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.

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.

A Practical Guide to Calling In

18151098441_b75dcb9ac2_bCalling In is a process, one that begins with a conversation, and requires support and follow up for everyone involved.

When I first began exploring the world of consent activism,  there was a different approach being taken. Calling Out seemed to be the only strategy that addressed dealing with someone whose behaviour had been harmful or problematic.

I’ve found problems with Calling Out: it isnt’t a conversation, it tends to be a one-sided declaration; it critiques the person, and does not offer hope for them to change their behaviour; it too often comes from such a place of anger and reactivity that the act itself is one I’ve found to be oppressive, and leads to compounding a cycle of trauma where no one gets to find healing.

I’ve experienced being included in circles that have wanted to call someone out, and wondered what that might be like to be on the receiving end of, how that could be internalised. Witnessing a person in community being Called Out, and watching the progression of interactions over several months, I’ve asked myself- did anything really change through this?

Calling In: A Way to Grow Together

“When I see problematic behaviour from someone who is connected to me, who is committed to some of the things I am, I want to believe that it’s possible for us to move through and beyond whatever mistake was committed”

~ Ngọc Loan Trần on Black Girl Dangerous

“Calling In” has been referred to as “a less disposable way of holding ourselves accountable”. It’s a means of recognising that we can all make mistakes, and inviting someone to do better. Calling In isn’t about making accusations or placing someone in the role of persecutor- not the person on the receiving end, nor the person offering the Call In.

Whereas Calling Out runs the risk of coming from a place of emotional reaction, Calling In has quite a different character. Calling In recognises that the majority of boundary crossings are accidental, “tragic expressions of unmet needs”.  I’ve explored many approaches to Calling In- not all of which have been effective. So here, developed through some trial and error, is a concise guide on how to call someone in.

This is one of the most important things to get clear on. Why does this person matter to you? Why is this situation of significant to you? What is the end-goal you hope for by having this conversation with them?

Are you the right person to talk to them? What’s your personal relationship? Is the subject matter something that might trigger you? If you aren’t the right person, who might be able to support you, or to have the conversation on your behalf? Are you someone they’ll listen to? Most often these conversations are easier if we are not personally experiencing trauma as a result of the other person’s actions, or if we are a more neutral third party acting in a role of advocacy. Do not attempt to call someone in if you yourself are feeling traumatised by their actions. Do not attempt to Call In if you are feeling raw or triggered about the person or their actions or their effects on others. Reach out for support and ask someone else to have the conversation on your behalf.

What potential blocks might this person have to engaging in this conversation? What fears might you be carrying around this conversation? Could having this conversation created repercussions for others? If so, are they aware you’re having this conversation, and do you have their explicit informed consent?

Get clear around what specific behaviour this person engaged in, rather than any assumptions, projections, or judgements around their motivations or personality. The more specific you can be about the behaviour and how the behaviour affected you and/or others, the more you’re going to be able to give this person feedback that they can learn and grow from.

I have found, from painful experience, that this is not something to ever do via email, text message, or phone call. So much of communication and understanding tone comes from being physically in one another’s presence. Invite them to have a conversation with you in person.

Breathe. Listen to calming music. Do whatever helps you to centre and focus before you dive into the conversation, and then:

  1. Start by sharing any fears or apprehensions you have around the conversation, and identifying anything that could be a potential obstacle.
  2. Then, share your hopes for the outcome of the conversation, and why you care enough to have this conversation with them.
  3. Once you’ve shared these elements, share the feedback about the specific behaviour.

Remember to focus on the actions, and the impact they had on others, rather than any assumptions or projections around their intent or motivation.  Behaviour can be changed, and people are often open to changing their behaviour once they know the unintended effects they have had, but if it comes across that you are attacking who they are as a person, they are likely to grow defensive against you and your message.
If you can assume they did not intend malevolence, and can be clear in coming from a place of compassion, you may find yourself being more heard and understood in your Calling In.

What we say may not always be heard as intended, so it’s a good idea to check for understanding. You can ask the other person to repeat back to you what they think they’ve heard, and invite them to ask any questions they need to for clarification. You may want to re-emphasize your why, and the hopes that you have of the growth and/or healing this conversation could lead to.

It’s hard to know ahead of time what any individual’s wounds and past traumas are. Endeavour to be ready to offer support for how the other person feels upon hearing your feedback- sometimes people can find themselves emotionally triggered when being called in. They might even get defensive or shut down. If this happens, you can offer them compassion and empathy, and invite them to seek support from their friends/family/community if they don’t want support from you.

It can be tempting to let the conversation end here, but the most positive results I’ve seen from Calling In are when the invitation is repeatedly made to engage in dialogue about behaviour. This isn’t always easy- and remember that someone who has suffered as a consequence of another’s person may not be prepared to engage with them directly. However, if you are an unaffected party, you might be in a position to be able to support growth and transformation through engaging in a conversation as peers.

Asking someone whose behaviour is having unintended consequences what effect they’d like to have, and working to understand why they have behaved the way they have can create more space for compassion, and can further support them in growing and changing.


Having Calling In conversations is not always smooth. I’ve found that sometimes, even when I follow all these steps, the other person is inevitably going to listen through their own lens. Sometimes people might be dealing with tremendous trauma of their own, or suffer for other conditions of mental stress- or they could have atypical neurology (and could even be completely unaware of the fact) that can make processing the conversation more challenging.This means that the conversations around Calling In can still get clunky, they can still get involved, and there can be a lot of feels. My advice? Embrace it. If the other person in the conversation is having a hard time listening or understanding that this is a Calling In rather than a Calling Out, then have patience, and seek a back up person who may be able to try the conversation fresh from a different angle.

