How to practice consent beyond the bedroom
Updated: Mar 22
Sexual consent, sadly, still needs A LOT of awareness. However, this post is not about that. It is all about the ways we should open up our minds and incorporate consent in to other parts of our lives.
I truly believe that we all can do with more mindfulness in how we interact with other people – friends, lovers, family, co-workers, strangers. Our different experiences and personalities call for different boundaries, comfort zones, triggers, and habits. Thank god we are all not the same. But that also means we need to not force our way of doing things and what we think is right on others.
I have learned this along the way and am still learning. I think it’s worth the effort. I hope you think so too. Here are some of the simple ways that strike me as important to practice consent outside of the bedroom.
1. Not sharing texts, images, and voice notes of others without their permission for any reason
Your friend shared a text about something that you REALLY want another friend to read. But before you go ahead and screenshot it/forward that message, you should ask your the friend who sent it if they are cool with that. It doesn’t even matter if what they said was not a secret or something personal, it’s still something they chose to share with you in private chat. So yeah, getting their consent is only right.
Recently, I sent a voice note to a friend, let’s call them Z, with some inputs about a project they started. Z ended up sharing that voice note another friend of theirs who is working with them on that project. And even though it was work related, I was really put off. Firstly, I don’t know that friend of theirs. Secondly, it’s my voice. Thirdly, the way Z communicated that was more upsetting. Instead of saying something like, ‘hey, I forwarded your voice note to X, hope you don’t mind/sorry I didn’t ask in advance’ Z didn’t even acknowledge that this was something they did and it was a violation of my privacy and made me uncomfortable.
I wouldn’t do this before but lately I have been mindful of sharing pictures on social media. Like if I met a someone after a really long time and we had a great day and took some goofy and cute selfies, I ask them if they are okay with me sharing those on social media. Not everyone is okay with it, as shocking as that may seem to some people.
2. Shaming or pushing people into revealing certain things
This works both in a group setting and on a one-on-one basis. Say there’s a group of friends having coffee on a sunny Saturday morning. Suddenly one of them starts talking about their sex life and then one by one so does everyone else in the group.
Except this one person, S. And instead of respecting the fact that S doesn’t want to talk about it, not right now anyway, if everyone in the group starts pestering them or saying things like ‘don’t be a prude’ or ‘why are you ruining the mood’ that’s very disturbing. And it doesn’t matter if the conversation was about something other than sex. It could have been about disclosing salaries, talking about family issues, or what their partner’s name is. It doesn’t matter. Don’t force people to talk about or share something they don’t want to.
It may be a bit scandalizing at first if you’re used to having people around you who are very open about literally everything in their life and nothing is TMI. It was for me, at first, too. But then I made this friend at work and we hit it off so well but her boundaries were so different than others I have known that it took me a while to understand and adjust. But I didn’t take it personally and was okay with the fact that she took 6 months to disclose the name of her partner. People work differently and we should respect that instead of pushing them or shaming them into revealing things.
3. Forcing someone to have a conversation they don’t want to
This one branches from the above point but is slightly different. When I was in 11th grade I used this platform called ‘Yahoo Answers’. I used to ask people the doubts I had about the Shakespeare plays I was studying in school, about a fight I had with some classmate, and all sorts of random things. I would answer such questions too. It was kind of like reddit but not as helpful. I made a new friend in school, P, and I revealed this to her and she went and stalked my profile on Y!A. The next day after school we went to get some pizza and while we were waiting for our order, P asked a question that made me want to run.
I had completely forgotten that I had posted some question about something very personal (online anonymity for the win) when I had shared my username with her. After my brain processed it, I made up some lies, which I know she didn’t believe because she kept asking more questions about it. It was very clear that I didn’t want to talk about it. I had never shared this thing with her personally and I was clearly so awkward and uncomfortable in both my verbal and non-verbal cues. But P just didn’t pick on them or rather ignored them. I wish I could say that’s because she was 15. But I’ve since come across many adults who do just the same.
Basically if you end up witnessing something personal about someone, they don’t owe you an explanation if it doesn’t at all involve you. This also applies for when you’re fighting with someone or when you want to confront someone about something. Just because you want to, doesn’t mean they are in the right headspace to and would like to do the same.
