consent information sign document paper clipboardA poster that showcases a rally in Buenos Aires has been getting a lot of attention. It features a topless man wearing only pants and bearing a sign that reads, “I’m half naked and surrounded by the opposite sex. But I feel protected, not intimidated. I want the same for them.”

This avowed feminist who wants safety and equality for everyone, regardless of what parts lie beneath the belly button, cheers for this man and his simple and profound statement. When I posted the meme on social media, and shared my take on it, “Being naked (regardless of gender) is not an invitation to touch someone else. It’s all about consent,” this is the conversation that ensued among several (female identified people) respondents.

“It is all about consent no matter of gender because there are boys raped every day also in the world. No one should ever have the right to take another’s body in any way whether they are half naked or fully naked.”

“Wonder who the first person was who decided that it was acceptable to harm another. So much of the pain in the world comes from the chain of violence. The adage, ‘Hurt people hurt people,’ need not be true. How do we break the chain?”

“I think hurt people that are conscious must heal and break the cycle and then hold the hand of another to do the same thing. We must help one another to heal.”

“Okay, we as females are so freaking desirable. We are soft and we have soft curves. I could go on, now that is why men go crazy about us. Hey, it’s part of the process of creation. Not to mention males’ sexual desires are off the charts. That is why we are still here as humans, and many other animals. I have talked to so many women about sexual desires. Long story short from a 64-year old lady. We as women need to understand, men find us so freaking desirable. So, I would not show my breast for one moment out in public in front of men. Now I am not saying men are crazy rape dudes. What I am saying is we are alluring to men. It’s all part of the wonderful power we have as being women. Now I think we should teach our girls there is a time to be alluring, and a time to dress down. Hey, I have been through all of this, no one taught me. Which I wish they did when I was a young girl. I could go on this topic for ever. I have found most men to be understanding. But hey, they go crazy over breasts and many other parts of our bodies. And it’s great being a woman.”

“You have fallen into the patriarchal trap: you are excusing male assault, on the grounds that women are inviting it. Sorry. No. Males are free to desire all they want. They are NOT free to act on those desires without affirmative consent from the object of those desires. Period.”

“I so agree but, if you are dealing with a male who was not educated on the respect of women’s bodies, then what? I seriously think women do not understand how sexually powerful we are to the male. I think women need to take an entire understanding about their sexuality. On how we affect men. Another topic I think women do not talk about sex in all levels. We are still in the dark ages.”

“No matter how ‘powerfully seductive’ men perceive women to be, they are responsible for their own actions. That is an old argument propagated by folks who don’t want to have to be responsible for themselves or their desire. Women don’t lose allure or power or prestige by men controlling their actions — they gain safety and respect.  Yes, we are still in the dark ages. On the other hand, women need to be just as responsible for their own actions. Some young women with no self-esteem will do anything to get a guy to ‘like’ her as our society teaches that that is what makes a woman worthwhile — the interest of a man. Dark ages indeed.”

“All of us need to be educated about consent and sovereignty over our bodies. Sexual assault takes all forms and people of all gender combinations have been both assailants and victims. To get clear…it’s not about sex. That is the weapon. Control and dehumanization are at the root. I always bring up a story about a comment Golda Meir was said to have made when there was a growing rape crisis in Israel when she was Prime Minister. A curfew was suggested to ‘keep women safe.’ Her wise response? ‘But it is the men who are attacking the women. If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home.'”

Betty Martin, “a Chiropractor, a Body Electric School trained Sacred Intimate, Certified Sexological BodyworkerFoundations of Facilitation trainer, and a self-propelled erotic adventurer and intimacy coach,” created a tool called The Wheel of Consent by which people can have a greater understanding of the essential nature of human interaction. She breaks them down into four quadrants: Give, Take, Allow and Receive. Each one brings with it, an opportunity to set boundaries and be fully expressed with regards to the rights and responsibilities of relating.

Teaching Consent

It begins in childhood. At birth, (if it happens in a medical setting) we are touched by doctors, nurses and/or midwives and then cradled in the arms of the one who bore us. Family members are the next to come in skin to skin contact. If we are lucky (sad to even use that descriptive), touch is caring and gentle and we are receptive and desire more. For needs, such as feeding, bathing, changing to be met in the first few years of our lives, touch is involved. Consider if it is ever requested of a child, “may I change your diaper, or give you a bath?” Adults simply do it and at most, the child will be told, “Time to get in the tub. Time to put on clean clothes.” This is the benign aspect of adult-child interactions.

The darker side is apparent in therapeutic offices, crisis intervention centers and psychiatric facilities, as abuse and trauma survivors share their often, horrific histories of touch without consent. Multi-generational patterns of coercive and/or assaultive touch are chronicled.

Touch by consent is an important topic to broach at home. In an article entitled, “We Can Teach Kids Consent Without Bringing Sex Into The Conversation,” by Martha Kempner, she focuses on the importance of parents helping their children set body boundaries. Tickling is a good place to start. She describes that amid laughing when her father was doing so, her four -year old daughter called out for him to stop. Her words were saying one thing, while her reaction was communicating something else. He responds to her words and immediately ceases. Later in the article, Kempner explains to her older daughter that consent is permission, offered willingly.

As an educator who offers classes that highlight consensual touch, a therapist shares, “When children are taught that their bodies are their own and have the right to say yes or no to touch, they experience as sense of personal strength that they might not otherwise. We teach children about ‘good touch vs. bad touch,’ but the truth is, even what we might label ‘good,’ such as hugging or kissing a family member, can be coercive. How often do we insist that a child hug Grand mom, when she might smell like cigarette smoke and the child doesn’t want to be near her because of that? We add fuel to the fire and guilt to the mix by telling he child, “You don’t want to hurt her feelings, now do you?”

What the child learns is that touch is not offered or expected freely, but rather, coercively. How does that translate into assault?  When a child is not empowered to say no to seemingly benevolent touch, how can he or she ward off malevolent contact?

On college campuses throughout the country, rape culture runs rampant. Victim blaming and “slut shaming,” feed into the paradigm of keeping students safe from assault. The idea of “no means no,” is outdated, and instead, replaced with “yes means yes. If someone consents to touch of any sort and then changes his or her mind, that is their right to do so.

A YouTube video explains the concept of consent brilliantly as it uses a cup of tea as a metaphor. If you offer to make someone a cup of tea and they agree and drink the tea, you have a mutually agreed upon exchange. If they agree initially and then change their minds, don’t make them tea. If they wanted tea the night before, they might not want it this morning. Don’t make them tea. If they are unconscious and can’t say yes to tea, don’t make them tea.  

Here’s to safety and body sovereignty for all. At this moment, I’ll drink (tea) to that.