Episode 3 – Consent

This month Zayna and Jonathan are joined by campaigner Jenny Wilson of Consent Culture (and activist in residence with the SSSH Stigmatised Sexualities and Sexual Harm group in the psychology department, School of Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett University) and by Dr Meg-John Barker, writer, mentor and podcaster amongst other things – two awesome people who have thought deeply about consent and who have a lot of valuable stuff to say about it.

We use the mnemonic FRIES as a framework for our discussion – that is consent should be Freely given, Reversible, Informed and Specific. What the ‘e’ of FRIES might stand for is something we debate. The version I found on the Planned Parenthood website says ‘e’ is for ‘enthusiastic’.

Jenny argues that she prefers ‘e’ to stand for ‘engaged’ in so far as you can consent to something that you’re never going to be super enthusiastic about – such as dental treatment. In the content of sex one could imagine situations where one consciously decides to have sex despite not feeling enthusiastic about it.

Meg-John thinks a major problem we face is that we’re socialised into a non-consensual culture. That’s a slightly academic way of saying we’re brought up to be little people pleasers rather that no assert our own boundaries, something especially true of people socialised female. How many of us to taught to put up with things we don’t like, whether that be eating food we hate to being touched by people we would rather avoid?

There’s a huge debate to be had about consent that’s not yet properly started. We’re still stuck on the ‘no means no’ discussion, oblivious to the fact that, for many people, saying ‘no’ is really not as simple as the old white bloke in a wig sitting behind the bench with his gavel and his antediluvian attitudes seems to think it is. There is much, much work to be done. And the first step is to make clear that even the best intentioned of us get it wrong sometimes. Having one’s heart in the right place is a start but it’s sadly not always enough.

So we’re releasing this episode to mark International Day of Consent on November 30th this year to help move forward that debate a little. There are a whole load of online events leading up to the day all intended to – see www.consentculture.co.uk for more details


Hello and Welcome to Beyond Monogamy the podcast that explores relationship options, outside the mainstream, I’m Jonathan Kent,

And I’m Zayna Ratty, and in this episode we’re talking about consent. Consent is that thing without which consensual non monogamy, in all its forms, just isn’t possible.

JK: It’s an absolutely critical subject, and to help us thread our way through it, are two people who I could listen to all day; the writer, podcaster, recovering academic and mentor Meg-John Barker and Jenny Wilson of Consent Culture, a project created to help build a culture of content. And she’s also activist in residence with the SSSH – stigmatised sexualities and sexual harm group in the psychology department, School of Social Sciences at Leeds Beckett University. That’s a mouthful. I just have to say is brilliant that there’s such a role.

ZR: Absolutely, and we couldn’t be in better hands than with you two. Welcome to you both.

So, Jenny first. How would you describe consent.

Jenny Wilson: Consent is a really problematized word because people, when I talk about consent, think ‘she’s talking about sex’. Actually consent by the dictionary definition is permission or agreement. And then obviously the subtle difference between permission and agreement is permission implies one person giving permission to another person. Whereas agreement sounds more like a sort of two way process,

ZR that there was an agreeable mmm from you them MJ is that,

Meg-John Barker: I think,for me, I usually define it, I guess it’s going a bit further of like thinking what does it takes for people to be in agreement. So I would say something like that everyone involved in whatever the interaction is, feels free enough and safe enough to express their needs, their desires, their limits, their boundaries. So it’s about people feeling free enough and safe enough to engage in any kind of interaction or relationship.

ZR: So MJ you mentioned boundaries there and I’m wondering Jenny when, when you mentioned consent, and people then go on with obviously about sex Do you think that’s maybe about a misunderstanding around what boundaries are and the fact that boundaries aren’t barriers? 

JW: Yes, it’s partly that but I think it’s more just about the context in which consent comes up. I mean, consent is part of our laws around, sex, it’s also a part of our laws around stuff like data protection, photographic consent, consent forms for medical procedures and very sort of transactional stuff, and actually I think what Meg-John just said really, really important because actually consent, isn’t is not so not about that simplistic black and white legal kind of stuff, it’s actually very much about context, and safety of context, as M-J said is essential.

ZR: Do you think this that’s kind of it’s quite binary thinking isn’t it, that white and black.

