This is part of my series on How To Be A Good Person.
The Golden Rule can teach us a lot about consent. Let’s start with three easy scenarios:
- Your car is your property. No one borrows it without your consent.
- Your home is your domain, and a door-to-door salesperson does not enter without your consent.
- Your body is part of you, and a person may not caress your face without your consent.
Likewise, you don’t borrow someone’s things, enter their residence, or touch them without permission.
Easy stuff, right? Let’s dive deeper.
Consent is about saying Yes
Some folks think consent is about saying No. And if someone fails to say No, they’ve consented. Rubbish! Consent is all about saying Yes.
Here’s why: Imagine your boss asks to borrow your car. You feel uncomfortable and make an excuse, “Uhh… my car is kinda messy right now. Maybe another time?” You didn’t say No: is it OK for your boss to drive off in your car? Of course not. You must first say Yes.
Similarly, salespeople don’t waltz into your home when you say, “Right now isn’t a great time for a fancy vacuum demonstration.” They must stay outside unless you invite them in (which is a form of Yes).
This principle holds for intimate situations, too. Touching, kissing, and sex require a Yes from both parties. And this Yes can be nonverbal.
And if you’re ever in a coma (or even just intoxicated), you can’t consent to anything.
Consent is ongoing
Consent is not a contract, where you sign a document and are bound by its terms. Instead, consent is a living agreement that you can revoke at any time. For any reason.
For example: you invite a salesperson into your living room to regale you with the wonders of their latest vacuum. You can still revoke your consent at any time. Without explanation.
Also, past consent doesn’t imply future consent. Maybe you let a salesperson in yesterday but not today. Or maybe you lent your lawnmower to your neighbor last week but not this week.
So, strive to treat people with the same respect. Pay attention to how other people feel. Have you overstayed your welcome at the Halloween party? Is your neighbor really OK with your keeping their chainsaw for another week?
And yes, this applies to sex, too. Consent is ongoing and you can rescind it. So create opportunities for your partner to respond with a Yes or No. Ask them questions like, “May I…? Do you like this? Is this OK?” And bear in mind that many responses will be nonverbal.
The Golden Rule says to treat people the way you wish to be treated. And this applies to consent, too. We want folks to wait for a Yes before borrowing personal property, entering our homes, or touching our bodies. Therefore, we should treat others the same way.
Furthermore, consent is an ongoing agreement and may be revoked at any time. So pay attention to how the other party feels. Are they OK with what’s happening? Do they want to continue?
As Jasper Jane says, consent should be active, enthusiastic, and ongoing.