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Ask a Raging Feminist: What does consent mean to you?

Consent — the act of seeking permission for something to happen — has become a hot topic, and for good reason. Rape culture is a very real thing, and the concept of consent is pivotal in helping to dismantle it.

Seeking explicit permission from a partner before engaging in certain activities, whether sexual or not, is about building trust and respect. Since consent means different things to different people, we checked in with our Raging Feminists to see how they define consent.

What does consent mean to you?

Consent means mutual safety and pleasure. It means being vulnerable enough to risk rejection should the other person not be into what you want and caring enough to prioritize your partner’s comfort and bliss. Communicating about consent also conveys confidence and tells me my prospective/current partner can talk about other needs as well.” — Katie Klabusich

Consent comes down to comfort for me. If I ask someone if I can give them a hug, that’s me asking if they are comfortable with that type of interaction. Not everyone is! The national conversation about consent is more about sex than a chaste hug, but the roots are the same. If I’m having sex with someone, I want them to be comfortable with what we are doing. Enthusiastic consent assures me that they are, in fact, having a good time. And that we are doing something that is mutually exciting. And that’s the goal!” — Seraphina Ferraro

Consent is a non-linear conversation that should always be happening in our interactions: sexual or otherwise. It’s fluid and essential to understanding what it means to be in relationships with other people: whether these relationships are long-term or fleeting. And, there is no ‘consent hierarchy’: all people have a right to grant or deny consent, including sex workers, children and spouses.

“Consent should be laid as bedrock in the earliest days of parenting, helping both boys and girls internalize the notion that no one can do anything to our bodies without our permission — let your babies and kids know when you’re going to brush their hair or change their clothes, and listen to your kids when they tell you to stop tickling. We need to work towards nurturing a generation where consent culture is the status quo.” — Lyndsay Kirkham

More: #ConsentIs hashtag takes off in wake of alarming campus rape survey

I would define consent as something necessary in every situation, although it is most commonly associated with sex. I believe to even begin a discussion on consent, we have to teach children about consent as soon as we can. Teaching consent and understanding it is an iterative and ongoing process. Teaching people to ask questions like ‘Is this okay?’ for any act where they are impacting another person is pivotal. Regarding sexual acts, getting consent for every act is vital; a ‘yes’ for one sexual act is not consent for every sexual act. Teaching this from a younger age, for instance, that hugging a peer is a moment where one can ask for consent can prep children to be adults that view consent as a normalized action. I think it is also essential to know that consent should be sought after and obtained, but that it can also be revoked during an interaction, also noting that a ‘no’ is not the only rejection of consent, as silence is also not consent. Lastly, there are a number of ways that can be easily integrated into interactions that one can attain and confirm consent with. By using phrases like ‘Do you want to stop?’ or ‘Can I?” or ‘Is this good for you?” or “Is there anything you want to try?’ we can create safer and healthier interactions between people.” — Nashwa Khan

Consent is a living concept. Ongoing, affirmative and enthusiastic consent cannot be scripted and, to be real, it must come from a place of pure and profound openness to a ‘no,’ to the humanity and agency of your partner.

“Consent is a gateway — a door to wonderful exploration. It is not a barrier to be overcome. It is a beginning, because love and desire are fractal, like so many parts of our living world; within the narrowest of boundaries lies a world entire.” — Margaret Corvid

I hate how consent is so transitional in a way, and also very one-sided. It seems like it’s always on just one person, and I don’t like it. Also, people tend to think that because you consent, you’re consenting to all the things, which is BS. Ongoing consent is a thing and needs to be talked about more.” — Gloria Malone

More: This school is teaching students about consent before they even step on campus

The burden of communication is on both parties, for sure. You can’t just force one person to be responsible for this ongoing dialogue of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and ‘let’s try it and see if I like it.’ That’s a lot to carry while you’re trying to have an orgasm too.” — Rowan Beckett Grigsby

Consent is respect for boundaries. It demands open and honest conversation and questions, with no room for assumptions. I’m glad people are talking more about consent when it comes to sex — but we should be practicing it in all kinds of interpersonal interactions. I cringe every time I see someone touch another person’s hair without permission or tell a child to go hug someone the child is clearly not comfortable around. If we become more aware of the need to practice and encourage consent at all ages and in different scenarios, the necessary conversations about consent in the bedroom will become easier and, I think, second nature.” — Emily Bingham

Consent is an enthusiastic yes. Consent requires check-ins. Consent is not just about sex. Consent is when I invite you to comment on my body, encourage you to touch my hair. Consent is when you ask and respect the answer. Consent shouldn’t come after begging; it should be comfortable and easy. Consent is for all genders. All consent is on an individual and situational basis. Consent can be rescinded at any time.” — Alex Blank Millard

I think consent is often viewed as an on/off switch that is flipped at the beginning of an encounter, and stays on the entire time, regardless of how anyone may actually be feeling. In truth, it’s more like a motion sensor light; if you don’t keep registering with it, it’ll flip off and you’re in the dark. Which is just a long-winded way of saying that consent can be snapped back at any minute, and the idea that any one gesture or action guarantees total consent for the duration of a night (or a relationship!) is extremely damaging.” — Hanna Brooks Olsen

More: ‘Cup of Tea’ is the sexual consent video all men need to see (WATCH)

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