M-JB: Yeah, yeah, I think there’s a lot of that around consent it’s assumed to be very much about like does somebody say yes to something or no to something but you know in all my writing on consent I try and emphasise it’s way more complex than that because… so many reasons rarely but we live in such a non-consensual culture, there’s lots of power and balances between people, there’s lots of social scripts about how we should do something. So it isn’t this simple matter of like you can say to somebody ‘do you want to do this?’, and they can simply get this kind of sense of a yes or no. And most of us have been socialised to treat ourselves very non-consensually, so we’re kind of up against it when it comes to consent. And I think this has been linked to all kinds of mental and physical health problems as well I’m reading a lot of Gabor Maté at the moment. He’s saying that the fact we’re socialised really to treat ourselves very non consensually, not to express our feelings, not to be authentic with people, not to feel like it’s okay to have boundaries actually takes a huge toll on our physical health, as well as our mental health. So again, I’d agree with Jenny it’s like it’s just way beyond sex and it’s way beyond transaction, it’s about learning treat ourselves and other people in this way that really enables authenticity, expression of our needs, feeling our feelings, and knowing where our boundaries are and our limits as well.

JK: I mean we socialise our children or many of us do, to be non-consensual. We make our children do things that they don’t want to do I think on previous conversation that you and I had M-J he talked about, you know, being expected to kiss granny when you don’t want to kiss granny.

Do we prime our children to overlook consent to expect to have to do things that that they don’t want to do, and they take that into adulthood.

M-JB: I think it’s pretty fundamental part of a lot of child rearing. I hope things are shifting but i think you know the education system is very non consensual, you know, kids don’t really get to tune in to what they’re interested in and follow that there. There’s a lot of forcing kids to do things they don’t want to do and to be in situations that are really quite scary. So, yeah, I think that in family life, and in school for really quite a large number of people, it’s not a very consensual situation so as adults often we’re having to learn that so again when you’re thinking about consensually non monogamous relationships or any kinds of adult relationships often you have people involved who haven’t really learned how to treat themselves and other people consensually, actually the opposite. They’ve, they’ve learned kind of often survival strategies that are either quite non consensual towards themselves like people pleasing kind of behaviours, or quite non consensual towards other people like quite controlling behaviours, and I just really like to normalise that with my work to say like most of us are up against this, most of us haven’t learned consensual ways of being with ourselves and others so that’s like a big part of relationship work is is learning how to do that.

JK: I agree and I think that it’s particularly strong amongst people who are socialised as girls as well, more often than with people who are socialised as boys and men, to be people pleasing and to not say no to things, whereas generally people who are socialised for demand are, you know, there’s more of an expectation to be assertive and challenging and at use their agency, their personalised consent is a lot about the how you use your own personal agency. And, and enabling people to recognise that they have a sense of agency and they have a choice and that you can agree or disagree with things. A lot of the time when I’m talking with, with people about consent, especially young women and girls, just getting them to practice saying no to things, anything, is hard work for them recognising that say no to being asked a favour of a friend or, you know, anything just generally in life. It’s a good thing to practice. Yeah,

M-J. And the fact that you’ve been socialised not to that you’ve been taught again and again and again that if you do say no either it’s going to be overruled by somebody else or just simply Yeah, it’s not going to be listened to or that it makes you a bad person for saying no. Like if you’ve taught somebody this again and again than the way the culture has taught you and every media that you’ve seen this taught you that, I think people can feel like then they have an extra layer of shame of like how difficult they find it to say no but that they’re not going to find it easier in a culture where they’ve been encouraged to be pleasing. And as you say it’s very gendered. So, again like any situation where there’s a somebody socialised male and somebody socialised female that’s not a level playing field. When it comes to having these kind of any kinds of conversations about what do we want to do even, you know, what kind of takeaway do we want. That’s going to be a vexed conversation, let alone one about sex.

ZR: So, how can learning about consent actually enrich every way of your life, whether that’s your romantic and erotic relationship so whether that’s work or, or friends or family?

M-J So you want to go first Jenny or shall I? 

JW: you go first this time.

(8.40) M-J: Oh! Everything! I mean Well, again, you know read Gabor Maté’s work, check out his videos, because physical health wise, you know, treating yourself and other people non- consensually is linked to so much physical health damage, it’s also linked to addiction, mental health problems, but also you know just a consensual setup is just way better whether it’s in a social group, whether it’s in a workplace… You know if you’ve got a workplace where people feel free enough and safe enough to be themselves, and you can really figure out with each person how, what they’re best placed to do in that workplace what they’re skilled at what they find fulfilling, you’re going to have such a better workplace and probably more productive workplace as well, than one where people are scared and they’re not able to say what their limits are and they feel like they can’t stay up to push their boundaries, but this is where we get into tricky territory because living under neoliberal capitalism it’s really hard to be consensual at work or anywhere because it really encourages people to treat themselves non-consensually particularly around work you know we’re really encouraged to just keep going and always try and do more and more and more and be better and better and better. So it’s like the job of unlearning this non-consensual culture that we’re in around all kinds of relationships, you know trying to persuade people to do what we want them to do rather than just being with them as they are, how we treat ourselves non-consensually like set how we treat kids learn consensually how we treat ourselves non-consensually it’s just, it’s a really big job of unlearning and trying to shift cultures, which is you know why Jenny’s work with Consent Culture is so important is like a cultural shift that we need

