent is such a crucial and important conversation but many of those same people still feel a bit awkward about it. The best way to reduce your discomfort is to continue to have those conversations with people close to you. Don’t shy away from exploring your thoughts and feelings on the subject. It is through practice that we get better and more comfortable at navigating consent. The more comfortable we are, the more it will spread to other people and we will truly start to build a consent culture. Keep reading and learning about it. If you’d like to learn more check out our book, “Got Consent?“. It is a fabulous guide to all the ins and outs of consent! Share this article on your social media and prompt some conversations today!
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