The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “consent” as a verb meaning “to give approval”. In the state of Missouri, as with all states in the United States, there is an “age of consent” that is the age at which the state has determined that someone can legally consent to participate in sexual activity. In Missouri, the ‘age of consent’ is 17. That means if you are under the age of 17, you cannot give your consent to engage in a sexual activity, even if you agree to it.
However, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, consent has taken on an even greater meaning and significance in our society. In our discussions surrounding consent, we must acknowledge both what consent is and what it is not.
What Consent Is Not
Sadly, there are many myths surrounding what is and is not consent. Let us dispel some of these myths and help you understand what is not considered consent:
- Consent is not the quiet compliance that comes from being too nervous or fearful to admit one’s discomfort.
- Consent is not the lack of protest that comes from being bullied or manipulated into an action.
- Consent is not silence. Even if you don’t expressly say “No” or “Yes”, that silence does not equal consent. You and your partner should always communicate before any sexual activity to ensure the other is comfortable and wants to engage in that activity.
- Being incapacitated through drugs or alcohol is not consent. If a person is under the influence, they legally cannot give consent to any kind of sexual activity.
- Consent is not coercion through verbal, physical or emotional pressure of any degree.
- Marriage is not consent. Sexual activity in marriage is not the “right” of one spouse or the other. Even if you are married, this does not give a spouse permission to engage in sexual activity with the other without their consent.
It is critical for both you and a partner to remember that open communication regarding what both of you are and are not comfortable with is essential to ensuring a healthy balance within a relationship.
Consent Is Mutual Respect Of Boundaries
Having the right and ability to give consent applies to any age and any type of relationship. Consent is a necessary part of a healthy relationship that is mutually supportive for the betterment of each other, and should entail open and honest communication.
In any type of healthy relationship, there will be mutual respect of each other and your boundaries. This is of particular importance in the relationships between adults and minors. Caretakers have the responsibility and duty never to misuse their role of authority, for example, in cases such as that of an employer, coach, group leader or teacher.
When this relationship dynamic is out of balance, one member of the relationship may feel forced or coerced into something they don’t consent to.
Consent Can Be Revoked At Any Time
Consent in a relationship is having the ability to give or refuse approval for what happens or how you interact with the other person in regards to your personal care and well-being. If you find yourself in any type of relationship in which there is an apparent lack of respect or even an indiscreet imbalance of power, ask yourself:
- “If I say ‘No’, will my answer be respected?”
- “Am I comfortable enough with this person to say ‘No’ in the first place?”
- “If pressured or cornered in a situation will my right to consent or not be recognized and affirmed?”
There should be equality in the degree of status or role in the relationship. Both parties in a relationship need to recognize that consent for one circumstance does not automatically imply consent for others and that consent can, in fact, be taken back once it has been given.
Consent in today’s society should be a given, accepted form of civil decency. It should mean having the ability to self-protect, to set a boundary and have it respected not disregarded or taken advantage of. Consent is “to give approval” for how you are going to be and want to be treated.