JW: That! I mean I like in your consent checklist Meg-John, the way you say consent operates at the level of yourself consent, and then at the level of personal interaction. And then at the social level or in the workplace in our social in group situations, and then at the level of culture and politics, And I’m finding it really fascinating at the moment in the middle of the COVID crisis, how much people are getting into sort of binaries about what’s allowed and what isn’t, and shaming each other, and trolling each other. Oh, you know, people should wear a mask, people shouldn’t wear a mask, people should socially distance or blaming each other. And that sort of non-consensual way of operating a socio cultural level is really problematic. So I think consent is, really radical. That is how we change the world by encouraging people to recognise their own agency. It’s in that phrase Be the change you want to see in your world. You can only be the change you want to see in the world if you if you know you’ve got your own agency and you feel like you can make choices and make a difference.

M-J: I’m interested in your thought of shame as well because I’ve heard you talk about that before really well Jenny and it’s almost like feels like to me. Shame is almost like the enemy of consent, right, because when we’re in shame we can’t be authentic, you know, we try and be things for the people because we don’t think we’re really okay. And when we’re shaming others it makes it really hard for them to behave consensually because they, they just want to defend themselves or they just want to disappear when they feel shame. Like, do you think they’re really connected shame and consent?

JW: I really do i think i think shame is used a lot, almost to police, and coerce, and control people’s consent on an individual level, and in our own heads. So, the word ‘should’ in my own brain, for example, is a word that I try to notice when I ‘should’ myself or ‘shouldn’t’ myself about something.

Unknown 11:51

JK: I mean shame shame is that something that has evolved to warn people when they’re in danger of exclusion from the group it is an emotion that we have to keep us in line. And that’s its job. And what you’re saying is has been abused.

Unknown 12:05

JW: Yeah. Yes, it’s, it’s useful at that level, but at the level at which we were shaming and blaming each other or shaming and blaming ourselves. I think that the distinction between shame and blame, and responsibility and accountability, When shame is working for us, we are feeling responsible for what we’re responsible for and holding ourselves or other people perhaps accountable for the things that they are accountable for, but shame and blame is where it falls into that falls into negative coercive behaviour.

Unknown 12:42

Yeah, I think, again, Gabor Maté says something about how we have needs for both authenticity and detachment, and the existential philosophers talk a lot about you know we need to be free and we need to belong, and I think I’ve been reading some of this and Jonathan’s new book that I’ve just been reading as well. This sort of needs to both be kind of free and independent and authentic but also this real need for attachment and belonging and I think shame kicks in when, like you say, either an individual or a group or the wider culture gives us this impression that in order to get attachment we have to be inauthentic, you know, so somebody is telling us that in order to get our need for belonging and attachment, we’re going to have to override ourself, can’t have ourselves, we’re going to kind of, we’re going to lose ourselves in order to get that. And that happens at the, at the level of non consent. That’s what an emotionally non consensual relationship looks like whether it be a monogamous or non monogamous one, but it’s also, you know what, like a shaming culture, like the one we rather are in at the moment looks like where we’re meant to feel that we’re not gonna belong, unless we cover over ourselves, unless we succumb to the shame and all they should stories is that you’re talking about so

JK: so people listening will hopefully have gathered that consent is important. What I’d like to steer things towards now is how people can be sure that they are themselves consenting and other people are consenting to to them, or the things that they’re involved with and there’s a very useful toolkit by way of a mnemonic which is fries f r i e s. And I think that’s quite a useful framework to work with and I know you’re both very familiar with it. We’re gonna have a bit of a discussion about what the E stands for. But let’s go through the, the F r i and the s to start with, F, Jenny, F four F.

JW: In consent I’m talking about freely given consent so it’s free from coercion it’s free from power dynamics it’s free from privilege it’s free from peer pressure, free from shame actually, that we were just talking about. So, there are power dynamics at play for example in the workplace or in, in terms of gender binaries or, in terms of many situations, but it’s being aware and mindful of phones and checking those aren’t part of what’s influencing someone to consent to something.

