We hear a lot these days about consent, but what does it mean? Consent is the hallmark of any agreement which is defined as a mutual collaboration between individuals. Defining this can be tricky depending on your situation and the need to seek out this agreement of trust between friends, partners, family, etc. And don’t worry, I saw that little raise of the eyebrow with that last statement so let me explain.
Consent is most commonly thought of when seeking for the purpose of romantic connections, but it is much more than that. Consent is a necessary part of our everyday lives involving all parties of the agreement because it is about communicating with honesty and respect. It is not simply assuming that the other person is comfortable with the choices you are making that involve them on some level. Communication and consent go hand and hand.
So, what does this agreement look like you might be asking. It may look like a friend asking permission to share details of a disagreement or vulnerable topic with a third party before assuming it is okay. It may be defining the expectations of what “having a few friends over” looks like with your parents while they are out of town. The most common way we might recognize consent is, assuring our romantic partner’s comfort with actions such as touching, hugging, kissing or sex. This means that in all these examples, both parties are in agreement and communication regarding the expectations of a situation moving forward.
Agreements should always be realistic and clearly defined, so if you are not sure you can uphold your end of the agreement it might be time to revisit. It is realistic to assume that we are able to shift our thinking, what we are comfortable with and even change our minds. These agreements to not always have to be equal either; meaning one friend may be okay with sharing details of their situation with others while the other prefers to remain more private. This is perfectly fine as long as both friends come to the agreement of the other’s comfort and respect the boundaries that have been set. If it comes down to it, you are allowed to change your mind from a “yes” to a “no”.
Changing your mind is part of the process sometimes. It may be a parent telling you that they are comfortable with only three friends coming over when before you were able to have six. It may be a sexual partner who was comfortable changing their mind when the action has already begun. No matter when consent for a situation or action is retracted, we deserve to feel secure and respect that our decision will be honored. This is why communication of what the expectations are is such an important part of defining the agreement to begin with.
If you are questioning or feel there may be areas you could strengthen these agreements, it might be a good time to have a discussion. Check in with those people you seek support and security from to evaluate and reassure what consent looks like.