Many of us have had this argument before: You really didn’t want to hang out with your partner’s friends, but they roped you into a full night of it. You’re furious and let them know they should have asked you first instead of deciding for you. When conversations like this become a cycle with your partner, it’s possible the person you’re with doesn’t understand consent. Consent isn’t just something that happens in the bedroom, and how someone acts outside of it can often tell you a lot.
What makes practicing consent challenging for all of us is that we live in a culture where we constantly force people to do things they don’t want to do. To understand the importance of consent in our relationships, I chatted with Michele Paolella, director of social services and training at Day One, New York, an organization that works with youth to end dating abuse and domestic violence.
“Part of [the challenge] is probably the pressure and value that society places on romantic relationships that aren’t placed on platonic ones. In a society where romantic love is placed above platonic on a hierarchy, people might internalize that it’s higher stakes to get into a dating relationship than a friendship,” Paolella explains.“This could lead to people drawing and respecting boundaries differently in potentially romantic relationships than we would in new friendships.” According to Paolella, practicing consent strengthens all relationships and is also a model for other adults to see what consent can and should look like.
The red flags of not understanding consent look different on everyone — they don’t discriminate based on gender, age, or sexual orientation. To be clear, none of the below examples mean that someone will absolutely respect your boundaries in the bedroom or that they won’t. And, Paolella goes further to explain, “A person might not show any of these red flags and still be dangerous. Some signs can be very subtle or nuanced, and many people aren’t used to talking about or assessing for consent openly. If you have been sexually assaulted, it’s never your fault, and help is available.” Shout that from the rooftops. And below are the times you should put someone on watch.
1. They insist on doing things for you even when you’ve said “no thanks.”
Whether they’re ordering your food or calling you a car, once you’ve declined their offer it should be the end of discussion. Before you chalk their persistence up to them being old-fashioned, take a closer look: This person feels their need to control is more important than your wishes.
2. They look through or touch your things without explicit permission.
If someone is rifling through your things when you return from the bathroom, a boundary has been crossed — this should not be ignored. Whether you’re on date number two or year number two with someone, your partner should respect your privacy.
3. They withhold important details about their life.
We can only give clear consent when we have all the details. If someone doesn’t tell you they’re seeing someone else upfront then they aren’t giving you the specifics you need to move forward emotionally or physically. It doesn’t matter if you’re cool with it or not; you still need to know.
4. They manipulate or pressure you.
“Aww c’mon” or “Just this once…” are words most of us have uttered before to our parents, our friends, or anyone else we want to give in to coercion. That shit ends here: Make it known that you don’t want another drink or you’re ready to go home. This time YOU don’t take no for an answer. Practice this with the ones closest to you (even your family), and let it spread until the only people left in your life are those who truly understand consent.
5. They give away information about someone without their permission.
If your date readily gives you the dirt on their ex’s mental health or is quick to offer up explicit deets about their sex life — chances are they’ll do it to you, too. And that’s not what consent looks like. Let them know you’d prefer not to hold someone’s secrets without their permission and keep this info in your back pocket when you’re sizing up how the date went.
6. They photograph and post others on social media without checking first.
Tagging someone in a pic does not equal consent. In the age of Insta, it’s easy to forget that taking and posting photos also requires consent. You may practice this in your social circles and find that others in your life begin to mirror your example. If your date snags a candid and you find it on the internet? That definitely deserves a discussion.
If you are experiencing or have experienced sexual violence and are in need of support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).