"Can I borrow your shirt this weekend?"
It’s a simple question, and you probably already know the answer when you ask it, but the simple act of asking is more important than you think. While you and your roommate should set boundaries (check out this HCAU article on living with roomies!), and sharing clothes may be within those boundaries, it is still important to ask for consent.
Consent is an agreement between two or more people to engage in an activity. Typically, we use the term “consent” when talking about sexual activity because every sexual activity requires consent by both partners. It must be freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific. Consent is also required in law, medicine, and research. Yet, because we only talk about consent when we talk about these situations, asking for consent feels very serious. Even though we know consent is required for sexual activity, it can feel weird in the moment. Sex should be fun and comfortable; you don’t want to ruin the mood by reminding your partner of the doctor’s office.
An AU student, Carly*, recalled that not talking about consent in high school or in her relationship led to conflict with her boyfriend at the time. Her boyfriend, Frank*, repeatedly made sexual advances toward Carly despite her consistently saying no. Eventually, she had to physically push Frank away which resulted in him being angry at her rejection. Looking back, Carly realizes that this situation was the first time she thought about consent; her high school classes and peers never discussed consent, and it was not a part of her daily life.
[bf_image id="hzb75nhkbmkfgr3kj6nxx6q"] Carly believes that she would have felt more comfortable saying no, or even discussing her comfort level with her boyfriend if everyday consent was normalized. If we asked for consent multiple times a day, it might not feel as “weird” in a sexual situation. Want to take a picture of your friend? Ask for consent. Want to hold your friend’s hand while walking down the street? Ask for consent. Want to invite someone over to an apartment you share with roommates? Ask both parties involved for consent.
For example, a friend recently invited me over to dinner and asked if what he was cooking for dinner was okay. Of course, a good host would want their guests to be happy. However, this gesture means a lot to me because I am a very picky eater and struggle with eating in general. Furthermore, because he genuinely wanted me to be happy with the meal, I felt okay saying “no,” and suggesting that we agree on something else.
At first, it might seem ridiculous to ask for consent all the time, but we already do it. And we should do it. You should ask for consent any time you might be crossing a boundary or affecting someone’s personal space- out of respect for that person. While you might know that you should ask for consent before touching anyone because of different comfort levels and possible triggers, consent should not just be about avoiding triggers. Consent is really, in its innate form, just a way of respecting people. You shouldn’t eat your roommate's food or borrow a friend’s shirt without asking for permission.
For me, having someone ask me for consent makes me feel more comfortable saying “no” before they do something rather than “please don’t do that” after. Because I ask for consent to hold my friend’s hand, I feel more comfortable asking for consent during sexual experiences. By normalizing the act of asking for consent, we make sex more comfortable and safe, but in the process, we improve respecting people’s boundaries and choices.
Photos: Her Campus Media Library