JK: So you need to be able to say no. 

JW: Yes. 

JK: And if you can’t really say no because you’re worried about the consequences then you can’t really give consent.

Unknown 15:14

Yeah, exactly.

Unknown 15:18


Unknown 15:19

Mj, R, R stands for, apart from being,

Unknown 15:23

R, R,

Unknown 15:28

G, do you consent to walk the plank, or I’m

Unknown 15:32

sorry is a non consensual plank walking, but in the context of fries, what does our mean,

Unknown 15:39

M-J: I’ve only just read about FRIES in your book Jonathan I’m going to be honest I’ve come across the accurate input Firstly, but remind me what it is that I have written about in my consent checklist that Jenny kindly mentioned I’ve got a similar thing, I just don’t. I didn’t have a Natty acronym for it but I do know

Unknown 15:54

The R of fries MJ is that consent should be reversible. Yeah, why is that important.

Unknown 16:00

M-J: I guess that’s the importance of that. I guess we have this kind of again going back to that legalistic understanding that Jenny was talking about before. There’s that idea that will kind of once you’ve given consent, like you’ve signed a contract, and then that’s forever. And it can’t be that way you know you’re not free enough if you think that because I’ve said this at one point, I’ve got to do it at another point. So I guess with sex the that you know that would be just because you’ve said you want to have sex, you know at 10 o’clock. If it’s really not working for you at quarter past 10, you get to reverse the consent and say I don’t want to do this anymore. And that’s why it’s really worth thinking about relationship agreements right so when we’re thinking about how to make a relationship consensual. This is why I think that the kind of mainstream ideal of love, almost has non consent built into it because if you think about the things we promise to each other in a marriage ceremony, or a lot of the kind of notions of romantic love it involves promising things for the future with that sense of like, if you did, then go back on them, you would lose this entire relationship, which is why I think this idea of reversibility or flexibility is so important for consent, to say, ‘nothing’s contingent on this you know you can reverse this’, we can say that we want this kind of relationship, and we will keep checking in with each other. I call it ongoing consent, I guess, this idea that you need to keep checking and that you can’t just say once that, if you’ve agreed to a relationship at point A, you’re going to still want it at point B or the same for sex or the same for doing a certain work task or whatever. Okay,

Unknown 17:30

ZR: so Jenny, We’re now on to I

Unknown 17:34


Unknown 17:35

why it is.

JW: So, I mean, people to promote concern. I think one of the tricky things around sex and consent is what one person means by sex might not be the same as what another person means by sex. You know it’s not as simple as one thing. There are a lot of things in the smorgasbord of possibilities by being informed about consent. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re what you’re consenting to. So, especially for young people who are new to sex. It goes back to reversibility a little bit as well as like, whether you have sex with me? Yes, I will. They know but like what exactly are you referring to. And what does that mean to each of you and. But what else do you know… ‘yes but with a condom’ ‘yes but only in this position’ ‘yes but only today and never again’ Yes, but that information, then sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you don’t know it. So it’s actually sort of continuing our flow of information and communication I think it’s really important.

M-J: Yeah, I suppose that’s why I link, what Jenny just said I really link consent to being present; this kind of notion of like being present to ourselves and others, and that you know if we were talking about sexual consent I’d like to be a situation where it’s much more this idea of like, yeah, we’re going to play together, and there’s going to be things we don’t know how they’re going to affect us until we get there, But if the whole idea is the aim is to be present to each other and consensual the whole way through, then that’s the that’s the joy of it’s like we’re having this dance and we were seeing what works and can pull back quick and move forward in it’s a really different model, but because sex, has got so goal-focused is so like, Oh, we need to do this thing at each other and so it’s an orgasm. That actually makes consent really hard. So that’s why I was thinking this consent conversation does have to lead to quite a radical reworking of how we do sex and relationship compared to what we see even in the sex advice literature or the relationship advice literature because we’re talking about changing our model to one that’s much more like can we be present to each other over time, can we accept our feelings are going to change over time Can we just make it all about being really tuned into ourselves and each other.

ZR: Do you think that’s something that parents should bear in mind when they’re talking to their children and wanting to educate them maybe in a different way than they were educated.

