The Foundations Of Consent in ENM
Table of Contents
The Different Aspects Of Consent In ENM
Relationships all over the world are defined by different dynamics. Some approaches might work well for some, while others might be the downfall of certain relationships. Even so, one general principle we believe should govern different kinds of relationships, particularly those defined in ENM is consent.
In this article, we will cover what consent looks like, the meaning of consent, and the different aspects of it. We hope that by the end of your reading, you will be able to define clear boundaries of what you expect and other boundaries within your relationship. Keep reading.
What Is The Meaning Of Consent In ENM?
Before we engage further on the subject of consent, it is vital to understand what it means. “Consent is a voluntary, enthusiastic, and clear agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity.” (https://helpingsurvivors.org/) Consent means the people who engage in any sexual activity have actively and freely agreed to it.
Consent in ENM lets someone know that you are enthusiastically engaging in a particular activity. Engaging in a sexual activity with someone in the absence of consent is sexual assault. Consent is one of the pillars of any ENM relationship.
Whereas monogamous relationships are defined by having one sexual or romantic partner for the duration of a relationship, ethical non monogamy is defined by having multiple romantic and/or sexual relationships.
Even so, when you’re within the confines of an ENM relationship and start relations with someone else at the time without having the consent of all your partners, this is considered unethical non monogamy. For the relationship to be ethical, there has to be mutual agreement and understanding by both partners.
In addition to this, even in ENM, before you engage in a sexual activity, it’s vital to discuss it with your partner to see if they’re comfortable with such desires. Consent ensures that both partners have established boundaries by determining what they do or don’t want.
Both partners have to agree to something every single time for the activity to be consensual. For instance, if one partner suggests something and the other is agreeable to it, consent has been given. On the other hand, if both partners had freely agreed to something in the past, and one partner isn’t comfortable with it at present, consent has been withheld.
This simply means that one cannot imply consent on the basis of past behavior. Consent in ENM must always be communicated clearly, and there should be no doubt or room for mystery as to whether a free agreement has been made.
There are certain instances where someone cannot give their consent. For example; underage people, overly intoxicated (alcohol or drugs), or someone who has passed out… we know this should go without saying but for some it still needs to be said! People in these states cannot give their consent to sex or other sexual activity. By now, you know that there’s no space for varying views on what consent means. There’s no consent between partners if there is ambiguity in a situation or some assumptions have been made.
How Does Consent In ENM Work?
Consent in ENM has everything to do with communication. It should be given for every type of activity every single time. Just because someone has consented to something once, doesn’t mean they’ve consented to it at other times. It also doesn’t mean that they’ve consented to other activities that are assumed to ‘naturally’ follow what they consented to.
For example, if your partner consents to a threesome today, that doesn’t mean that they’ll be ok with it tomorrow or that they will be fine with other forms of group sex. It’s vital to always discuss expectations and boundaries with your partner(s) before you engage in activities that affect the relationship. It is also vital to understand that a partner can withdraw their consent at any time if they aren’t comfortable.
If you feel uncomfortable with something you had already consented to, you can communicate to your partner that you’re not comfortable with the particular activity and want to stop further engagement. You can withdraw consent either verbally, or non-verbally.
Ultimately, the best way to make sure that everyone is comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it, facilitate periodic check-ins, and be certain that everyone involved is freely agreeable to changing or escalating an activity.
What Does Consent In ENM Look Like?
Consent in ENM means that you never assume your partner is always comfortable with what you’re doing or would like to do. There has to be a clear, distinguishable ‘YES!.’ If your partner or partners don’t respond to your requests, seem unsure, or don’t say anything at all, there’s no consent. Even if they say ‘maybe,’ they haven’t given consent. Even if you’re both caught up in the moment, there are ways you can check in with your partner to ensure they give their consent before you continue. Below are a few examples of what to do:
- “Would you like to go further?”
- “Are you OK with this?”
- “Are you comfortable?”
- “Is it OK if I…?”
- I’d like to… is that okay with you?”
- “I would like to … with you. Is that okay?”
The more you are open with your partners about your desires or your boundaries, the more intimate and pleasurable your interactions can and will be.
What Consent Does NOT Look Like
Just because someone looks a certain way, is flirting with you or has accepted a favor from you doesn’t mean that they’ve given consent. Someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs cannot give consent. In addition to this, giving in to a partner because you feel they are pressuring you to do something doesn’t mean you’ve given consent.
It’s important to get consent in ENM from your partner each time you want to engage in sexual activity even though they were previously ok with it. Most importantly, everyone has a right to their own body and to feel comfortable in their intimate relationships. (https://www.loveisrespect.org)
Below are some situations that show consent hasn’t been given:
- A partner pressuring you into doing something you don’t want or aren’t comfortable with
- A partner suggests that you should do something for them because they did something else for you and now you “owe” them.
- A partner getting angry or sad if you don’t agree to something that they wanted
- A partner ignoring all your verbal and non-verbal cues that indicate you haven’t given consent.
- Not stopping when a partner says that they’ve changed their mind about sex or a sexual act
- Continuing to engage in sexual activity when your partner has already said “no”
- Assuming that you can engage in a sexual act because your partner said “yes” to it in the past
- Continuing in sex or sexual activity with a partner who is clearly upset about it or has become unresponsive and disengaged
What Is Enthusiastic Consent In ENM?
