Category: Shifting Perspectives Written by Nimue Brown
It used to be the case that many people who were tactile felt able to just express their joyous affectionate natures with impunity. Regardless of how that impacted on other people. Even before covid taught us to be a bit more thoughtful about how we handle each other, I started to see change coming in. It’s important to ask people if they are ok with being hugged rather than just pouncing.
Some of us are in pain. Hugging isn’t fun if it hurts. A wordy check in can make it possible to negotiate and to hug or make other friendly contact in ways that don’t cause pain. Pouncing can be painful, no one needs that.
Some of us have PTSD and are triggered by unexpected physical contact, by being touched by strangers and all kinds of other things around touch. Checking in so that the other person can give informed consent to being touched makes all the difference.
Some of us find touch difficult as a consequence of neurodiversity.
Some of us just don’t like being touched. We are entitled not to be touched and we do not owe you an explanation.
With all of these things, you can’t see by looking, so it’s really important to ask. If someone hugs someone else, that’s not them consenting to hug you and you have no idea what might have been discussed pre-contact or what that relationship is. Never infer consent.
There are people who use bodily contact as a way of asserting themselves and having power over others. The more normal it is to seek consent and respect people saying no, the harder it becomes for predators to do their thing. Don’t let your warm and affectionate nature be used as cover for someone who gropes, grooms or worse.
If you think there’s a reason your unsolicited tactile behaviour is ok, please, please spend some time thinking about it. If you aren’t hearing people say ‘no’ to you that doesn’t mean they are ok with what you are doing. They may not feel safe saying no. They may not expect you to care – after all if you haven’t asked, they don’t have much reason to think that their saying no would make any odds. Being drunk is not an excuse for putting hands on people without their consent. Their clothing is not consent. How they interact with other people is not consent. You thinking it is no big deal is not consent. If someone expresses discomfort, take them seriously and don’t try to tell them why what you did was ok.
I’ve been around this issue a lot over the years, with varying responses. I’ve encountered people who would not take no for an answer and who felt entitled to do whatever they wanted to me – most often on the grounds that they considered it no big deal and they weren’t going to modify their behaviour for me. No one should be kissing, touching or otherwise handling someone else’s body if they don’t have consent.
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