M-J: Yeah, being, you know like teaching kids how to tune into their own feelings, that’s what we’re talking about here, like if you’re constantly overriding kids and saying one no you don’t feel like that or you know you shouldn’t feel like that or you know you should eat this food or you should enjoy this kind of touch, you know you’re actually learning, making them learn to override their body to not know what they’re feeling. And I think that literally is setting, kids up to experience sexual assault and all kinds of non-consensual stuff later in life, right, because they don’t know how to do it. And if you look at all the literature on trauma, a lot of it stems from this kind of emotionally tricky kind of upbringing that so many of us have, it’s just really normalised, where we’ve been taught not to feel what we feel or not to learn how to tune into our bodies and what they’re telling us. So yeah, I think it’s an education system and a parenting style that really encourages kids to learn how to like tune into their feelings, name their feelings, articulate them with others, that would be setting people up to then hopefully be able to be much more consensual in later life.

JW: Yeah, and in a world where kids are still learning about sex from watching porn, and from playground gossip and from old myths about, again, the gendered thing that people who are socialised male generally are taught that sex is a goal to achieve, and people who are socialised female are generally taught to defend that goal from all… It’s something that they should be protecting them, you know themselves and that it might hurt and it might not be enjoyable for them. Actually teaching girls that sex should be pleasurable is a blinking revolutionary idea still.

ZR: girls and women, mostly I reckon. So we’re gonna we’re going to skip over, ie. We haven’t forgotten how to spell. We’re going to go straight to S for sugar. But in fries, it means 

JK: Specific. Yes.

JW: So I agreed to do that specific thing with that specific person in that specific place on that specific day. That doesn’t mean that I’ve agreed to always do that with that person forever. You know, it’s like, often use a pizza analogy what I’m trying to explain specific. So if you were trying to make pizza with something you’d have to have a conversation about what you like on your pizza, you know like, some people think putting pineapple on pizza is like a really stupid idea. Now that people love pineapple on their pizza.

M-J It’s actually a really stupid idea. Just FYI,

JW: I disagree

M-J well then the podcast is over so…

JK: I made a pizza the other day, using pineapple arranged in a in a pentagram because, obviously, it summons Satan when you have pineapple on a pizza. If you’re gonna do it properly, it doesn’t need didn’t turn up or she didn’t turn up but I understand it, pineapple pizza specific consent. This is gets people into trouble isn’t it because they essentially take consent for sex to mean that okay, we’re starting sex with a condom and all of a sudden, condom disappears. But you said to me all right with sex, and then all of a sudden that really becomes non consensual, and they freak out because they find themselves, perhaps dragged into court if, if, prosecutors are really on the case. If…

24.00: JW: Potentially. But, but, you know, more importantly than, then when it gets to the law because the law very rarely sees cases. Like is it is the horrible experience of a consent misunderstanding between people, where somebody has been traumatised, and somebody else has traumatised somebody, and neither one of them wanted that to happen. And that happens a lot.


JK: It does. And I guess most people even who are concerned with these things and want everything to be consensual periodically find themselves on the wrong side of that line and is. Oh, dear. I’m so sorry, but that’s no good spot to be in.

M-J: I mean, I think it’s impossible not to with living in such a non consensual culture, and being trained in this stuff you know it’s a job of work to learn how to tune into your feelings and communicate them with others and to unlearn some of the non consensual practices that we’ve learned of like, if we’re so yearning for belonging and for love, it can be really easy to slip into treating yourself and others non consensually. And I think that the pandemic’s probably only made it worse to be honest because a lot of people are really desperate for touch, they’re really desperate for human contact. I’ve seen a lot more boundary pushing and heard a lot of people talking about this, that they’re feeling that people are really pushing boundaries because a lot of people just feel really needy and desperate and they haven’t learned how to look after themselves in that place because again we haven’t been trained in how to do that. So, you know, that’s why I think it’s just such a bigger conversation, because you can say these things oh this is the ideal you know follow the FRIES, etc. But it’s like this unconscious stuff. And so this is really pushing for wanting to get that connection with people or wanting to get our needs met. And if we’re not really in touch with ourselves so we don’t know ourselves very well it’s super easy to stray. And then when we do get called out on being non consensual it’s the go to is to be very defensive and to minimise what’s happened and to deny what’s happened and just to be very defensive about it and victim blaming. Because again, we’ve learned that this steeped in rape myths, in this culture. That’s the go-to response if somebody accuses you of being non consensual. So, again, there’s a whole job of work to learn how to do the alternative which is the more transformative-justice-accountable kind of model, where, you know, inevitably, you’re sometimes going to get hurt by non consensual behaviour and you’re sometimes going to treat people non-consensually inadvertently, and how do you then just own it and apologise and really understand the impact of what’s happened?

