Why Consent? Reflections on a Summer of Consent Culture

Earlier this year, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) organized a Consent Summit in Seattle, a part of their “Consent Counts” program. Victor and I were fortunate enough to attend and engage with other Consent-minded educators, community members, advocates, and activists. What followed was a whirlwind summer for our team, and a neglected blog. As the leaves are starting to turn, and the hectic summer schedule is fading like my festival tan, it feels like a great time to reflect* on that season of sun and exploration.

“How do we explain consent to our community members that makes it easy to understand and incorporate in their own lives?”  ~Susan Wright, NCSF

Susan Wright posed this question as part of her opening plenary, and it’s been something that I’ve taken with me throughout this summer. How do we most effectively educate and engage our communities in consent culture? How do we talk with our friends? Our neighbours?

The answer? Connect.
“But, how?” I hear you saying…

Have one-on-one conversations
Some of my favourite education moments from this summer came from conversations that started with the simple question “what does consent mean to you?” (followed second only by conversations that started with sharing our buttons or yes/no cards). You likely know the the language, the culture, the customs, the people, of the community you exist in and have personal connections within it. You’re the best person to have those conversations. Think it won’t make a difference? I challenge you to give it a try to see the results.

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Hugs anyone? Photo credit: David_M

Model consent in your interactions within your community
Some communities that I’m a member of are a very huggy bunch. Some of us in those communities have some pretty strong boundaries around who we’ll hug, or if we’ll hug at all. I’ve seen an incredible ripple effect happening just by asking before sharing a consensual hug with someone. Same with asking (and waiting for a “yes!”) before I get a little closer on the dance floor. Not in a hugging community? Think about other ways that you connect and interact and start there.

Give people something to think about
I’ve always been a bathroom reader, and, it turns out, so are a lot of people I know. Creating portapotty and washroom posters for festivals and other events has turned out to be a great way to connect people with the idea of consent this summer. Saucy mad libs while you use the loo, anyone?

Consent Mad Libs: May I (verb) your (adjective) (noun)
Did you see this in a portapotty near you? Nod to the Bass Coast Harm Reduction team for this signage inspiration.

Not at an event where posters are an option? We heard that our custom “What’s your Yes/No?” cards shared during Vancouver Pride Weekend festivities sparked a lot of thought!

Create a space where mistakes are ok
We can educate and engage people all we want, but if we don’t give people space to process and learn from their mistakes, our hard work will be for naught. Creating a conversation around consent and how to handle and respond to consent accidents fosters a space where people are more open to cultivating consent culture. Knowing the Battleaxe of Consent won’t meet your skull because you forgot to ask someone before you hugged them is a huge sigh of relief for many people new to consent culture. Owning up to mistakes and learning from them is always easier in a place where we don’t expect everyone to be perfect all the time.

As we ease into the autumn, expect more reflection and more education tools around here. We’ve got to do something to keep ourselves occupied while the daylight hours are on the decline.

What are the ways you see consent being presented in your community that make it easy for you to understand and integrate into your daily life?

*These reflections are through my (dynamic) lens as an educator who happens to be a highly educated, newly middle class, white, queer, cis woman.

About the author: Kim Dee is a passionate educator with over 16 years of teaching, facilitation, and outreach training and experience. She values experiential learning and believes that any experience can become a chance for reflection and growth. She holds a PhD in evolution and behaviour and is presently pursuing a certificate in collaborative conflict resolution. A long-time social and environmental advocate, Kim is a co-founder of the Vancouver-based Consent Crew. She is an enthusiastic and committed volunteer, dedicated to creating safer, inclusive spaces in all communities in which she participates.

Consent Quickies: Boundaries

Two of The Consent Crew’s favourite consent conversation starters are simply, “What’s your Yes?” and “What’s your No?”*

Have you ever asked yourself those questions before you went out to an event? Before you had a conversation with people important to you? Before you’ve been intimate with someone? If you’ve spent some time reflecting on your yeses and noes (your boundaries), you might have noticed it’s a lot easier to be clear with yourself and others. Since clear communication is a key for consent, we encourage you to take some time and ask yourself, “what’s my yes/no/maybe?”

*Interested in these images as conversation starters? Get in touch with us! They make great business card-sized questions.

