Credit: Ciara McAlinden

Let’s move this conversation out of the bedroom

By Emma Landsburgh

Consent isn’t just a sexual matter, and it’s time we talk about how crucial it is in everyday scenarios.

Consent is not just confined to the bedroom, but it’s often only spoken about regarding sexual relationships, especially after the #MeToo movement. Whilst consent is an important part of sexual interaction, it’s also in every other interaction we have, if only subtly. It’s deeply ingrained in every aspect of our lives, so why is it so rarely recognised when discussing non-sexual relationships? Consent is essential in school hallways, hospital corridors, office blocks, and shops; it’s just as important in our private lives, around those we surround ourselves with. 

Asking for consent in non-sexual situations strengthens and develops trust in relationships; it’s a simple way to show that you value someone’s choices and boundaries. Asking for permission can feel vulnerable or even a little clumsy, but it makes those around you feel respected. In my experience, the first misstep is always assuming. Guessing that someone is okay with something without asking them can cause distrust to breed in any relationship. Consent is directly linked to respect, showing those around you that you view them equally. It’s an essential part of maintaining any relationship you engage in.

A crucial part of communication is consent; we do it already in our lives when we make plans, borrow something, post photos, and have difficult conversations. It can be as simple as asking someone if they are comfortable talking about something or listening to a topic that could cause distress or unease. Conversational consent is not spoken about enough, even though words have a massive impact. A real-life trigger warning offers the chance to avoid upsetting a friend, even if it’s unintentional.

In friendships and family situations, consent seems to regularly be ignored in favour of “politeness”; think of those times as a kid when you had to hug a relative that you didn’t even know. As a child, being taught about consent can go a long way in developing healthy relationships later in life. This familial “politeness” often coerces people to ignore consent on their own part to make others happy. However, I would say it is far more polite to put consent first and recognise the requirement of another’s permission than carrying on with this idea of uncomfortable politeness at the expense of your own feelings. It’s a far more polite social cue anyway. 

“Can I kiss you?”

“Would you like a hug?”

“Want to hold hands?”

These simple questions take no time to ask, but more often than not, they make everyone feel comfortable and respected. Though it might feel a little embarrassing in the moment, it’s often received as a sweet gesture. A personal touch can make many people feel on edge, especially when it unexpectedly happens. I am sure we can all agree that feeling a hand on the shoulder or the small of the back instead of hearing “excuse me” is the absolute worst. If you were to walk past someone then simply saying “excuse me” instead of reaching out and touching someone – assuming, perhaps wrongly, that won’t bother them – is a simple act of consent. Recognising that those around you, including strangers, deserve to be offered the chance to consent is just being an active member of society, and a decent person. 

Consent is involved in every interaction we have: posting a group picture on Instagram, splitting a bill, or even moving past someone at the pub. It may seem awkward at first, but communication and respect are skills that have to be practised in every interaction we have. Consent forms boundaries in relationships that are necessary for trust, respect, and mental wellbeing. Without consent, a relationship can become suffocating and uncomfortable, as boundaries are ignored.

By taking the discussion of consent out of the bedroom, it is recognisably a part of everyday life already. It’s muscle memory. The creation of a safe space through consent allows us to place trust in those who appreciate and acknowledge your personal limits. 

The questions that begin with “can I…?” go a long way.


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