What I Really Mean When I Say No

(Because there can never be enough blog posts about consent.)

When I say no, what am I really saying? Clearly there must be some hidden message for you to decode. Obviously I cannot actually mean no. Right?

Wrong.

There is an astounding number of people who don’t actually know what consent is. It’s one of those things that should be common knowledge, but, for some reason, isn’t. And, honestly, that is a terrifying thought.

Let’s look at how Merriam-Webster defines consent.

consent

noun | con·sent

Simple Definition of consent

  • : permission for something to happen or be done

  • : agreement about an opinion or about something that will happen or be done

As you can see, this definition really leaves no wiggle room. Consent is permission. It is the agreement that something will or will not happen.

That means that if you ask me something and I say no, you do not have my consent. For instance, let’s say my boyfriend asks if he can kiss me. I say no because I’m just not feeling it. Because I said no, he is not allowed to kiss me. Even if he really wants to, he has to keep his lips to himself until I give him consent.

Consent is an extremely simple concept, but there are a few things that need clearing up.

First of all, consent is not permanent. 

Just because someone has agreed to something once does not mean that they are agreeing to it forever. If I give you permission to hold my hand, that only applies in that one instance. You can’t just hold my hand whenever you want after that. You need to ask every time because my answer may change.

Second, consent is not implied. 

You cannot assume that you have someone’s consent. You have to ask them outright because the answer might be different than you think. This sort of goes along with the first point. You can’t assume that you don’t have to ask just because it’s happened before. People are allowed to change their minds.

Third, you are never entitled to someone else’s consent.

I cannot stress this point enough. There is such a thing as sexual assault by spouse or partner. You are not entitled to someone else’s body because you’re dating or married to them. Consent belongs to the individual and it is always required, no matter the circumstances.

Let’s go back to the example about my boyfriend asking for a kiss. Now, obviously, he doesn’t pause before he kisses me to ask every single time. We’re dating and I like to kiss him. However, if I tell him no, he respects that. He doesn’t get to kiss me anyway because we are dating or because we have kissed before. Consent doesn’t work like that.

Consent equals communication. You can’t assume consent, no matter what the situation is. You can be married to the person and that does not mean you get to decide what physical activity you get and when. That’s a joint decision that both parties have to agree with.

Consent is black and white; it is not gray. It is simple and people need to stop trying to change the definition of it. Consent is a verbal exchange in which two people agree to a certain action or activity.

There is a lovely little video that compares tea to consent. I highly suggest that everybody watches it because it is precious and cute and explains things very well.

Bottom line: Consent is a prerequisite, not an luxury.

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