Consent from a coach’s perspective

Consent from a coach’s perspective

Sumedh Chatterjee

 

Consent. You’ve heard it before. What is it? Why does it matter?

Consent is permission for something to happen or about to happen. We either practice this, are afraid to ask for it or don’t want to bring it up at all. Now in a fairly liberal environment we understand consent if we have a basic moral compass. However, as far as teaching consent goes, the methodology is sometimes unappealing… especially because we’ve been socially conditioned into thinking about it in the wrong ways. Trigger warning here. Media imagery perpetuates rape by excusing it, validating myths about rape, and/or sexualizing rape. This issue is much more complicated on college campuses now than ever before. It’s about not drinking in excess and putting oneself in a situation where one cannot make conscious decisions. It’s about being honest with your intentions and speaking about it. The key is to be especially aware of how other people around you are feeling. That’s empathy. And this is a skill that’s not easy to learn. But that is why consent is such an important a topic in college campuses; it teaches us to have a dialogue between students and faculty.

So what exactly is the problem with asking for consent?

First, requesting for consent can include non-verbal cues such as body language. Yet it is also true that relying solely on non-verbal communication can lead to misunderstanding. Second, the stereotype is that discussing consent is widely seen as awkward and likely to kill the mood. But if we keep saying consent is “hot,” “cool,” and “creative.” this dilemma can be partly resolved. Consent doesn’t have to “kill the mood”, we just need to find ways to express ourselves without limiting our sex appeal and courtesy. Third, those who have issues with consent don’t have alcohol abuse as the only problem but have problems with psychological well being and mental stability as well. Fourth, we are growing up in a culture that capitalizes on insecurities around dating and sex. Men are afraid of not escalating sexually with women while, women are insecure about not being desired and this becomes a vicious cycle. Fifth, men and women, in fact both often drink in excess in social situations only to become unable to control their libido and/or actions.

We can’t live in assumption regarding consent. Nor can we give-in to brainwashed norms. We need to break the stereotypes and have a discussion about this issue. Ultimately, women aren’t flesh-form antidepressants that exist to make men feel better about their own insecurities. And men aren’t sex-craved maniacs supposed to constantly show their courtesy to prove their chivalrous nature to validate themselves. Choice of clothing and attitude shouldn’t be perceived as “asking for it” or implying seduction. People often use choice of clothing and attitude and automatically assume it has to do with promiscuity. Attending the party and dressing scantily clad creates a misleading assumption to people. Dressing this way should not be considered provocative. Men are excused to show their skin, so why are women “asking for it” when they show more skin? There’s an evident double standard, that when a man who has more sexual partners he’s labeled an alpha male, but a woman is easy or even worse, (slutty). 

One of my friends was on the dance floor having a good time, however in the midst of dancing, a guy came up to my friend and stood there in front of her. He didn’t ask her to dance, he didn’t dance to assume they would be dancing; he physically used his larger, masculine body to invade this girls personal space. It was obvious he was already assuming sex. It was so obvious he was blinded by a misguided culture. She clearly said no multiple times. Now sure, one can say that no can mean “maybe later” or no can mean “some other time”, however this particular male had a reputation on campus. I knew this guy; he acted like my friend, always trying to build rapport with me. But he had problems. Problems beyond having a drinking problem. Now seeing this, I came up to him, reassuring him that “she said no, man” as polite as possible, not trying to start a fight for no reason or be labelled a white knight and never trying to challenge him in any way. He took this in the wrong way, belligerently drunk saying the most ironic statement ever “What’s WRONG with you man, what’s your PROBLEM?”. He walked off, my friend was okay, however, I didn’t feel so because I wasn’t the problem and I got verbally jousted for it. Nevertheless, I wasn’t trying to be a hero, but ended up being one. Here I motivate people to interfere in such situations. It shouldn’t be something that’s intimidating. It is easier to stay out of it. But as humans we should look out for each other as a community. When we see a dangerous situation, we shouldn’t hesitate to step in. Don’t just be a bystander.

Now, let’s discuss some other strategies as well.

What can we do about this? We need to make sure psychology services are adequately supportive not only for the victims but also for the perpetrators in campuses. We need students not to feel intimidated by asking for help. We need to have an open conversation with all of the stakeholders. It’s not that talk during a sexual encounter is inherently a turn-off — far from it. But there’s a big difference between sexy banter or endearments and mandatory checks to confirm you aren’t assaulting your partner. We need to make sure we are all on the same page.  We may require new laws for self protection of vulnerable students and abide by them.

There’s a solution to this kind of thinking and situations such as in the story above. Self-actualization- the desire for reaching one’s potential and creating self-awareness can be the way forward. Creating your identity. Finding out who you are. That is what college is about, right? The journey; creating a strong sense of self so we can handle uncomfortable situations such as the one above.

Ask yourself, who am I in this scenario? We are sometimes different people in all of the interactions we have with others. Why so? I ask you all to read about this, research, talk, socialize, and involve yourself as much as possible. Do something. I can’t coach all by myself. I need your help. As a perpetrator or aggressor or whatever you want to call it- just think- what you do, will not be undone. You will have to accept the consequences and will be labeled for your actions.

We need to change our mindsets; sex is about communication and exploration. Sex communication shouldn’t be a taboo and sex shouldn’t be a pressure. Not just intercourse but with touching and other types of physical escalation… even with clothes on. Consent must also be considered when invading personal boundaries. Without this exchange of awareness of the self and others, we feel awkward and perplexed in social situations. How can we handle ourselves? How can we ask for help? We need to reach out and help our peers, and we’re doing a pretty good job of it already. It’s working. We’re setting ourselves up so as not to worry about this but this problem still persists. But we have to start looking out and looking within to make it happen.

Now imagine a world, where everyone is effectively communicating. A world where people aren’t getting blackout drunk for escaping reality. A world where a woman’s voice is as strong as a man’s. A world where we are treating each other with respect and reciprocated pleasure. A world where consent is mutual. True, there will always be roadblocks. However, we can overcome these. There is a lot of talk about issues like this already but we need to further establish some rules. Not to say that consent should be policed but should be a part of education. It should be the default of human nature to give and get consent. We need to be proactive in thinking about consensual approaches. We need to think about the future of this planet and its safety. The psychological services in campuses worldwide need to be supportive to the cause. There is always room for improvement. Let’s take that chance and step forward, let’s celebrate consent and practice it too. Blessings.