4. Revealing someone’s personal information like address, phone number, place of work
Look, I know this one seems like a no-brainer but sadly isn’t. Last year one of my poet friends from my tumblr blog wanted to send me a package. A surprise! So they did not want to approach me to ask me for my address. Instead, they reached out to another poet on tumblr who they knew is close to me. Most people would be hyper-fixated on the surprise element and give away my address. But not this friend. She texted me about it and though it may seem like she ‘ruined’ the surprise, I am so glad she did that.
Similarly, someone at work asked me for the phone number of someone I worked with at my previous company. I was like, okay, let me ask them if they are okay with it and get back to you. Both these people in question held high positions and I understand that it’s just networking or whatever but I did not feel comfortable just giving away someone’s number despite that. I cannot make assumptions about what others will or will not be okay with. And thus I have to ask. We have to ask.
Even in the guise of a surprise or an opportunity, we should get the person’s consent before revealing their details.
What you think
I asked people on Instagram what ways they wish others practised non-sexual consent. And here are the three points that many of you agreed on, and I can totally see why.
5. Asking for permission before eating from someone else’s food or drinking from their bottle
This annoyed me to no end when I was in middle school. People who weren’t even my friends would conveniently show up during lunch break and raid my lunch box. During PE or sports periods when people forgot to carry their water bottle, they would drink from mine. By touching their mouth to the bottle. Sure, kids are kids. But it scandalizes me that many adults do this too!
What someone considers as basic hygiene and what their personal habits are can be very different from yours. For instance, many people do not like sharing the same spoon with others and would rather not eat. When out in a café with a friend, some friends don’t mind using the same straw when they want to try my drink or offer me theirs. But others are so particular about this. And we have to respect that. Also, not everybody eats meat. Some people are purely vegan. Others have allergies. Don’t invade anybody’s personal space when it comes to food and drinks without asking them first.
Also, on a side note, don’t force or trick your friends into eating something they don’t want to. And don’t be negligent. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was in 1st grade and there have been some occasions where some friends offered me food and I asked them if it was vegetarian and they confidently said ‘yes’. But then it turned out that it wasn’t. Their excuse was their mother packed their lunch so they did not know. My argument is, why wouldn’t you check first?
6. Even if it feels awkward, ask someone before you hug them or hold their hand
At first, I was not going to include this because I thought it was obvious? But when I received many of these on Instagram as responses to my question I was surprised. With people you’re close with, I don’t think you need to ask every time. Like if I have known a friend dearly since years, I’m not going to ask her before we hug every time we see each other. Conversely, if I and another person have not yet set boundaries or a pattern around these things, I won’t just go in for a hug.
Also, it’s very essential to note non-verbal cues. Just because my friend and I have been greeting each other a certain way for a decade, doesn’t mean for whatever reason she or he can’t want to change that. A boundary isn’t set in stone. Consent once given or implied isn’t forever valid. And honestly please don’t get offended.
In college, once, there was this girl in my Accounting class and I used to sit next to her sometimes. This one day, she started to get very touchy (non-sexually) and just touching my arm or my hand, and I got really uncomfortable because I didn’t see the reason? When I politely asked her not to, she got so mad. She literally threw a tantrum and stopped speaking to me for the next few weeks. I didn’t care. People need to start respecting boundaries and consent.
Some other responses I received:
Ask everyone in the group when pitching for a gift for a colleague at work instead of assuming what their budget.
Don’t invite another person or friend when hanging out without first informing/asking the person you’re already chilling with. Especially if that person isn’t a mutual friend.
If someone you know has personally shared their art, writing, song recording, etc. don’t share it on a public platform before asking them. Even if you are crediting them. They sent it to you in private chat.
Do you agree?
What do you think about all these forms of non-sexual consent? What are some ways you wish that society would start practising non-sexual forms of consent? Personally, I think expecting someone to function like us and have the same preferences and comfort zones is idiotic. Sometimes it can be naturally missed. I think that’s okay.
But being open to understanding where we went wrong and how to not make that mistake again to make the person we are with – in whatever capacity – comfortable is just basic human decency. I’m sure there are many points I missed and many more that I have to learn. I am open to that. I am eager to learn more. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear your perspective on this.