The Happy Trail

Building a consent culture: Why bodily autonomy is not confined to the bedroom

This summer I made dozens of new friends, travelled across the Pacific Northwest and was introduced to lifestyles that I had never even considered. But one of the biggest ideas that I was introduced to this summer was that of a consent culture.

A consent culture is one in which the axis of all sexual interaction— or rather all human interaction— is based around consent. Now obviously this includes radical changes to our ideas of consent in sex, but it also means a shift towards complete and total respect towards each person’s decisions about their own bodies. A consent culture would abhor forcing or pressuring anyone into anything and value complete bodily autonomy above all else.

Does this sound like the kind of culture that you would want to exist in? Well, here’s the good news: we can work to start building this kind of culture in our own community.

First of all, we should talk about consent in sex, because although “don’t rape people” seems like a pretty big “duh” it still needs to be said.

It’s important to realize that rape isn’t exclusive to people putting on ski masks and jumping out of the bushes. Don’t have sex with somebody who isn’t enthusiastically, unambiguously and constantly consenting. Don’t have sex with somebody who responds to your suggestion with a “fine” or “well, okay.”

It sounds a little silly to say things like “can I kiss you now?” when you’re in the moment. “Can I touch you?” “Can I bite/lick/spank your neck/thigh/ass?” But once you learn to love the affirmation of the triumphant “Yes!!!” I promise that your partner will feel respected (plus, the ego boost from such enthusiastic consent isn’t bad either).

Next, I feel it’s very important to respect consensual sex outside of the bedroom. If you hear somebody talking about how they “tricked” somebody into sex, CALL THEM OUT ON THAT SHIT.

Sure, you don’t have to drop the big “R” word, but if somebody is bragging about how they used some strategic plan to convince somebody to sleep with them who wouldn’t have otherwise (whether from social pressure, the use of drugs/alcohol or anything else) it’s not hard to say something along the lines of “That doesn’t sound completely consensual. Not cool, man.” And if you ever witness a situation that seems less than consensual, put a stop to it.

One of the most important parts of consent culture is the idea of moving the idea outside of the bedroom. Consent isn’t only important when it comes to sex. It’s important when it comes to hugging, tickling, massaging or any other form of body contact.

One of the easiest ways to build a consent culture is to ask things like “Can I hug you?” before giving a friend a hug. Even if you’ve hugged your friend a thousand times before, asking beforehand shows that you truly respect your friend’s bodily autonomy. I’ve personally turned this little trick into a habit, and almost always receive an enthusiastic “of course!” followed by an even bigger hug than I might have gotten otherwise. People truly love consent!

Which brings me to my final step in building a consent culture: learning to love consent! To some, always asking for consent might seem like an awkward formality, when really it’s anything but!

Sex can become a much more positive experience if you can think of asking for consent as an exciting, delicious tension. An enthusiastic “yes please!” does wonders in the bedroom. Asking for consent shouldn’t just be a prerequisite to check off your list before gettin’ down. It should make you think “Alright, awesome. Now this sex is going to be even better because I know that my partner is REALLY into this!”

Consent culture is a hard thing to build. Although it started in the BDSM community, gaining footholds there, it’s an idea that has started sprouting up all over. Small communities of sex-positive consent activists are getting bigger. As the ideas behind consent culture start to spread, we should utilize every resource at our fingertips in creating a safe, respectful environment for everybody.

So let’s talk about consent. Let’s make consent the primary axis of all interaction. Let’s learn to love consent, because together we can help build a consent culture here at Puget Sound.