The holidays are fast approaching, and you may feel extra excitement at celebrating with friends and family you have not seen in almost two years! You may be planning parties, with lots of people and in all your eagerness you may have completely forgotten about social distancing, personal space, and asking before you give someone a hug.
Some of us may have enjoyed certain aspects of the pandemic. Staying home with a good book without having to make excuses, removing people from our lives who we did not want there in the first place, and not hugging people when saying hello or good-bye.
The expectation to stay a safe distance from others means we may be out of the habit of asking for consent before touching someone. That combined with the joy and anticipation we are feeling to see friends and family again, as well as the alcohol we may be consuming, means there may be some unwanted touching going on.
It is important we take a moment, set some intentions around consensual behaviour, and think about the nuances of consent. Power influences consent, and gender, race and age among others are often a factor.
A pillar of consent culture is autonomy—the freedom to make decisions, including decisions about your body, without any outside interference. This may sound simple, but it is often complicated to put into practice. It challenges us to think about the power dynamics of our relationships and consider others rights, needs and wants, as well as our own.
In what situations and with who, do we have more or less power? Are we asking people we have power over to do things they don’t want to do and putting them into positions where they feel they cannot say no? If they do say no will there be consequences? What might those consequences be?
For example, adults almost always have more power than children. Are we expecting children to hug us? Are we even asking? Children also have the right to bodily autonomy and for their health and safety they should grow up feeling they can control who touches them and how. They need to be able to say no and adults need to respect this the first time they say it.
We all need to respect “no” the first time we hear it. We need to stop pushing people to change their minds. This wears people down and takes away their autonomy. It is not consent when you are forced to give in. Are we asking for a hug as we lean in or are we respecting personal space and asking from 6 feet away? How are we asking? Is it phrased in a way that allows people to decline without feeling guilty, embarrassed, or rude?
I know I used the example of a hug but please consider consent in all your interactions.
Happy Holidays, and I hope the season brings you joy and (consensual) hugs.
Stacey Jacobs has been a Sex Educator for almost 2 decades. For 13 of those years she worked as a Sexual Health Educator at Planned Parenthood. She teaches in the Sexuality, Marriage and Family Studies Program at the University of Waterloo and when not educating, she enjoys reading, walking her dogs and eating good food. The life of a Sex Educator is usually not as interesting as people assume.