JK: We’ll come back to the impact of the pandemic on consent and how it might be changing the way that we’re thinking about it or where we’re going to be afterwards in a moment but let’s let’s just deal quickly with, or not quickly even, with E, because Planned Parenthood, who I think one of the groups that makes a lot of use of fries uses E for enthusiastic so enthusiastic consent. Jenny you talk about engaged consent as well. Yeah, why the difference? What what are the different emphases

JW: When I was when I was first starting to new research around content and work with people. It was actually a sex worker who said to me enthusiastic consent’s a really problematic term for her because she isn’t enthusiastic about her work sometimes it’s her job, and, but she’s engaged, she, she makes a positive decision to go ‘Yes, I’m going to do this’. Another less controversial perhaps example is the dentist. I can go to the dentist I don’t enjoy it. I’m not like ‘woop, woop drill my teeth!’ But I go, Yeah, I do do the work I know that needs to be done it’s. And so, let’s get on with it, and I am actively engaged in consenting to that happening. So that’s why I use engaged rather than enthusiastic. But having said that, Enthusiasm’s a useful word to, to have in the conversation because when someone when especially around the text when someone loses their enthusiasm for an experience maybe that is a way of communicating sometimes but perhaps not as consenting as they were. So, so enthusiasm still a useful word. I just don’t think it’s always the right word.

M-J: I feel like it’s also important to think about, you know the fact that we’re pressured often to show enthusiasm for things that we’re not really enthusiastic about. And I think the research literature on faking orgasm kind of fits in with this that a lot of women, or people socialised as female, feel that they have to fake some kind of enthusiasm, or even even it’s complicated, whether it’s faking or whether it’s real because you’ve been so socialised to be enthusiastic about things they’re not enthusiastic about like, you know, somebody gives you a gift, you have to pretend to be but delighted or you have to feign delightedness like and I think digging into this with people I really like engaged because again it gets to what we were saying earlier about shame of like if you’re like really engaged, you’re trying to be authentic with yourself and the other person. And that’s a better thing to be striving for even if it’s being honest that the feelings that are present maybe mixed feelings are not necessarily such good feelings, sort of striving for enthusiasm is so easily tips into we will feign enthusiasm because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

ZR: Well, , we’ve mentioned and spoken about workplaces and friendships etc and how we can use the frameworks of fries and consent to kind of change how we react and act in that situation. So obviously, given the year we’ve just had. How do you think coronavirus has changed how we can look at consent for instance workplaces. Probably don’t look the same that they did prior to it. How will it change has it changed already.

M-J Do you wanna go Jenny?

Jenny: There you go first. 

M-J  Justin and I looked at consent really early on in this on our podcast because there was all this stuff about physical greetings and we’ve always used handshakes as a kind of interesting model for consent because it with a handshake you’ve got this default script of like this is how you’re supposed to greet somebody, so it can be really difficult to do anything else. But of course, the coronavirus enabled a lot of people to really think intentionally in an engaged way about how did they want to do greetings. So, you know, we saw it as potentially having something quite positive. And I think it’s kind of shifted a lot of how we do things and some really quite useful ways that people have to get intentional about it talking about how are we going to have this meeting or how are we going to do our contact in our friendship. But the problem is that we, we still, most people don’t have much of a language for consent we’re not used to having these conversations about our needs and our desires and our boundaries and our limits. So I think we really need to clear up people how to do that. And the danger is that, I mean certainly working in giving workshops about this stuff for people in workplaces, it’s been often the case that organisations are just assuming they should have adapted to this really fast. And there’s a kind of cultural assumption that everyone should just be fine with it rather than the recognition that everybody is in a pretty traumatised place and actually needs even more help to treat themselves consensually and everything should be really slowing right down. So I think the potential of a time like this is that, in a way, all the systems that we have, you know, we can start to question them. And who are they working for and how and that’s really what black lives matter has done for example, some really question Who are the system serving and who are they not serving, I’d like to see that real broad conversation about consent and like, who is being served and isn’t being served by different ways of doing physical greetings or meetings, or certain kinds of relationships, or sex, and that’s the potential but I’m not sure that is what we’re saying I think again as Jenny said earlier, there’s just this tendency to go back into just trying to get back to normal really fast and lots of fear mongering and shaming of people around the pandemic.

JK: Coming back to your point about handshakes just putting the pandemic aside, some people, and I can think one or two, quite prominent ones who use handshakes as a way of expressing dominance and making the other person feel uncomfortable for it. Is that kind of thing we were talking about?

