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Principles for consensual communication

➡️ Why we struggle with consent. ➡️ How self-consent can be the ultimate start. ➡️ Why consent is not a yes/no question.

➡️ How consensual communication can be arousing.

➡️ The fun of multidirectional consent.

➡️ The crucial role of context in consent.

➡️ Free and enthusiastic consent. The main inspiration for this article and video series are the consent principles that we learned from Meg-John Barker. Read, watch or listen depending on your preference! We introduce you to all the principles that we have found most helpful ourselves - with a bunch of examples and suggestions for how you can start to practice consensual communication in your daily live! Meg-John Barker is a queer therapeutic writer. She is the author of Rewriting the Rules and a number of other books about sex, gender, and mental health, as well as Queer: A Graphic History and many other comic books and zines. Click here for an overview of all her work around consent.

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Why we struggle so much with consent

A key factor is our societal context. Many of us grew up in, and continue to live, in societies in which non-consensual communication in daily life is the norm. Pressuring people to do things is part of many cultures, and we don’t tend to be very aware of this!

Think about it… When was the last time you said to someone, or someone said to you, “just give it a try” or “oh.. come on” or “just this time”? Many of us are simply not used to quickly accepting “no” for an answer - when someone says they don’t want to dance, have a drink, eat certain food or join us at an event or party…

The issue is that dominant norms and values in our families, friendship groups, workplaces or society in general put all sorts of pressures on us to behave in certain ways to fit in, or to be accepted or loved.

Now while there is a lot of work to do around communication in the specific areas of intimacy and sex, it will be incredibly helpful if we all start to try to reduce non-consensual communication in general too! ➡️ ACTION

Over the next few days, first try to become more mindful of the ways that you yourself, or others around you might be pressuring people - probably unintentionally…

And then, after a week or so, as a second step, if you are comfortable to do so… maybe you could try to gently point it out to people? Or whenever you catch yourself pressuring others, maybe you’d like to apologize and rephrase your remark…

#NonConsensualCulture #SocietalContext #UnhealthyNorms #SelfReflection #Mindfulness #SpeakingUp #PressuringPeople #FittingIn #LookingForLove #SearchingAcceptance -- Do you prefer to watch a video a day? Follow us on Instagram of Facebook for regular short video series. --

How self-consent can be the ultimate start

How often do you do something that you don’t want to do? How often do you push yourself because of feeling a sense of duty, or because you don’t want to let someone else down or hurt their feelings? Or because you think it’s the right or proper thing to do, or because you are afraid of the impact on your reputation if you say no?

Besides using all the concepts of consensual communication to think about how we approach consent and communicate consensually with others, it can also be helpful to reflect on how consensual we are with ourselves. Most of us treat ourselves in non-consensual ways, in many small but also some big ways. And in addition, whenever we discover that we have been nonconsensual with ourselves an “inner critic” often makes it worse by hardly judging ourselves.

Our non-consensual behaviour towards ourselves often results in missing a lot of moments for joy and pleasure in our daily lives.

➡️ ACTION It can be helpful to make it a game to try and catch your own non-consensual thoughts before you turn them into action! Next to trying to practice self-consent, it can also be powerful to try and practice making and keeping promises to yourself. Start small and then gradually build up your trust in your own accountability. It doesn’t really matter what it is. It could be as simple as taking 5 minutes to drink a cup of tea and really savouring the smell and taste and the feel of the hot cup in your hands before starting work in the mornings. To keep track you can note down all your little - and big - self-consent and self-accountability victories before going to sleep. #SelfConsent #UnhealthyNorms #SelfSabotage #CalmYourInnerCritic #SocietalPressure #Gamification #SelfReflection #SelfAccountability #SmallSteps #LittleVictories #GradualProgress

Why consent is not a yes/no question.

How we feel about our interactions with others is often much more complex than what can be expressed with the yes/no dichotomy that many people think about when they hear the word “consent”.

Although we may use different words, our interactions and decisions about consent are influenced by four different elements.

  • Desires: the things we’d like to happen

  • Boundaries: the things we’d prefer to have present - or not to have present - for something to be a comfortable or even positive experience for us

  • Needs: the things we absolutely must have and

  • Limits: the things we absolutely must not have

In many discussions around sex and relationships, people only talk about boundaries and the word is often used to communicate limits too.


We however encourage you to become more familiar with the difference between the two concepts.

Because using separate words enables us to both identify the things we prefer to have present for our comfort; and to clarify the lines of our limits: exactly where something transitions from being okay to not okay.

