At 35, I’m pretty much settled on the basics of what I do and do not like in life. I love hot chocolate made with coconut milk on cold winter days (especially when laced with marshmallows), long hot baths that ease my fibromyalgia, curling up with my sister for a Netflix binge of one of our favourite shows, and hugs from my absolute favourite person in the entire world. I detest ignorance, cold showers, doctors who won’t listen to me, and people who think they know better than everyone else. I know that I’m still educating myself on various things, and honestly, I’m okay with this, because it means that I’m still learning and evolving as a person and that means I’m still on my way to becoming whole.
There are, however, certain things that really piss me off. Things that lately have been driving me crazier than if you hid my Babylon 5 boxset from me and then expected me to go searching not only for each individual season and film, but each individual disc. If you did that, I think I might, just might have to kill you (I may or may not be joking here). The issue of consent is a big one for me. Actually consent isn’t big, it’s massive. And although, in today’s world when we talk about consent, we tend to think about the issue of rape and sex (which by the way, huge and rightfully so), aren’t the only forms of consent that we should be looking at in general, at least not in my opinion. This piece aims to take a look at the various ways in which I’ve been thinking about consent over the past few days. Of course starting with the obvious, because as I said, it’s obvious, and it’s still a huge issue.
We all know how this is supposed to go. Two or more partners of the legal age, who are not biologically related to each other within a certain degree, agree that they want to have sex, both say yes in a clear verbal agreement that is understood for what it is, and they have sex. If at any point one of them wants to stop, they tell the other, and everything stops. There’s no shaming, there’s no persuading. It can be discussed and understood, but there’s no pressure on the stopping party to do that. It may be a disappointment for the other(s) involved but that’s it. Now let’s break this down and examine it:
My first point here, is legal age. This implies that both partners are old enough in the eyes of the law in a particular country to say with certainty that this is what they want. This means that one of the partners should not be under the age at which the law deems it appropriate. If they are this classes as either child abuse or rape.
My second point here, is that they are not biologically related to each other within a certain degree. Now this can vary depending on country, or for say for example, within the US, on the State in which a person lives. But it’s generally accepted that a minimum degree of relationship would probably be first cousins (I did say it depended on the law of the area), but is more likely to be more widespread than this. Now generally this is to stop issues with deformities in offspring, which is why incest is so taboo. However, it can also help reduce the chance of abuse of children.
My third point is perhaps the most crucial of the situation, they agree that they want to have sex, both say yes in a clear verbal agreement that is understood for what it is, and they have sex. There needs to be a clear agreement. Not a nod or a mumble, or something that isn’t completely crystal clear. Nothing is to be implied at this point. Consent cannot be implied. And consent can only be given by someone who is able to understand the implications of what having sex means. Which would mean that a child or adult person with severely decreased mental comprehension (through alcohol, drug use, or other impairment) is unable to give consent. This means that sex should not happen with them. Period. Overstepping those lines brings you into the realms of abuse. And as a survivor of childhood molestation, I can honestly say, that I never consented to one single thing that my abuser did to me.
And finally, if one party wants to stop, the activities stop. I think this is where the BDSM community have it right. A safe word, a word spoken which pulls both parties out of the activities and back into the ‘real world’ creates a way out of anything either party feels uncomfortable with. No one should be forced to continue and no one should be made to feel guilty for not being able to. We each have our limits. And I know that should I have a a PTSD induced flashback during sex, I wouldn’t want to continue.
This is one that a friend of mine is currently teaching her child (I’ll call them Sara and Cain for the purpose of this article), and it ties in with sexual consent but can also be applied in different ways. Bodily consent gives a person complete autonomy over their body and what they deem appropriate or inappropriate and is something that as an Aspie, I am constantly aware of. I only like to be touched by certain people, I only like hugs from certain people. And as a wheelchair user, my chair comes under this category as well.
Sara is teaching Cain that only he gets to decide when he wants to give a hug or a kiss. If Granny says “Give me a hug Cain, I’m leaving.” And Cain doesn’t want to, Cain can say no and choose to wave instead. Granny has been asked not to get upset if this happens but to respect that it’s Cain’s choice what he does with his body. From what Sara tells me, Granny wasn’t impressed with this at first, but has slowly come to understand that from Sara’s point of view, this enables Cain, who is on the Autism Spectrum, autonomy over his own body and a way to control his environment and sensory input. I actually think it’s something we should encourage with all children. Because it teaches them about respect for self and others as well.
As a wheelchair user, my wheelchair is an extension of my body when I use it, the amount of people who barge into it as if it’s a problem for them, without consideration for me, or use it as a leaning post is irksome. Every time they do this, it jars my already sensitive body and causes pain spasms to shoot through me. Only I can decide who pushes me, or who touches my chair besides me. And deciding for me is not appropriate. There are a handful of people I trust to help me push my chair. And I can guarantee that these people are not on that list.
I do not, and never will understand the way in which some doctors behave towards those of us with long term health issues. Now don’t get me wrong, my GP understands me. I love my GP more than I can possibly explain. She and I discuss my treatment in extreme detail, we talk about our research into my conditions and we compare notes. But for the love of the Gods! One locum GP lately informed me that due to my venlafaxine I need a barrage of tests. I went home in a panic attack. Turns out I only need them IF I’m an adult over aged 50. And my GP had already discussed my particular heart issues regarding the medication with me. Then we’ll add the musculoskeletal specialist who has palmed me off to the pain clinic without actually letting me fully consent to it after I fainted in her office.
Alcohol and drugs
We live in a world where alcohol is central to everything. You can’t walk through most Western cities without seeing adverts for some form of alcohol. Our supermarkets are geared towards selling alcohol on cheap deals and by the case. Our televisions, radio stations, newspapers, magazines, and even our public transportation, carry adverts for vodka, whiskey, wine, and most other forms of alcohol. On a weekend, if, like me, you happen to live near a pub or club, you’ll hear people falling out of the doors at closing time, and the noise will continue until long after the establishment has closed. It’s normal to have alcohol at house parties, and depending on your circle, it may or may not be normal to find that there is some form of other substance on offer too.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a drink, on occasion. I also have been known, in the past to partake of the occasional joint (my uni days aren’t that much of a distant memory, although my age would like to convince me otherwise). But it’s my choice whether I drink or not, whether I join in with the taking of an illicit substance or not, and I shouldn’t be ridiculed if my choice doesn’t go along with the popular one. I know that Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) runs in my family. I know that if AUD had been allowed to, it would have taken the life of one of my dearest soul family members before we ever got the chance to meet in this life. I also know that I have the genetic propensity towards addiction and that I spent 10 years trying to come off nicotine before achieving success.
During a particularly horrendous 12 months in which I lost 5 people, including my mum, whilst I was at uni, I went through a lot of binge which involved alcohol and pot. There’s a whole week of my life during which I lost 2 people that I remember a grand total of 5 hours of after hearing the news of the first death. And even those 5 hours are fragmented pieces. I’m extremely aware that those moments could have put me at greater risk of addiction. In the same manner that I became addicted to nicotine and self-harm. So I make the choice to say no when I want, and I shouldn’t be pressured into doing anything other than that.
Consent means a verbal affirmation. It means a definite yes to whatever is being proposed at the time. It doesn’t mean a ‘maybe’ or a ‘mmm hmm’. Consent is a yes. And that means that if a no is uttered, or someone changes their mind, no matter what they agreed to, you should respect their wishes. Let’s stop this bullshit and respect other people.