By: Charlotte Rogers
Consent is something that only some of us have been formally taught about in our lives. At 23 years old, I have moved across states and attended many different schools. It was only when I sought consent education resources that I learned more about how these things can be communicated and understood. This newfound knowledge made me reflect on how it could have positively influenced my past relationships and emphasized the importance of sharing it with others in my community.
I was a peer educator throughout my undergraduate college years. I was trained to lead workshops on consent education, healthy relationships, sexual violence awareness, and other related topics. I learned from leading these workshops how little people had been taught about consent previously, whether their attendance was voluntary or was part of a mandatory training process. Questions as simple as “How do I say yes or no to my partner/friend/family member” were so common that we created entire activities surrounding them to ensure that everyone felt heard and could better understand how easy consent really is to understand and communicate. I began to imagine if consent education could be taught earlier so that adults in formed relationships did not have to seek answers and support independently.
How Consent Is Traditionally Discussed
When consent is discussed, it is frequently only in the context of sexual relationships. This is why, just as sex education is lacking in many places. Consent education is rarely often a part of people’s communication skills. Many people often misinterpret consent as “unsexy” or “inappropriate.” Due to a lack of education or stigma, consent is rooted in healthy communication and developing boundaries.
Practicing Consent & Boundaries
Boundaries are essential and entirely appropriate steps in any relationship. Trust and safety in the context of a sexual relationship are crucial. However, these are not the only ways consent should be defined.
Consent exists between the participating parties involved because of their voluntary, enthusiastic agreement. This can look like consenting to be hugged by a family member, discussing something with a friend, or even consenting to gifts from a partner. Consent and its intersections can be taught to people of any age.
Consent can also look and sound different in each relationship, depending on what communication methods each person is most comfortable with. This can mean checking in with a “How do you feel” or “Is this okay” or having a conversation early on about agreed-upon, nonverbal ways of positively communicating with one another. Promoting positive communication tactics is an excellent way of normalizing consent and encouraging healthier relationships in your life and in the lives of others.
Consent Education Moving Forward
Although consent education might seem common knowledge, it is assumed people will know boundaries without discussion. Learning how to practice communication of our boundaries or understanding what boundaries are is complex. Consent education ensures no one feels they must settle for an unhealthy relationship. Everyone deserves the right to learn how to understand their boundaries, the respect they deserve, and how to communicate the trust and safety they need.
Consent can be something that is revisited over the years. What one is comfortable with at one period does not mean it must be in another period over one’s life. Promoting healthy relationships also means educating yourself and sharing what you learn from resources like in schools, online, and through the experience of practicing check-ins with yourself and your loved ones. It may not be easy at first, but creating a better consent culture for the future is essential.
Consent education means advocating for yourself is practicing boundaries, which is vital for healthy relationships. When we speak up, it permits others to feel empowered in their own relationships. Inclusive and sex-positive conversations everywhere mean that wherever we are, positive change occurs in our communities.