Why practice consent?

We might broadly define consent as a wholehearted and mutual ongoing agreement between parties and/or individuals towards a common goal. Consent lies at the crux of radical imaginings: both anarchist and communist. Practicing consent is all the more important since we did not consent to Capitalism. We did not consent to wars that murder thousands upon thousands of people. We did not consent to the erection of buildings that cage us. We did not consent to the devastation of non-human life as other greed-mad humans poison our home. We must maximize consent where and how we can, whenever possible. In a world of non-consent, consent becomes radical.

But what is consent? We often hear about consent in terms of sexual praxis. Consent is saying “yes,” asking/waiting for the emphatic “yes,” and listening to “no.” It is practicing boundaries, both towards oneself and other(s). However, consent is more than that. Consent is an ongoing and nuanced conversation. Consent can be ephemeral and allows itself to be invoked, revoked and tailored to complex, evolving situations. Consent is a conversation and demands a dialectic. Consent challenges us to lay our desires bare at the feet of our lover(s) and comrade(s) while centering their desires with our own.

It is strange we live in a world in which most would hesitate to take someone else’s property yet many do not hesitate to violate the sexual or relational consent of another. It is particularly important we practice consent with lovers given the wounded, imbalanced nature of our existence under Capitalism. Intimate partner violence and sexual assault are microcosmic versions of colonialist violence, and they are common– perhaps especially so within radical communities. 

Consent may best be defined as a harmonious understanding between all parties involved. Some things we can do to be better at consensual, harmonious engagement include:

  • Being honest about our own desires and limits,
  • Sticking to our own boundaries,
  • Honestly acknowledging the boundaries of others,
  • Sticking to their boundaries,
  • Thinking about things in advance,
  • Predicting changes in boundaries when possible,
  • Asking for continuous feedback,
  • Giving continuous feedback,
  • Being open and enthusiastic about receiving feedback!

Consent is at heart, an extension and elaboration of active participation, free association and mutual aid, and provides a model of engagement that can be applied to all social relations. Practicing consent does not prevent the possibility of doing harm– rather it allows us to reduce harm, understand the harm we might do, and learn from it, in order to become better lovers, friends and comrades. We can practice these principles anywhere, anytime– not just with lovers. Consent and its practice allows us to reverberate within pleasurable, harmonious and truly revolutionary moments, rather than to become trapped within our individual mental prisons. Consent dares us to imagine affinities that encompass yet surpass sex. The revolutionary possibilities are endless. Consent is merely the beginning.