Boundaries can be sexy
Rainn explains consent as “an ongoing process of discussing boundaries and what you’re comfortable with.” The discourse around consent usually begins and ends with a discussion of sexual assault or intimate partner violence, but we don’t give a lot of airtime to how integral it is to healthy relationships. Informed consent and honesty are the strongest foundations to build all relationships on, be a romantic or platonic relationship.
How to Evaluate and Establish Consent
The FRIES acronym offers an easy way to view and evaluate consent.
F — Freely Given
You are participating of your own volition. You have not been pressured or coerced, and are in a state of mind where you’re able to make an informed decision.
R — Reversible
You can stop at any time. If you or your partner decide they want to stop, the other one will not retaliate in any way and will respect their choice.
I — Informed
Your agreement has terms. You have both specified what exactly it is you are agreeing to and have disclosed any important information beforehand.
E — Enthusiastic/Embodied
You have given express and tangible consent. This can be done through speech, writing, sign language, or a physical gesture.
Everyone’s ability is different, but affirmative consent is always a must.
S — Specific/Sober
“Yes” to one thing does not mean “yes” to everything. When you’ve decided to engage in any variety of sexual or romantic activity, you should agree on what you’re doing beforehand. And if one of you thinks of something they’d like to try while you’re in the midst of things, ask first.
Sober does not have to mean totally sober. It means that if you have enjoyed any alcohol or other controlled substances, that they are not impairing your mental or physical capabilities. How much you can have and still be mentally and physically competent will vary from person to person.
Establishing real, authentic consent requires some vulnerability. You have to be direct about what you want and are willing to do, and disclose any information that might cause your partner to change their mind about having sex. If you feel the need to conceal some personal information in order to make sex appealing, that is a violation of consent. People are agreeing to a specific act, not hidden fees and clauses.
And when you’ve both laid out what you want, you have to respect what the other one says. Of course, you’re welcome to let them know that they are free to change their mind if they decide they do actually want to try that one thing you mentioned but don’t try to force them into it or bully them into changing their mind. It can be embarrassing to get shot down, but those are feelings best unpacked by yourself.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that consent means an affirmative agreement, not the absence of a no. Speak up when something sounds unappealing or you’d like to stop, and listen to them when they say no.
Consent is an Ongoing Contract
Consent stays an important part of long-term relationships. When you get to know someone well, and when you have a history with them and a running list of boundaries, it can be easy to forget that you’ve still got to ask permission and check-in with your partner. No matter how long you’ve been together, your partner can still rescind permission for something or change their boundaries. Consent is fluid, not static, but should always be respected.
Consent keeps lines of communication open. It’s a built-in way to discuss what’s working, what’s not, and things you’d like to try. People’s needs and interests change over time. Building a relationship where you can freely communicate your needs and boundaries is going only going to strengthen the best parts of what you already have and help combat whatever issues may arise.
Consent is For Everyone
The conversation around consent shouldn’t solely be centered on sex. Consent is part of all healthy relationships. Every person has their own terms and agreements, and it's best that everyone is on the same page about what works and what doesn’t.
Consent is not solely physical in nature. The conversations we agree to have, the words we agree to use, the activities we agree to participate in are all based on what we are allowed to do with other people. The way you behave with one friend might not fly with another friend, and that’s important to establish.
Consent is also something to teach children. Learning to respect our bodies, the bodies of others, and boundaries is not often a part of teaching children how to behave in a community. However, it's vitally important that all humans, no matter how young or old, learn that they deserve to have their limits respected.
If your child doesn’t like to hug their relatives or does not want to share a toy with someone, that’s ok. Children are asked to share in a way that adults never are. As we get older, we are not expected to give away parts of ourselves or things that we love to other people just because we should “share.” Of course, encouraging generosity in children is great and makes for happier and more well-adjusted adults, but forcing children to do things they’re uncomfortable with has the opposite effect. Kids are allowed to have limits too, and those limits deserve to be respected.
Consent is Sexy
Consent is often (wrongly) viewed as a mood interruption or the thing that slows down a heated moment. Talking about your boundaries in sexual activities never has to be boring. Like sex, you or you and your partner are what make it great. You can certainly keep the mood going by asking for consent, especially when you start asking your partner what they would like done to them.
Start by asking, “What would you like me to do to you?” or “How do you like to experience pleasure?”. Both of these examples can be steamy with a little effort, and once you get into the conversation, you may realize how much of a turn on asking for consent really is. Continue by stating sexual activities you really like to do or receive and ask about the ones they like to do or receive. The simple act of talking about sexual activities you like can be erotic and informative. Consent doesn’t need to be boring -- you get to decide that.
Remember: Consent is a non-negotiable part of sexual activity, so if you are going to be turned off by asking for consent, then you need to analyze how you treat partners in sexual activity, and if you are capable of respecting boundaries. To fully enjoy sex, it is important to understand limitations you may have or a partner may have to ensure everyone is having a good time.