M-J: Yeah, and a lot of people use sex in similar ways right so it’s like tuning in to how does power work in these exchanges. And that’s why I think the handshake is a great analogy for, you know, how do we do things consensually because if the if somebody shoves out their hand. And there’s nothing you can do but respond by shaking it and then they give you a bone crusher that’s not a very consensual experience.

JW: Often when I’m talking about consent culture, talk about the flip of that which is entitlement culture, and that sense that some people feel entitled to behave in particular ways. They make assumptions. They are oblivious to their privilege perhaps or maybe not oblivious to it but that sense of entitlement that it’s okay to behave in a certain way and. ‘Why don’t you smile love?’ ‘What’s your problem?’ those kinds of low level everyday sexism type experiences that I know I have a lot of are a demonstration of that kind of entitlement culture and I think there’s a lot of that around COVID but there’s also that binary thing that’s happening, as I said earlier of people are shaming each other and going oh it’s the COVID fault or his particular communities fault or, you know, I live in Bradford, and we have a local lockdown. And there’s a huge amount of racism around, which wards of the city are staying in lockdown and which ones aren’t. So that sort of sense of division and entitlement of one kind or another I think it’s really being used actually by the government as a way to control people. So to divide them and put them in favour against each other rather than encouraging consensus, which is a form of consent. Democracy is not consensus.

ZR: I suppose MJ, you mentioned about the BLM movement and that’s about consent one thing that I’ve been talking and thinking and writing a lot about lately and one of the things I’ve been talking about is you can’t actually shake hands or hold hands if everybody’s holding up their fists. And when people then go off and get defensive up come the fists to protect themselves and therefore note nobody can have this kind of joining towards each other to make any progress in that. So, when we kind of think of consent, are there, the main things that people may be, don’t get just right.

34.45 – JW: For me, if I can just leap in, there’s a thing for me about whether it’s about sexual consent or whether it’s about the level of having a keyboard war with someone you disagree with on social media disagreeing successfully, how we how we arrive at consensus. The thing about being able to say ‘no’ is it makes Yes, way more Yessy, absolutely, to respond to someone you disagree with instead of go You’re wrong.

Or just a simple note, responding with curiosity and empathy is often how we find the place of consensus or place of agreement. A place where we’re in consent, where we’ve disagreed successfully, rather than disagreed unsuccessfully.

M-J: Well, I think the key here is to in our work, our personal work because to get to a point of being able to be curious and compassionate and creative and all of the things we’d want to be, you have to not be in a trauma response, you know, you have to not be reactive triggered whatever you want to call it, and a lot of us are that a lot of the time, because of the stuff we’ve been through and because of the culture we live in and because of the pandemic and everything. So, this is why I think you can’t disentangle it from feeling the feelings and doing all of these learning all of these things about how to relate to ourselves, it kind of starts here it starts with self-consent. It starts with learning how to know what we’re feeling to name it, to do that work of bringing ourselves back from when we’ve got reactive, to calm our nervous systems, all the stuff that is the kind of trauma that should just talk about, it’s just super valuable here. If we haven’t had that ourselves in our lives we kind of have to go back and do that work whether that be through therapy or spiritual practices or whatever we do it. I feel like that’s the key for me it’s like building your supportive network of people who can help you learn how to do consensual relating in a safe way, and also doing your own personal work to get to that point where you’re not going to get reactive and defensive or when you can notice, at least notice when you have, and know what works for you, and then you’ll be able to come and re-engage with the conversation and more consensual way.

JW: Yeah, I think so. Being able to recognise your own entitlements or lack of it, and actually the thing about entitlement… Well, it can be really problematic when people are using their entitlement to disempower or disenfranchised or make other people are unsafe and not respect their content and their agency. The other thing about entitlement is that you can just get your own entitlement. Hang on a minute, I have some agency here. I have a choice to make. Your choice may well be between a rock and a hard place, but there’s usually a choice, and even the least privileged people have personal agency in any situation. And it starts there but obviously you need to be in a place of safety to be able to exercise that. If you’re fighting to survive. Then, that that’s a problem.

ZR: Do you think that looking at it through the lens of CNM that actually is about choice and autonomy and consent and sometimes there is discrimination and pathologization of CNM by people who are who are monogamous. Do you think that’s just because they don’t know that they have the choice and the autonomy and self agency to consent?