Watch this space…

We’ve been a little quiet around here lately, but we promise it’s because we’ve been working on a lot of very exciting offline things. Workshops! Specialized training sessions! Education material for local summer festivals! And…we also have jobs and lives that we love to pay attention to, plus we hear it’s healthy to sleep and engage in other self-care activities…

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All that being said, we’ll be updating our website very soon, with upcoming schedules, including events you can find us at, as well as ways we can be at your events, a photo gallery, and education materials and other resources we’d love to share with you.

Stay tuned!

Should consent be sexy?

Brainstorming consent, one word at a time.
Brainstorming consent, one word at a time.

Consent is…
We often start out our Consent Crew workshops with a brainstorming session where we ask participants to complete the phrase, “Consent is ______.” Almost without fail, someone in the crowd says, “sexy.” Sometimes, this person is trying to get a reaction out of the group. Usually, this is one of the most common phrases about consent that person’s heard and it’s stuck with them.

You might wonder why it IS so catchy. It likely has to do with a marketing method called emotional branding. This builds brands using statements that directly appeal to the target audience’s emotional state, desires, and needs. Many of us have a strong desire to feel attractive or sexy, so, “consent is sexy” kinda makes sense. How? Maybe if we’re not getting consent (or giving consent), we’re not being sexy and that possible lack of sexiness or attractiveness can touch our fear and desire to belong triggers.

And that part, that sexy bit, is where the potential problem happens. “But,” I hear you say, “people repeat it! People remember it! People fill in the “consent is ______” with it! We should keep using it because it’s working, right?”

Except, it might be sending the wrong message.

Credit: Schuh
Credit: Schuh

The intent here is well-meaning enough. It attempts to shift the conversation from “don’t get raped” to “don’t rape.” It tries to bring attention to consent in a slightly salacious way. But, using that “consent is sexy” message can imply a few rather unfortunate things:

  1. Sex without consent is, well, just unsexy sex.

Except, sex without consent isn’t unsexy, it’s sexual assault.

Conversely, sex with consent isn’t always going to be sexy, either. Let’s face it, sex can be awkward (“you want me to put what where?”) and less than satisfying or super-exciting at times.

  1. Saying “no” to sex offered with consent makes someone unsexy.

Imagine…
“Oh, he/she/they asked to have sex and I’ve heard consent is sexy, so if I say no…”
Remember that emotional marketing thing I mentioned above? Yeah, that’s it. That’s where use of “consent is sexy” gets a little wobbly and makes me personally uncomfortable. Sometimes, being asked for consent doesn’t feel mutual if we think that the asker is operating on an “I asked if you’d have sex. If you say, yes, you’re even sexier,” kind of attitude. Seems rather, um, coerced, right?

  1. Consent is only needed during sex or sexy times.

Consent isn’t just about those encounters. Sure, it can feel empowering and sensual, and be part of amazing moments of connection, and a hell of a turn-on in times of mutual invitations to intimacy. But, it’s not just about sex.

Consent is about all times, and all interactions. From a cupcake offered to a friend, to a cup of tea, to a hug, to sweet tender kisses on foreheads, to wanting to share someone’s space while they dance. Consent is integral in all of those interactions, but, “consent is sexy” doesn’t really work in any of those examples.

  1. All people are sexual or want to be sexual.

Not everyone wants to be sexual or have sex, or sees it as a positive thing. “Consent is sexy” can be a really isolating phrase for people who are asexual or have heavy sexual traumas.

So, how should we fill in that blank?

Let’s consider stepping outside of the “sexy” realm. Let’s seriously consider that consent is always important. Consent is respect for others and their autonomy. It’s about a respect that acknowledges we all know what is best for us and our own bodies, in all interactions, not just when we’re trying to obtain sexual intimacy.

I’m not saying we should stop using this phrase all together. Maybe, just maybe, my experience at a party was better because someone heard “consent is sexy” at some college orientation, and then they respected my space more or chose not to initiate unwanted sexual encounters. Maybe it does get through to some people…but…

I challenge us all to get more creative and inclusive!

Source: http://www.msd.govt.nz/
Source: http://www.msd.govt.nz/

Still want a catchy phrase for marketing? We’d suggest…

Consent is…
…mutual respect
…essential
…necessary
…expected
…everything

Or maybe just…
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What’s your favourite way to fill in the “consent is ______” blank?