Enthusiastic consent in ENM is a newer model for understanding consent that focuses on a positive expression of consent. Simply put, enthusiastic consent means looking for the presence of a “yes” rather than the absence of a “no.” (www.rainn.org)
One can express enthusiastic consent through both verbal and non-verbal cues. These could include nodding, smiling through the experience, or even maintaining eye contact. Since this kind of body language doesn’t necessarily express consent, it’s vital to always seek verbal confirmation of consent in ENM.
One of the most important aspects of consent in ENM is to constantly check in with your partner to ensure that you’re both on the same page. For instance, if you’ve both agreed to have a threesome with a partner, during the experience, it’s important to check in with everyone and ensure they’re ok and comfortable with continuing. Here’s what enthusiastic consent can look like:
- Confirming that you are all interested in a particular experience before you continue
- Asking your partner(s) for permission before you go further with a sexual activity or increasing the degree of the act by asking them whether they’re ok with it.
- Telling your partner that they can stop any time they’re not comfortable or simply don’t want to continue.
- Always checking in and ensuring that your partner is ok with what you’re doing
- Letting your partner know when you’re ok with a certain activity
Remember that if you’re the one initiating an experience or encounter, you bear a lot of responsibility in ensuring that the other person is comfortable, they feel safe, or that they are enjoying themselves and has given consent in ENM. The same degree of responsibility applies when you’re the one that wants to escalate a sexual experience or encounter.
The Legal Role Of Consent
While there are various legal definitions of consent, there are three major ways through which consent can be broken down and evaluated in regards to sex and sexual acts. Take a look:
- Affirmative consent: when a person expressly indicates in words or overt actions their agreement to sexual acts.
- Freely given consent: when the person gives consent on their own free will without the threat of violence, coercion, violence, or being fraudulently induced.
- Capacity to consent: this refers to someone’s legal ability and their capacity to consent.
You should stop all actions when you notice that no consent has been granted for any kind of sexual activity. If you don’t stop, you might be liable for a sexual assault. Sexual assault includes all types of sexual contact or activity such as rape that occur without consent. It can also include:
- Engaging in sex or sexual activities with an underage person, someone who cannot respond, has passed out, or has an intellectual disability
- Sexual coercion
- Rape, attempted rape, or sexual contact with a person that hasn’t given consent
- Unwanted touching and/or fondling under and above clothes
Practicing Active Bystander Intervention
Regardless of who you are, you can step in to prevent sexual assault by practicing active bystander intervention. As an active bystander, you can interrupt sexual violence and related harmful situations. While you might not necessarily be directly involved in such situations, you can intervene by speaking up.
We all know that unsafe situations can play out around us every day. You can play a vital role by speaking out against sexual violence wherever you are. Even so, just because you can step in and speak out doesn’t mean that you should put your safety at risk. There are ways you can be an effective, active bystander without passing on the risk to yourself. Here’s how to do it.
- Creating distractions in harmful situations
- Directly asking the individual at risk whether they need help
- Enlisting the help of those around you to intervene in the situation. They could be an authority, a bartender, or security personnel
- Extending support to the person at risk
How To Respond When Someone Tries To Pressure You
When someone is trying to pressure you into unwanted sexual activity, this is known as sexual coercion.
Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a non physical way. (www.womenshealth.gov)
Sexual coercion can make the victim believe that they owe someone sex or sexual engagement. It can be from a partner or an authority figure. Remember that you are never required to engage in sex or sexual activities with someone.
Individuals that coerce others can use different tricks such as intimidation or guilt-tripping to pressure someone into doing something they don’t want. If this happens to you, remember that it isn’t your fault no matter how uncomfortable, anxious, or upsetting the experience feels. You can still remove yourself from such situations.
Below are some tips on how to do it:
- Remind yourself that it isn’t your fault that this is happening. The person trying to coerce and pressure you is responsible for their own actions.
- Think of an escape route. Quickly have a look at your environment and check to see whether there are any exits you can get through easily. There could be people around you willing to help you. If not, look for windows or doors you can run through.
- Trust your instincts and don’t believe for an instant that you are obligated to do something you don’t want just because someone is making you feel guilty for not doing it.
- Develop code words with those close to you that will help them see you need help in such situations. It could be a series of numbers with a pin to your location or a phrase that alerts them.
- If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable being around this person, you can lie to them. Please don’t feel guilty about this because your safety comes first. Let them know you aren’t feeling well or that there’s an emergency at home that needs your attention. If you can, tell this person that you need to dash to the bathroom then leave. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to stay safe.
Consent in ENM is one of, if not the most, important aspect of ensuring all are on the same page and enjoying themselves. Never assume you have consent in ENM or that someone has given it to you. Always seek out a firm, enthusiastic YES in all that you do while you seek consent in ENM.
https://helpingsurvivors.org/what-consent-looks-like/ n.d. Article. 10 August 2022.
https://www.loveisrespect.org/resources/what-consent-does-and-doesnt-look-like/ n.d. Article. 10 August 2022.
www.rainn.org. https://www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent#:~:text=Consent%20should%20be%20clearly%20and,alcohol%2C%20or%20asleep%20or%20unconscious. n.d. Web Article. 10 August 2022.