Why You Should Always Ask For Consent In Relationships
Mutual and informed consent is sexy and non-negotiable in any relationship, be it sexual or emotional. An expert guides us through what counts as consent and how to establish healthy communication patterns.
“Tell me more, tell me more. Was it love at first sight? Tell me more, tell me more. Did she put up a fight?” sing the young and sprightly gang of Grease (1978), ushering a new era of teenage love conventions. However, over 40 years on, we must wonder: Why must she put up a fight? Flouting rejection, glorifying stalking and forced extraction of consent are few of the evils that have long plagued interpersonal relationships and have unfortunately been romanticised by the media.
What is consent? According to Dr. Shreya Chakravarty, a Hyderabad-based clinical psychologist at Apollo Health City, consent is an agreement between two people, where one person voluntarily gives assent to another’s propositions. It could be in verbal or written form. It cannot be taken forcefully and consent can be withdrawn anytime after communicating it to the other person. Applicable in physical, emotional and, in present, digital interactions一"any form of verbal or physical cue which may look like consent but given by an underage, incapacitated or intoxicated person is NOT considered as consent," says Dr. Chakravarty.
Consent must be freely given, enthusiastic and sustained. According to multiple jurisdictions, lack of or forced consent is considered assault. The following is a non-exhaustive list of verbal and physical cues that may seem like an invitation, but are not. Read on to find out how to ask for consent in a healthy and sensitive manner.
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Verbal cues that are not consent
- Fearful or hesitant “yes”.
- Confusing statements like “Okay, but…” or “Maybe”.
- Unsure statements like “I don’t know”, “I am not ready”, “I want to, but…”.
- “Consenting to kissing is not automatic consent to sex,” stresses Dr. Chakravarty.
- Initial consent does not mean sustained consent, the person must be willing throughout.
Non-verbal cues that are not consent
- Lack of physical or verbal response.
- A blank stare.
- Turning away, flinching or resisting.
- Visible distress.
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Signs of violation of consent
- “When someone intentionally disregards another person’s boundaries and/or intimidates, threatens or coerces them through their behaviour and actions, it is a clear violation of consent,” says Dr. Chakravarty.
- Any form of physical or verbal assault, be it sexual or non-sexual.
- Disclosing confidential information without the other person’s knowledge or permission.
- Persistent pursuing, shaming, blackmailing, gaslighting or guilt-tripping are all forms of verbal violations of consent.
Respectful ways to ask for consent
- The first step to consent is talking openly about your preferences and setting boundaries from the beginning, advises Dr. Chakravarty. Create a safe word.
- Ask direct questions like “Can/May I…?”, “Do you want to?” and mention exactly what you mean. Express your personal expectations and preferences as well, thereby creating an environment that is comfortable and enjoyable for everyone involved.
- Frequently check in with each other to ensure continued consent.
- “When in doubt, always double-check and stop,” suggests Dr. Chakravarty. Do not wait for your partner to say “no”, if you feel like they don’t want to do something, then you shouldn’t.
Dealing with rejection or withdrawal of consent
- If your partner refuses to engage or retracts consent at any point of time, do not pressure, shame or force them to continue. Respect their choice.
- The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (USA) recommends reassuring your partner that saying “no” is okay and making the environment as comfortable for them as possible.
- Offer alternative ways of intimacy and bonding. Ask them if they would just like to cuddle, or watch something instead.
Related story: How To Say NO Without Feeling Guilty