How consensual communication can be arousing

Would you like a massage? => Could I give you a sensual massage, while using lots of coconut oil? Maybe under the shower? And if so, which parts of your body would you like me to touch and how?

Can I touch you? => Would you enjoy it if I touched your vulva? You would? What would you like me to use? My hand or something else? Shall I add some kind of lube? Which part of your vulva would you like me to touch?

Are you into kinky sex? =>

Would you be into using handcuffs during sex? Yes? How do you picture your role? Am I wearing them or you? Hmm.. And what would you like me to do while you wear them?

The difference here is about the crucial first dimension of consensual communication: it’s prior, informed and specific.

The simple fact is that in order for someone to be able to consider all their relevant desires, boundaries, needs and limits before making a decision, they need to be informed about all the aspects of what’s being offered, proposed or asked - including ideally the unknown or uncertain aspects.


We hope these examples showed how being more detailed not only empowers the other person to know better what they would be consenting to, but also how communicating more detail could be arousing and part of the fun!

The fun of multidirectional consent

A consensual communication process doesn’t need to be one-directional, where one person initiates or asks, and another person refuses or agrees.

Instead, we really appreciate how Meg-John suggests understanding consent as a potential back-and-forth decision-making process of all parties involved bringing their desires, needs, limits, and boundaries to the table. Once they are all out in the open they can be discussed openly, before everyone agrees to a decision.


It can be very fun to practice back-and-forth exchanges of proposals and requests with an intimate partner. For example while texting that intriguing person you just connected with on Tinder or while discussing how you and your partner will spend your next evening without the kids.. It can help to build up desire and it tends to be a great way to bring in variety and avoid routine.

But you can also practice it in your daily life. For example while scheduling the next day you’ll spend with your best friend, the next night out with your sports buddies or your upcoming family vacations…

Whatever occasion you choose: we suggest trying to get clear on everyone’s desires, boundaries, needs and limits.

The crucial role of context in consent

👍 During a holiday, having sex under the spacious shower of a cosy quest house. A glass of wine. A massive shower head. And no idea who was next door!

👎 After a long work day, having sex under a meagre stream of water from a tiny unbendable shower head, in a slippery bath - with a housemate trying to study next door.

👍 Having sex while being in my fertile period. In a beautiful spot in nature. Where we could hide from passers by behind a massive tree…

👎 Having sex while being in the same beautiful spot when I have period pain, I feel tired and my mind is distracted by work.

Communication about consent should also be an ongoing and reversible process. No matter if someone is a complete stranger or a long term partner, wanting something one day, one hour, or even one minute, doesn’t necessarily mean we want it again the next.

Similarly, wanting to do something in one context doesn’t necessarily mean that we want to also do it in another.

As human beings, our bodies change, our minds change, our contexts change. So we should never stop communicating about consent.

The fact that consent should be understood as an ongoing and reversible process also applies to self-consent!


Try to pay attention to how often an inner voice tells you that you should do something that you don’t really want to do: going to that party even though you are tired and you would much rather curl up on the couch with that book that has been waiting for you for two weeks, or go for that run even though your knee hurts. Building a healthy routine doesn’t mean ignoring the signs your body gives you!

The importance of free and enthusiastic consent.

🛑 EXAMPE A I said yes but had no idea if I was going to like it, as I had never tried it before. but I didn’t say so because he was older and I didn’t want to seem inexperienced. 🛑 EXAMPLE B

Once we had started I didn’t know how to explain in his language that I’d rather pause and go somewhere else.

Another important guideline for consensual communication is tuning into whether someone is giving their consent in an enthusiastic way.

Most of us are pretty capable of sensing if someone’s consent has a hesitant or subdued quality to it, as we can usually hear it in someone’s voice or notice it in their body language.

As mentioned in an earlier part of this series, the challenge is that our culture teaches us that it is normal to do things that we don’t really want to do! So this means trusting our senses if someone’s consent doesn’t seem enthusiastic and spending more time finding out how they really feel.

➡️ ACTION It is also important to acknowledge the role of privilege and oppression. The reality is that many of us often don’t feel free, safe or able to tune into ourselves and to openly communicate our wants, boundaries, needs and limits because of explicit or implicit power dynamics.

An awareness of potential power imbalances on all axes of privilege and oppression - including race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, age, mental and physical health, experience and strength - can help us to understand how these factors might be limiting someone’s freedom to say no when we are in a position of greater power.


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