M-J That comes back to the scripts I was talking about before we have, we’re given these scripts about how to do relationships and how to do sex. And so when we come across people doing it differently, that I can Jonathan’s excellent book that I’ve just been reading talks about this really nicely how you know it can be seen by people who are doing things differently when you didn’t realise you had the choice because you were just given the one script right, and that’s where a lot of I think that the problem with a lot of queer phobia comes from that place as well and transphobia. You know people are finding out that they can do gender differently. It’s really threatening to people because they didn’t realise they have the choice. To make a consensual culture, we would really be needing to do this work of informing people about gender, sex and relationship diversity, which is the phrase I tend to use for, like, What are the diverse ways of living your gender, what are the diverse ways that you can do or not do sex and what are the diverse ways in which you can relate with other people, and really enabling people to make those choices, and that you know that would start early, and we’re not doing that there it’s certainly not educating kids that that any more ways than one of doing relationships or sex or gender.

JK: Consent is clearly a subject that we will be coming back to, again, and again, as we talk more and more about the world that lies beyond the boundaries of monogamy. Before we wrap up Could I just get both of you to give briefly three things that you’d like people to bear in mind, to help them get consent right, and anything that springs to mind, a particular pitfall that you would like to advise people to be aware of, to stop them getting it wrong. Jenny first.

Jenny Wilson Oh gosh, I think, FRIES for me works as a checklist, and when I feel feel that something’s not quite right. For myself or between myself and another person or even in a work context or whatever. I can run through that checklist and go. Actually you know what the problem is that somebody’s not got the information they need, and, and so that’s what we need in this situation so for me I find the FRIES checklist applicable in so many situations as a parent, the personal relationship, in terms of my own agency, and in terms of how I navigate the world. So, I really recommend using FRIES on it kind of sort of day to day level. The other thing I want to let people know about a small plug, is that a couple years ago, I founded the International Day of consent, which consent I do consent. And I’m like, I’m going to stay at it until the United Nations, takes it on November the first year, and it was to try and encourage people to have conversations about consent to having a day for it is one way of doing it, but obviously having conversations about consent, in every context, whether it’s with your kids, whether it’s with your partner or partners, whether you’re clearly talking about agency and choice and agreement and consent in all its forms is so, so important, and radical and powerful. So that!

Meg-John: I would say start at home start with yourself. So self consent. No, I think it’s really hard to do. Consent with others. If you’re not treating yourself consensually, and that’s where it’s really easy to either let others overrule you or you overrule them. I go to Belle Hooks here. You know she, she really emphasises that love is about valuing yourselves and others equally, and generally we just don’t do that we either value others more highly than ourselves more highly than others, or we swing between the two. So yes, starting with learning how to do self-consent. and because of the way we’ve all been brought up that, that may be that we just don’t even know when we’re in a yes, no, or maybe. So point people towards Love Uncommon’s blog posts. So the Love Uncommon website goes into a lot of nice practices for how you can learn self concern. So just really learning what does your body feel like when you’re a yes when you’re no or when you’re a maybe, and I think she suggests a load of activities around sort of just tuning into food or activities and really noticing what happens in your, in your body when you’re in those places. So it’s getting really simple and really embodied and really self, focused first, and then when you’ve got that foundation of like consent with yourself like building on that. So that would be like my go-to, like start here, rather than starting with kind of trying to do the much more complicated kinds of consent before you’ve got that foundation in place,

 Jonathan: brilliant Meg-John, Jenny, thank you both very much a quick recap of fries just because it’s always good to bear these things in mind freely given. It needs to be reversible. It needs to be informed. It needs to be engaged in some situations, if you can detect genuine enthusiasm, that’s also an important signal to pick up on and it needs to be specific And November the 30th. Let’s make it International Day of Consent. This could be a really excellent thing to have at least one day a year, when we have this conversation, even though we should have it rather more often. Thank you both very much.

M-J: Thank you.

ZR: That’s all for this edition Tune in for new episodes every month. Next time, we’ll be looking at the pleasures, and particularly the pitfalls of consensual non monogamy. 

JK: And we’ll be joined for our New Year’s episode by four guests with all without mince pies but definitely with a lot of seasonal cheer.

Zayna: And in the meantime, if you liked the programme please leave us a review on whichever platform you listen on. And if you would like to support us visit the Beyond Monogamy website that’s www.beyondmonogamy.world, and treat us to coffee courtesy Patreon

Jonathan: Intro and outro music by vj memes via ccmixter beyond monogamy is a Chris. P. duck production. Catch you next time.

Jenny Wilson of Consent Culture!

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