I’ve always been hesitant to post about this because I’m worried people will take it as a personal offense and I just want to say in advance this isn’t “@ anyone” or a callout even
I just feel like emotional consent as a concept is rarely talked about and therefore it’s often breached unknowingly (hence why I don’t never get mad at anyone specific for breaching it), and also I think it’s important I make this post. I didn’t learn what it was till I was older, and most people don’t.
Essentially “emotional consent” is a mutual understanding and willing agreement between both parties when discussing directly emotional or potentially emotionally loaded questions.
I’m going to start with examples, and I know it might feel bad at first if you recognize you do some of them (it’s okay, we all do from time to time), but please keep reading because I promise I’ll get onto alternative dialogues and solution
Here are some examples of what a breach of emotional consent can look like- not all the ways of course, but the major ones off the top of my head:
- Venting to someone without warning or established boundaries this can look like starting a conversation by venting, or detailing graphic information seemingly out of nowhere and without effective trigger warnings. This can put people in situations where they feel like they have to respond, even if they’re not emotionally equipped, if they’re busy, or if they don’t have the spoons. Of course, usually this wasn’t the intent of the venter, but still has the same effect. FYI- this includes celebrities, social media icons, and people you admire.
- Talking graphically about sex, masturbation, or anything in that range without warning or established boundaries this can look like anything from sharing a funny sexual escapade with your friends, and dirty jokes, to sexual harassment and telling someone hows bad you want to fuck them despite not knowing how they feel about it. Sometimes in these scenarios, people can appear visibly comfortable in attempt to fit in and not seem prudish, or to avoid awkward confrontation. This can also be especially sensitive because this is a topic that can very easily and unexpectedly bring up traumas and insecurities along with the discomfort, and it can perpetuate rape culture.
- Using pet-names and romantic implications, even platonically, without established consent this one was tough for me to swallow at first because I love pet names and I love using them platonically to show love. But even more, I want the people I love to feel comfortable and safe around me. Some people have deeper more negatively charged, or more intensely charged feelings around pet names than I do, and I wouldn’t want to subject them to that. Some people are also comfortable with certain pet names and not others. Also things like calling platonic meetups dates, cuddling, and platonically holding hands mean different things to different people, which is important to respect.
- Showing people media or sending articles or news with heavy emotional content either without warning, or with the expectation of discussion part of this is about including trigger warnings, and making sure viewing triggering content is optional in spaces and interactions we have control over. Another part though, is the fact that we often expect people to have interactions and discussions with us about emotionally charged topics, including politics, crime, oppression, natural disasters, etc. without fully understanding how this can affect the other person.
- Telling someone they’re the only person you feel comfortable telling something to, or be open with this one sucks because it usually (except in cases of abuse) comes out of genuine care and wanting to make the other person feel special. That being said, no matter how you phrase it, it can put a massive responsibility on the person that similar to my first example, can make them feel obligated to help even when they’re not in an appropriate place to.
- Expecting people to share personal or intimate information a lot of times we ask emotionally loaded questions because we care about and are interested in the lives of our loved ones. That being said, if we’re not careful people can really feel obligated to share information they’re not prepared to, or don’t want to process at the moment. This can look like “How’s your health been?” “How are you handling [life event]?” and “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
so now the more pleasant part! What can it look like to prioritize emotional consent instead- these correspond in order of initial bullets
- Starting vague and asking if it’s okay an example dialogue could be “I’m feeling crappy about [blank] are you up to listen to me talk about it?” I also love to add “or should I try [alternative coping method/talking to someone else right now?]” to the end of that if I have one so the other person knows if they say no I have something to turn to. Another example could be “Would it be alright for me to vent right now? FYI it may include mentions of [possible triggers] so if you’re not up for it right now I understand?” or simply “Are you comfortable with me talking about [blank?]”. Also talking to a celebrity or idol “You really helped me with [blank]. I don’t know if you’re comfortable with detail so I won’t elaborate, but I really appreciate it.” or “You really helped me with [blank.] [An explanation about what specifically helped or inspired you in more detail rather than graphic description of the event.]”
- Again! You can just ask example dialogue can include “Can I mention something about my sex life?” “I have a joke but it’s dirty so I want to make sure thats okay with you” “Can I say something nsfw?” “Is everyone here okay with sex mentions?”
- Asking still works! Example dialogue can be “Thanks [petname] (are you okay with me using that or would you rather I don’t)” “Are you okay being called [petname]?” “Are you comfortable with [intimate platonic act]?” “Do you want to [intimate platonic act]?” “I’d like to [intimate platonic act] if you’d be okay with that”
- Ask/Warn ahead of time or clarify you don’t need response example dialogue “I want to process [news event] but I know it’s heavy so I wanted to ask first” “Jsyk this article contains [possible triggers] so don’t read it if you think it’d be harmful to you]” “Can I ask your opinion on [charged topic]. If you’d rather not, I understand” “[thought or link to article] FYI no need to respond. I just wanted to share.]”
- Show you’re appreciation in other ways using phrases that show appreciation but don’t implicate responsibility like “Thanks for being here for me whenever you’re able to” “I really appreciate being able to talk about this with you” “It means a lot to me that I can feel so comfortable and open with you” “Being able to talk about this with you has been really helpful for me and I’m really glad I was ables to.”
- Asking with an easy out or optional response examples include “Hey, I know you’re dealing with as lot and grieving right now so I absolutely don’t need a response, but I wanted to remind you if you need support in any way I’m available and have time right now.” “Do you want to talk about [emotionally charged life event] or would you rather talk about something else right now?” “I know it’s hard to talk about these things and I understand if you can’t, but I want to remind you that when you can and want to I’m available and won’t judge you.” “Would venting be helpful or draining right now?” “What’s the best way I can support you, or are you not sure right now?”
Sorry this became a long ass post but I thought it was important. I should also add that the exception of course is therapists and counselors, crisis hotlines, or other people trained and already prepared to cope with these things. but besides that- try and emo responsibly.