A Note On Calling Out

I’ve learned that Calling Out has a time and a place. For example, if someone’s well-being is in immediate danger, it might be prudent. There are occasions where, if Calling In doesn’t work, it may be appropriate to Call Out. Calling Out is often a more publicly delivered message, where an entire community may ask for an individual to be accountable for their actions. It’s important to consider, before Calling Out, what the motivation for doing so is: do you wish the individual to learn and grow, or to be humiliated and ostracised? Or is there some other motive? As with Calling In, I recommend being incredibly clear as to why you personally are choosing to engage.


I’m inspired by all the work I see happening in consent culture activism around me, and hope that this can further support the amazing work being done by dedicated individuals and groups around the world. Thank you all for being part of this journey.

Further Reading:

Calling In: A Less Disposable Way to Hold Ourselves Accountable

Calling In: A Quick Guide to When And How

Consent Accidents and Consent Violations

Calling In


About the author:

Mel Mariposa is a relationship coach, and the author of the blog, Polysingleish. She is a queer, polyamorous relationship anarchist, and an advocate for consent culture. With over sixteen years of experience teaching and facilitating classes and workshops, she is also co-producer for the successful Erotica Electronica series in Vancouver, BC, and a co-founder of The Consent Crew. She holds a certification in Counselling for Intimacy in Relationships from the Vancouver College of Counsellor Training, and through her practice, Radical Relationship Coaching, she helps individuals discover new dimensions of their relationships to themselves, and the people in their lives.

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.

“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

Or maybe just…

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

Consensual Consent

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller

My name is Melina, and I’m one of the co-founders of The Consent Crew.

I had an epiphany a couple of years ago- I had no idea what Consent was. I had grown up in a world seemingly devoid of the concept. Every day conversations in my family were filled with demands, a pattern which I copied and then brought into my friendships and relationships. One day, I began to realise that this wasn’t all that nice a way to behave towards people I loved, and I started to wake up to the idea of Consent Culture.

The truth is, we all have boundaries around what we are willing to give, and we all have things we want. Sometimes we are extra selfish, we behave stupidly, we forget that other people have their wants and boundaries too, empathy and compassion fly out the window, and we violate someone’s consent.

We have all done it. And we have all had it done to us.

Submit to the BattleAxe of Consent!
Submit to the BattleAxe of Consent!

I’m not here to wield the battleaxe of consent, donned in a skirt of sex-positivity and breast-plate of feminism (though, that sounds like an amazing costume idea); we, of the Consent Crew, want this to be fun. We want to engage you in this conversation, consensually. We are tired of social awkwardness, intoxication, and ignorance being an acceptable excuse for assault and bullying. We want to provide you with an alternative, an alternative that we think really works way better than the current paradigm, an approach that leads to happier, healthier individuals and communities.

Before I go further, let’s get clear on some terminology. Consent Culture is the antithesis of something called “Rape Culture“, a label given to describe a cultural attitude- prevalent in human society- that ignores the individual’s right for bodily autonomy, and instead glorifies the idea of forcing or coercing another to bend or submit to another person’s wants. Consent Culture is the solution we offer to the oppressive nature of a phenomenon called Patriarchy (that says a man can over-ride the autonomy of any other gender) and Kyriarchy (that says a person with sociocultural privilege- be it gender, orientation, race, position or otherwise- has the right to over-ride an individual’s free will, simply because of their privileged position). Privilege refers to an inherent socio-cultural bias that favours someone or gives them a particular advantage not due to personal merit or effort- such as the economic class someone was born into or a person’s outward racial or gender appearance. There are some forms of privilege that are considered to be universal (such as Male Privilege, a global phenomenon where the masculine is treated as default superior in many aspects of life), and there are some examples of privilege that tend to be the exception to the norms.

“A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex–in fact, of human interaction–is centered around mutual consent.  It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs…

I don’t want to limit it to sex.  A consent culture is one in which mutual consent is part of social life as well.  Don’t want to talk to someone? You don’t have to.  Don’t want a hug? That’s okay, no hug then.  Don’t want to try the fish? That’s fine… Don’t want to be tickled or noogied? Then it’s not funny to chase you down and do it anyway.”
We believe that most of us have no desire to hurt or harm another person. However, we also believe that we have all done so, in moments of selfishness, where we have forgotten to consider another person’s autonomy. This makes it sometimes challenging to talk about Consent. In fact, some people are afraid to engage in this conversation, because they know they’ve made mistakes. If you are one of those people, please know you aren’t alone.

12The deeper you go into the “rabbit hole” of Consent Culture, the more you find there is that you had never considered before, and the more you begin to see every interaction with another human being through that lens of Consent. That can be challenging, for many people. You might start to see your relationships differently. You may question things you have done for loved ones, and things that loved ones have done for you. It can be especially challenging for people who have been the victims of consent violations to realise that they may have violated the consent of others.

Stigmatising the subject won’t get us, as a society of humans, anywhere. We are here to explore a paradigm where our interactions are guided by compassion, respect, tolerance, kindness, and patience. Consent culture is about respecting that we have no right to take or demand what someone else is not willing to give or share. And, if you mistakenly do, then the best thing you can do is say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me, what can I do to repair this trust?”, and, if your actions have hurt someone, “What can I do to help you heal from this?”

Consent isn’t just about sex, it is a possibility in every interaction you have, and we invite you to join us and explore what that looks like. We believe interactions can be more fun, playful, engaging, enjoyable, enriching, and satisfying when coming from a mindset of Consent Culture. And, that’s why we are here, with teapots of consent, cupcakes of feminist thought, and sandwiches of sex-positivity.