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  • Writer's pictureAshton Rose

Covid and Consent: The Importance of Active, Enthusiastic Consent

NOTE: This post talks a lot about consent, and as a result may mention sexual violence, assault, and other such issues. Keep this in mind while reading, and if you can’t handle those topics right now, it’s ok to walk away.

As I’ve talked about before, the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us many things (along with, you know, ravaging much of the world). One of the things we’ve been taught a lot about is consent, and I think it’s worth exploring that some more, because consent is a very, very important thing.

Especially since coming to college (go Mac!), I’ve been noticing a lot more conversations around consent, and more use of it in everyday scenarios. Today, I’m going to talk more about that, what the pandemic has taught us, and the importance of consent in general.

What is consent?

Some people may still not know what consent is. And that’s ok— it’s a difficult concept to define, because it looks different for everybody. Merriam Webster defines consent as: “to agree to do or allow something: to give permission for something to happen or be done.”

I would argue, as would many people I know, that there’s another modifier that is important to put on consent: active and enthusiastic consent. What does that mean?

It means that you are getting consent— whether that be for hugs, conversations, sex, or something else— actively in every scenario. It also means that all parties involved are agreeing enthusiastically, and they really do want to agree. Consent through coercion is not consent.

And consent doesn’t mean sex— it can be used in every scenario. Hugs, kisses, any type of physical contact, even asking if someone is willing to have a conversation about certain topics. All of these are examples of consent, and it’s important to remember that.

Covid and consent

So what has Covid taught us about consent? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Think about interactions you may have had recently. How many times have you asked someone if they’re comfortable with hugs? If it’s appropriate to take off masks? If they’re ok with being around many people?

All of these questions, and others like them, emphasize the importance of consent, especially in the context of public health. We are constantly holding open conversations to make sure that we are all comfortable, and staying safe.

As we continue caring for each other, we need to keep this momentum going. Continue practicing active and enthusiastic consent in everyday scenarios. And remember: even if they said yes in the past, you should still ask again.

Of course, in some scenarios, you may have already established that you don’t need to ask to do something (ie, hugs), or that non-verbal cues are enough. That is fine, as long as you have held that conversation openly and everyone is comfortable. Especially in the middle of a pandemic, we need to constantly make sure everyone is comfortable and safe!

Practicing everyday consent

Like I said, we need to be practicing active and enthusiastic consent everyday. To help you understand what that may look like, I’ll give a couple examples.

First, in a non-romantic context: when hanging out with people in a pandemic, we often ask whether we can unmask, if physical contact is ok, if we should social distance, etc. I’ve had a lot of these conversations at Mac, and they’re important to have everywhere.

I also have a more concrete example. A little bit ago, I was on a date with a lovely human. The night was going well, and we had just watched a movie in his room. I wanted to kiss them, but you need consent first!

So I turned to him and I said, “would you like to kiss?” Pay attention to the wording there: not “can I”, but “would you like to?” This puts less pressure on them, and shifts the focus to their comfort level.

The emphasis here is on not pressuring the other person, keeping conversations open, and being mindful of everyone’s comfort level. This is true in any scenario, not just romantic/sexual contexts.

You never need to apologize

Another aspect of the importance of consent is making sure people know there is no need to apologize for saying no. There’s no shame in not being comfortable with something.

This also means that part of caring for each other is not shaming others for saying no, and not expecting them to apologize. To follow the example I gave:

He responded. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.” Then, after a pause, “Sorry.”

And I immediately reminded them that they do not need to apologize. Try to carry that with you— on top of not expecting apologies, remind people that they don’t need to when they apologize for saying no.

Additionally, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. You never have to explain why you’re saying no. You absolutely can, if you want to, but there’s no requirement to do so. It’s ok to just say no and leave it at that.

The benefits of practicing consent

Ok, so consent is important— I think we all get that by now. But how does practicing everyday consent help us?

First of all, it helps keep people out of uncomfortable situations. Especially for people with anxiety or difficulties in social situations, it can be hard to say no to things. But if we create a space that invites people to say no, and keeps the focus on their comfort level without pressure, it becomes a lot easier for people to say no.

Active and enthusiastic consent is also important in the prevention of sexual violence and assault. By creating a culture where it’s ok to say no, people are less likely to get pressured into situations they don’t want to be in. Of course, many perpetrators of sexual violence don’t care about consent, so it will only help so much. But we can at least create a culture that cares more about consent.

And at the end of day, learning more about the importance of consent just makes everyone more comfortable. It creates spaces where people aren’t pressured into things they’re uncomfortable with, and where it’s easier to say no. So remember: practice active and enthusiastic consent as much as possible, and carry what Covid has taught us into the future.

Do you have questions about consent? Want to share your ideas? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know by leaving a comment below or tagging us on social media (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram).

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