I really appreciate knowing that my friend group is on the ball when it comes to sexual consent. Y’all understand that sexual consent is like FRIES – Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic*, and Specific. What I notice a little less frequently is folks checking in about platonic touching. Here is what I mean by that:
Are you going to be in physical contact with another human being, in any way? Ask first.
I do not mean that you need to ask your long-term romantic partner for their verbal permission every time that you want a hug (though you might, and I’d encourage it). I mean, you need to make sure that the person you’re touching is actively and specifically okay with what you are touching and how you are touching it.
You can make sure of that in a number of ways:
You can ask your long term partner if they’re okay with surprise affection.
You can check before hugging a child.
You can ask a coworker’s permission before feeling the soft texture of their sweater.
You can see if a sad friend wants a hug, or to be not touched.
You can open your arms for a hug and make question eyebrows, and let the other person be the one to step in.
Sentences you should practice:
“Can I put my hand on your shoulder?”
“Do you want a hug?”
“You’ve got a bit of fuzz in your hair – can I take it off for you?”
“Do you mind my arm being over the back on your chair?”
“ooh, your shirt looks so soft? Can I touch your sleeve?”
It is YOUR responsibility to make sure that the person you’re touching wants your touch, or is at least OK with it. It is not up to the other person to see your incoming hand/mouth/whatever and to step back or say “hey don’t touch me.”
This might take some practice. I know a lot of folks are tactile communicators. You touch someone else’s arm or shoulder during a conversation. You go in for a hug when saying goodbye. You cuddle up with friends on the couch. And if you have an established friendship or relationship where free physical touch is part of your regular interactions, that is fine! I’m not saying that it’s wrong! But it’s also possible that you’re making friend’s uncomfortable, without even knowing it.
Trust this: if you ask a longtime friend, “hey, can I hug you?”, they will say “yes, and you don’t need to ask in the future,” if that’s the case**.
So, there’s my long and slightly disorganized set of feelings about consent for platinic touch.
*I have more thoughts about enthusiastic consent versus explicit consent – someone remind me to write about that later this week, k?
**ooh, and remind me to talk about “yes means yes” consent versus “no means no” consent, yeah?
This status brought to you by the very friendly and honestly not -creepy stranger who kept putting his hand on my shoulder to emphasize that he wanted to start a conversation with me. He seemed like a lovely person, but I was SO uncomfortable at the unsolicited touch. I told him “I don’t like being touched without being asked” and walked away, and he looked hurt. Well, maybe he won’t do it again.