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Consent in Non-Sexual Situations

By Brooke Burnett

The concept of non-sexual consent is an important one at home in personal relationships, and also at the workplace in professional relationships. No matter where you work, this concept can be applied and is a good foundation to a world without sexual violence. Non-sexual consent is also important when raising and teaching children. If this is a concept they learn early on, Necessary Behavior’s job would be a lot easier.

Now, let’s talk about what this would look like. Don’t make this harder than it should be.

Let’s take sort of an odd turn and talk about healthcare. As someone that works in healthcare, I see opportunities for trauma informed care on a daily basis.

I work at a nursing home. Old people can’t control when they go to the bathroom. That’s just life. (This is going somewhere I promise). If you can’t control when you urinate or have a bowel movement, you need to be cleaned up. Here is something else that I see on a daily basis: CNAs going into the resident’s room, unannounced, pulling the resident’s pants down and changing them, all without saying a word. I often work third shift, the middle of the night, so these residents are waking up to their pants off and a stranger cleaning their genitals. I was shocked when I first saw this; I complained to another aide about it and they shared that their techniques are no different--that’s just how it is. I could write another article about this topic but I’ll keep this short: phrases like, “Hi, ____ it’s (enter your name) and I’m here to change your pants. Is it okay if I check them?” might seem silly, especially if the resident isn’t coherent in the middle of the night, or sometimes at all, but these phrases are both necessary and respectful. Onto other forms of healthcare: Doctors and nurses see a variety of conditions in a variety of places. Whether they need to survey the area or apply a treatment, the phrase, “Can I have you show me the area?” or “Can I see your arm/leg/wherever necessary” makes the patient more comfortable and they’ll feel more respected. This concept is fairly simple. Moving on.















Kids are sponges. I’ve experienced this with the many years I’ve babysat/nannied and I’ve witnessed it in the classroom. They pick up behaviors and phrases and these interactions will one day shape them into adults. Physical touch and affirmation is also very important to them, when mommy(s) or daddy(s) is/are proud of them, they usually get a hug. When they encounter a friend that they haven’t seen in a while, they usually get a hug. Before bed, they usually get a kiss on the forehead. All of these things are so important but introducing the concept of non-sexual consent to them early on will have an impact on their interactions later on in life. Saying things like “I’m so proud of you! Can I give you a hug?” in positive situations, or saying things like, “I’m sorry you had a bad day. Do you need a hug?”  in negative situations can go so far in the child’s development. Communicating like this in childhood will always translate to adulthood.

Let’s talk about personal relationships. Yes, sexual-consent is what we usually write about in personal relationships but to be honest, most of the necessary consent isn’t sexual at all. If you’re recovering from a trauma, you and your partner should practice non-sexual consent regularly. As I said before, don’t make this harder than it should be. If you need or want physical touch, say things like “Can I have a hug? It’s been a long day.” It isn’t weird at all and can contribute largely to the depth and respect of your relationship. Asking for things like kisses or hugs can be an odd transition if you haven’t practiced nonsexual consent before, but communicate effectively and it will soon become part of your dynamic as a couple.

Here we arrive at professional relationships. Professional relationships can be a bit different because if you’re like me, you spend long shifts working with the same people and by the end of the week, you’ve spent over 50 hours with them. More than likely, they’ll share parts of their personal lives and you care about each other, professionally. If a coworker reveals some bad news and they need comforting, ask if it’s okay to hug them. It’s really that simple my friends, the phrase “can I ___” goes a long way. Even nonsexually. Try it out sometime!

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