5 Ways to Practice Consent in Everyday Life
RAFT Team, April 19, 2021
In recent years, consent has become a hot topic. In fact, most colleges dedicate an entire page on their website to clearly outline what is and what isn’t consent. Most of these institutions define consent as “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.” Our culture has sought to clarify expectations about engaging in sexual activity. We’ve made it a point to clearly define sexual assault, rape, and consensual sex. While it is healthy and admirable that these conversations are happening more and more frequently, it’s also good to remember that practicing consent involves far more than agreeing to sexual activity.
In order for relationships to be healthy and on equal grounds, we must also practice consent in the following areas:
Has someone shared a personal story with you? Consent means that you don’t share this information with anyone else without their permission. It’s their story to tell, and they need to be in charge of how that story is told and who hears it. Practice consent before sharing anyone's information with someone else.
It is considered an invasion of privacy to take someone’s photograph without their consent. But what if the photographer is a friend? Practice consent before taking any image. Before sharing or posting an image of someone else on social media, get that person’s permission to share. Individuals have a right to choose what others see and how they are portrayed, especially on social media. Never post an image of someone else without first obtaining their consent.
If you’re planning on any type of group activity, it’s important to ensure that everyone has given their input before you finalize plans. This goes for anything from dinner plans to holiday events and vacation destinations.
Can everyone eat the food at a restaurant? Will the destination meet all unique dietary needs? Will you be splitting costs evenly between everyone at dinner or will each person be responsible for their own purchase? Consent involves being able to make an informed decision, so make sure you provide all the details, you answer all questions, and you’ve considered everyone’s input.
Physical contact isn’t always sexual in nature. Any type of touch needs consent before it is made. You have a right to decline a hug from someone. This is especially true for children — they should not be made to hug someone just because that person is a relative or a good friend of someone else present. Nor should anyone be tickled without first giving consent. If you’re in a public space and need to get past someone, use verbal direction rather than touching them on the shoulder to let them know you’re trying to get past. Personal space is private space and should not be entered without permission.
Everyone has a right to choose what they discuss with others and what they don’t. Consent in conversation means making sure the other person is okay to talk about a particular topic before you dive in. That person may need some time to think about the topic before they agree to discuss it with you, or they may choose to never have that conversation with you. Either way, consent means respecting their wishes and not forcing a conversation someone is unwilling to have with you.
If you have children in your life, help them learn to develop their own healthy boundaries and to respect the boundaries of others. Model a lifestyle that seeks consent from others before you take any action.
In sum? Never assume that someone is okay with something. The excuse that “ you didn’t think they’d mind,” or “you let someone else do this,” is never acceptable. And just because someone doesn’t say NO does not mean they gave a yes. Only a yes is a yes — to anything. Consent is for every area of life, not just sexual activity.