A Very Short Guide to Tacit Consent
OK, so this isn’t a guide, per se. It’s more of a collection of thoughts about when tacit consent can and can’t work in a relationship.
So, what is tacit consent?
Basically, it’s any consent that isn’t explicit. I’m not talking about, for example, nodding, which is an explicit expression of consent. I’m talking more about things like this: You’re making out with your partner. Things are getting incredibly heated. You’ve had sex before and it’s pretty obvious you’re in the mood. Your partner starts taking your pants off. You don’t stop them because you want them to take your pants off. Even though you haven’t explicitly said take my pants off, you’re still consenting to it.
Tacit consent cannot exist without expressed consent. They work in tandem with each other. You can’t have tacit consent without some sort of expressed consent (agreeing to have sex is one kind of expression) and you need to be able to express withdrawing consent. If, for example, you are again in this fictitious makeout scenario, and your partner read you incorrectly and you, in fact, do not want your pants off, then being able to (verbally or nonverbally) tell them “no” is important. Respecting boundaries is important.
When It Can Work
- You know each other really well, and so can tell what the other needs.
- You’re not in the mood to try something new, and neither is your partner.
- You’ve previously established certain boundaries and have made it clear that anything goes within those boundaries.
- You are able to telegraph what it is you want, and your partner is able to pick up on those signals.
When It Can’t Work
- You aren’t familiar with each other.
- You or your partner aren’t good at reading body language or facial expressions.
- You want to try something new.
- You want to try moving outside of certain “soft” boundaries.
There are, of course, gray areas, because consent is a whole lot of grey areas (insert Fifty Shades of Grey joke here). It’s possible that you can read your partner incredibly well and know what they want before they ask for it, and that’s OK. The biggest thing about tacit consent is that you have to be prepared to be wrong.
What does that mean?
It means that you have to be prepared for an accidental trigger or a misread signal. You have to be prepared to stop. You have to be willing to put aside thoughts like, “No, really, you’ll like it,” and be able to say, “Sorry, I won’t try that again without asking [or ever]. What would you like me to do?”
It also means that you have to be prepared to say no. Your partner is neither a mind reader nor an empath, and what seems very clear to you might not be clear to them. You can’t be afraid to express what you want, verbally if that’s what it takes to get the point across.
Overall, tacit consent can work, but you and your partner have to be willing and able to use your words if it doesn’t.
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