The Magic Of Consent

I read an article about the act of cuddling in bed known as spooning. Apparently it’s a big deal to some people who is the big spoon and who is the little spoon. They seem to think being the big spoon is about holding power, being in control, dominating. I guess they have no idea what it is to be deeply held by another.

I showed it to my partner. Look at this. We both take equal turns holding each other. Isn’t that amazing? She agreed. I was so happy. It hadn’t occurred to me until then that our behaviour was so egalitarian.

This morning, she was spooning me. The night before we had talked about birthdays, and childhood, and lying there being held I was reflecting that mine hadn’t been particularly happy, and that I hadn’t been held much. I started wondering, has she been holding me more than I have her? Am I allowed to have this experience? I shared these thoughts with my partner, and she replied, “you’re allowed. It’s okay.” And having that permission allowed me to surrender and be with my grief.

I haven’t often been deeply held like this. And not on a consistent basis within a relationship before now. I can’t tell a distinction between not having allowed myself to be held, and not being held.

It’s not about power. That is so far from our thoughts. It’s about loving yourself so deeply that you recognise and honour your needs, and those of your lover.

One of the conditions that created this depth of trust was a thorough negotiation of consent, not a ten-second conversation but one that was carried out over days and weeks. This is relationship as a practice, relationship as work. If I could pick one thing that is the single biggest contributor to building trust it would be the word “no”. Very early on, we tested each other’s responsiveness to the word “no”, how willing the other was to respect our boundaries. The key to this is when you hear someone’s “no” you thank them. It’s a way of honouring them for voicing their needs in the moment.

The magic that happens when you do this for each other is that you feel safe, and your “yes” becomes more enthusiastic. However the consent conversation doesn’t stop there. After we established verbal consent, we negotiated non-verbal consent and the conditions under which that can happen. We both pay deep attention to each other, and if we sense anything is even slightly off we check in with each other immediately. All of these actions, moment to moment, deepen our trust.

The other thing we share with each other is our desires. We create the space for each other to express them without judgement or shame, always knowing that we can say no and be honoured by the other without making their desire wrong. Our love and desire for each other sustains the connection, as does the intimacy that has grown through sharing so many beautiful and rich experiences together.

There’s an idea that is popular with some that the masculine is about holding the initiative and the feminine is about embodying surrender. That may be so, but we encourage each other to explore both, to find our edges in taking or allowing, free to plunge deep and discover ourselves in the experience knowing that the other is holding the space for us to do exactly that.

It is here, on these edges, that you learn consent is spiritual, and that a relationship that practices it deeply enough allows you to rediscover parts of yourself you forgot you had lost.