In light of the recent #metoo campaign and other ongoing consciousness-raising around the importance of consent, we are reaching out to all of you, students past and present, and Somatica Practitioners, to give you some updates to how we are going to emphasize consent in our teaching.
While the way we teach has always had the intention of helping people read and attune to their partners to make sure everything that is happening is consensual, desired, and pleasurable, we feel the way we have presented it may not have emphasized the importance of consent enough. We are now teaching people how to have consent conversations with their clients and partners, and how to escalate while making sure that there is ongoing consent.
Please check out these updated explanations and exercises that we feel more properly represent how we would like people to teach around consent in their practices. These additions will be included in next year’s updated Somatica Training manual.
Celeste & Danielle
Consent is a very hot button issue in our culture, so please pay attention to the activation in your body as you read through this section. The concept of consent touches on our deep need for safety, equality, and respect. If you ask just about any woman what it is like to walk around late at night somewhere by yourself, or to walk down the street in broad daylight and have a man follow you calling out at you, or to go on a first date, at best she will tell you stories of feeling fearful or being extra careful, at worst she will tell you stories of rape, harassment, and violation. Likewise, if you ask men who love and respect women, what it is like to be out dating and having sex or trying to have sex with women, they will often share their fear of crossing boundaries, hurting someone, being accused of harassment or rape, and their fear of being shunned by their community or the people they care about.
Consent and non-consent can also be a part of our arousal. For example, we may be very aroused by the feeling that we can fully trust someone or feel cared for by them because they ask our consent or give their overt consent at each new step of sexual escalation. Or, we may be aroused by overt non-consent, where our partner does whatever they want to us without regard for our needs or we do what we want to them, regardless of our partner’s needs. We may be turned on by the romantic notion that a partner can know everything we want without ever having to ask or feeling like they can attune to us without words. In long-term relationships, women have sometimes expressed to us that they wish their partners would push past some of their crunchiness or resistance and just keep going. Jack Morin does a great job talking about how we can want the world to be a place full of overt communication and egalitarianism and still be turned on by scenarios that are quite contrary to these goals.
In Somatica, we want to account for both the importance of a safe, respectful world and honor that different people may have different needs around how they want their partner to ascertain consent. Obviously, if someone is turned on by doing things to someone that are non-consensual, we need to work with them on finding a partner that they can play this out with in a role-play as opposed to enacting it in the world, where they may do tremendous harm and be punished by their community or the legal system, For this reason, instead of teaching people to ask for overt consent at each step of escalation, we teach people how to have a consent conversation to ascertain what kinds of consent they want to practice in their life and to attune to nonverbal cues.
Experiential Practice: Have a Consent Conversation
Introduction: Read the above explanation of consent and trauma.
How to explain it to your client: You can say, “Let’s talk about how you give or get consent with a partner.”
How to do the experience: Talk with your client about their feelings, history, and possible fears around consent as well as what kind of consent they want with a partner. Help them identify if they are more commonly the initiator of sex and sexual escalation or the recipient or both. If they are the initiator, help them practice talking with a date or partner about what kind of consent their partner wants. If their partner wants them to initiate and escalate without asking, help them make an agreement that their partner will let them know if they are coming to a boundary. If their partner wants overt consent, help them practice how to get consent in a sexy way.
If they are normally the recipient of escalation, help them identify whether they want to be asked for verbal consent at each new escalation or if they want their partner to continue to escalate without asking (or some hybrid, like not asking at the kissing stage, but asking at the oral sex or intercourse stage). If they do not want their partner to ask for overt consent, make sure they are empowered around their boundaries.
If your client has a trauma history or is prone to dissociation as a defense mechanism, it is important that they identify if they are someone who freezes or dissociates during sexual escalation. If so, you will need to help them communicate to their partners that this happens to them and to let their partners know how to deal with it. For example, if your client is prone to freezing, they might say, “I’d really like it if you’d ask before you initiate a new sexual experience every time we have sex and make sure I give you a verbal yes. Also, if my body seems really still or you feel like I’m checked out, I’d love for you to just check in with me” or they might say, “I don’t want you to ask me for each new sexual escalation, but please pay attention and check in with me verbally, if it seems like I’ve stopped moving or am breathing very shallowly or if my eyes look spaced out. If I don’t respond verbally when you check in, please stop all sexual interaction with me until I can talk again.” You can also help your client have these same conversations if they have specific triggers or flashbacks. Help them identify how their partners can tell and what they need from their partners when this happens so that they can communicate this to their partners.
What are you looking for: You want to see if your client can clearly express how they want to get and give consent and that they feel empowered around communicating their boundaries, especially if they are interested in escalation without verbal consent.
Debrief: Talk with your client about how they will take these practices of consent out into their dating or relationship life, what they’d like to communicate to dates and partners from now on.