Changing your Mind and consent
One of the messages about consent that I wish every young person knew is this:
No matter what, no matter when, no matter with who, when it comes to your physical autonomy, you can ALWAYS change your mind. Even if you were the one who asked for touch, and you only asked 5 seconds ago, you can still change your mind!
One thing that really disturbs me is when I hear of a new app coming out that will help people to “get consent” before sex by having both people sign or say that they consent to “sex”. It is maddening to think that so many really believe that people can give a one-time consent to “sex” that makes anything and everything that happens after that consensual!
Whether it’s to do with sex, or massage therapy, or cuddling, or contact dance, consent is a thing that is given from moment to moment, and that consent can be revoked at any time. Not only can our boundaries and feelings of enthusiasm change from moment to moment, it is absolutely normal and common for them to do so.
Our boundaries and wants may change because of our changing emotions, because we’re tired or we just ate something, because we had a difficult day or didn’t sleep well, or simply because we have noticed that they have changed. It would be very strange indeed if our boundaries and wants never changed!
It’s important that we let young people know that it’s normal to have changing boundaries and that agreeing to touch one time, does not mean that you have signed a contract to agree to touch later on, or to agree to more or different kinds of touch. Even if you are in a relationship.
It has broken my heart to hear young people say things like, “It couldn’t be rape because he was my boyfriend”, “I guess it’s my fault because I went to their house”, and “I said yes to sex the night before, it’s not like I could say no the next morning”.
And many people, young and old alike, believe that if you say yes to a certain type of touching then you have crossed a line of no return, and you now cannot say no to more intimate touching. When I was a teenager in the 1980’s there was a common societal message that a woman should not make out with a man unless she was prepared to “go all the way” or else be branded as a “tease”. A lot has changed since then, but some of this messaging is still in circulation.
It’s not just societal messaging. It wasn’t until 2019 that a North Carolina law was struck down that said that no rape could be committed if both parties had initially agreed to “sex”. This terrible law actually said that the “sexual intercourse” that had been agreed to earlier must be “completed”, presumably referring to a male orgasm.
In fact, beginning an interaction is not tantamount to signing a contract, no matter how many app developers(or legislators) try to make it so. We need to normalize the reality that our boundaries, needs, and wants change, and can change quickly. We need to teach young people that when it comes to their physical autonomy, it’s ALWAYS OK to change their minds.
My workshop focuses on interactions in general, and teaches consent skills through fun and interactive exercises. We have a few exercises that let young people practice changing their minds and appreciating others changing their minds, as well as practicing checking in with themselves to notice their shifting boundaries and wants. We hope that when young people learn these skills in a low risk environment, they will be able to access them later when they are in a more high stakes situation.
In our book Creating Consent Culture: A Handbook For Educators, my co-author Marcia Baczynski and I include an entire chapter on Changing Your Mind, because the right to change your mind at any time is so crucial to true consent.
To learn more about the workshop and the book, visit www.creatingconsentculture.com
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Order the book here!