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  • Writer's pictureKaren O'Moore

The age of consent

Consent (verb): To give permission for something to happen. To permit, approve or agree. Basically consent comes down to not just taking what you want without being given permission. Consent is not only the foundation for conscious sexuality but it is vital in every facet of life. Repeat after me ''Just because we may like someone, or like the way they look, it doesn't give us the right to touch them'. Touching someone without their consent is taking something that was not yours to take.

Consent and boundaries are needed and also need to be communicated. Boundaries are not barriers limiting your sexuality or intimate encounters, but rather, they create a structure and safe place where intimacy can flow. Knowing your boundaries, owning them and expressing your 'yes' or your 'no' is important, leaving you feeling empowered, elated and turned on by your right to choose. Note that a black or white, yes or no, are not the only answers; a 'no, but can we explore xxx' is still being clear on where you are. Many times people are unconscious about asking for consent and when your boundaries are crossed or violated, not only did they most likely not mean to cross your boundary but they might have been totally clueless that there was a boundary in the first place because it was left unspoken, and rather than feel empowered, you are left feeling confused, frozen and disconnected. The clearer both partners are in asking for consent and expressing their boundaries, the wider the scope for deep pleasure.

The opposite to consent is not non-consent. It is rape. It is up to us to check in with someone and ask permission.

Before we share a hug or a touch and before a kiss or any kind of sexual activity, ask for consent. Getting consent just takes a second and can make a big difference in how things go. One of my sexiest experiences was after a long enjoyable meal (last ones in the restaurant), my date (our first) leaned over and asked if they may kiss me. That moment has stayed with me all these years. I love the feeling of being asked. When I am asked I am reminded of my own power and in the asking there is respect for me. And I love asking for consent and knowing if they say yes, they are sharing a gift with me - one that I honour. Not asking for consent puts you at risk of hurting the other persons feelings (perhaps even doing something illegal). We should always treat people respectfully. Always. Asking for consent about personal and sexual boundaries is mandatory for not only establishing healthy relationships, but also for maintaining them.

Over the years consent has been a huge lesson for me. I love touch and I love hugs (In South Africa people would come visit me at my centre just to share a hug with me). I am a tactile person and when I moved to the UK I kept being told, 'you cannot just touch anybody'. While much of that was because many in the UK do not like to be touched, it took a while to see that actually, I don't have the right to assume that everyone wants to be touched or hugged. Touch is magical and it has the potential to heal and take us to breathtaking places. Our skin is the largest organ of our body and is the physical manifestation of our boundaries. Touching another is hugely powerful and it has both the potential to connect them to us or to potentially deeply disconnect us. Touch can both heal or destroy depending on how it is given. Consent changes everything.

Sadly, during much of history consensual sex was more the exception than the rule, and the horrors of human trafficking and child brides remain in too many parts of the world. Even here, definitions of consent vary. In a sexual assault survey, over 25% of respondents blamed a woman for being raped if she was drunk, wore revealing clothing, or acted flirtatious beforehand. These appalling statistics reveal a society-wide deficit or autonomy, because public attitudes reflect personal struggles. And until we can be sympathetic to our own right and sincere and unforced consent, we cannot show more than a token concern for another's.

At any given moment of the day, may I ask you to become more aware of the nature of your interactions with others. Avoid unilateral decisions, ask for input, and listen with care and respect.

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