On the face of it, consent should be simple. Yes means yes, and no means no. We clearly communicate exactly what we feel, and it is immediately understood and acted on accordingly by others. However, real life is often more complicated. In all areas of life; with our friends, family, work colleagues and in our most intimate relationships - our consent skills may be impaired, for any number of reasons:
Being brought up as a ‘good boy or girl’, to over-ride our own needs and desires.
Our own privilege, or lack of it, may affect our expectations of what is or isn't reasonable to expect from life in general, and connections with others in particular.
We may be embarrassed about stating our desires or boundaries in a sexual or intimate context.
Sometimes we may be emotionally triggered, and temporarily disconnected from our truth.
Cultural norms and expectations may limit the choices available to us.
Power imbalances of all kinds can make authentic consent difficult or even impossible to achieve.
We may not have been taught any of the best consent skills available.
That's why the Art of Consent exists! Founded in Oxford in 2017 by Rupert James Alison, we are grateful to be supported by a superb team of assistants and co-facilitators. Since April 2020, we have held all of our workshops online.
Not always as simple as "a cup of tea"
The well-known 'cup of tea' analogy for a particular type of consent - sexual consent - is helpful as far as it goes but misses many of the complexities surrounding consent. There can't be many amongst us who feel the emotional and physical impact of sex is no greater than the decision to drink a cup of tea! Besides which, what do we even mean by 'sex'? It can mean very different things to different people, and without a consent conversation, misunderstandings easily and often arise.
The truth is that many of us struggle to fully communicate our desires, or clearly state our boundaries, or take full ownership of our own capacity for pleasure and intimacy. Consent of all kinds is about so much more than simply saying 'yes' or 'no'.
Consent is also not simply something which is simply 'given' or 'received'. Rather, it is a process of mutually coming to agreement (or not) with another. The Wheel of Consent provides a clear and insightful map to support and shine a light on this process.
The Wheel of Consent
Dr. Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent is a model of relating which brings greater clarity and authenticity to our relationships in all areas of life: with work colleagues, with friends and family, and in our most intimate relationships.
The Wheel uniquely distinguishes between the ‘doing’ aspect of an interaction: who is doing? - and the ‘gift’ aspect: who is it for? Asking these two questions together creates four possible dynamics, each of which has a different flavour, and requires a different type of consent agreement to be made. This is the central insight of the Wheel of Consent, from which many consequences and insights flow.
We can practice experiencing each of the Wheel's four quadrants, discovering which of them feel comfortable and which feel unfamiliar, enabling us to clarify our desires, needs and boundaries, and shining a light on our blind-spots. We see how our conditioning might have closed down or distorted our expression of these qualities, and we can use the Wheel as a practice to open them up again. Read this page or watch this video to learn more.
Below is a simplified image of the Wheel of Consent, based on exchanging touch. Practising simple exchanges of touch on the hand and/or fore-arm is one way of learning the Wheel of Consent.
Consent and #metoo
Consent skills are essential in all areas of life, and most particularly in intimate or sexual interactions, where consent can make all the difference between a beautiful, loving experience and sexual assault. The #metoo movement has hugely raised awareness of the importance of consent, and the widespread instances where it has been ignored, over-ridden or misunderstood.
We can all make a difference by ensuring that our own consent skills are the best they can be.
And taking consent seriously doesn't mean it has to be dull, or mechanical. Far from it. Learning and enhancing our consent skills can be fun, playful, fascinating and deeply moving. Find out more.
Our workshops last anything from 1 hour to 3 days. Please contact us to find out more