Elaine Byrnes is the go-to woman when it comes to talking about consent. Not only has Elaine done loads of research in the area she has also helped to put together a programme for college students AND is on her way to completing her PhD! She’s super smart and a really sound down to earth lady so I had a great time catching up with her to try and simplify what many think is a bit of a sticky topic…

Hi Elaine. Thanks so much for helping us out to highlight the DRCC #16days2017 campaign. This initiative aims to create a better, safer society by eliminating sexual violence in Ireland and communicating effectively about consent can help with that.

Being a teenager, developing friendships and maybe starting new romantic or sexual relationships can be such a challenge, and negotiating boundaries can be a big part of that. Do you have any tips for young people to start conversations around consent?

For me, one of the most important things to consider is that consent is basically about mutual respect. Respect for boundaries, respect for feelings, respect for what the other person wants and needs, and what we want and need ourselves. This may seem a really simple concept and when we think about it, we can readily understand respect for others and boundaries in most everyday scenarios. So, for example, we wouldn’t take a friend’s phone and use it without checking if they are ok with that. We wouldn’t help ourselves to a slice of our friend’s pizza without either being offered or asking if its ok.

It’s the same with consent!

So just check in with the person that what we are doing is OK. This isn’t something that needs to be complicated, or a “buzz kill”. There’s nothing more likely to kill a buzz than trying to become intimate with someone who isn’t in to it.

Also, it can take time to get to know a romantic partner. I understand the pressure that teenagers are under when starting out in new romantic or sexual relationships. There can be pressure from your peer groups – where everyone seems to be having more intimate experiences than you are. There can be pressure from the media where it seems as though everyone is having a really great time in sexual relationships and everyone has a perfect body and a perfect life!

That’s how it may seem…but the reality is probably very different. The friend in your group telling you all about the fantastic time they are having with a partner may be just saying what they would like you to think they are doing.

So, comfort is really important. Feeling comfortable with the other person. Feeling comfortable in yourself. What do we mean by that? Again, it’s simple. So many of us go along with things that we don’t necessarily want to do because we are uncomfortable saying or letting another person know that it isn’t really what we want. How many times do we agree to, say, going somewhere with a friend because telling them it isn’t where we want to go would maybe hurt their feelings, or upset them? I know I’ve done this! Or, have you ever gone out with a friend for a night out when you would really prefer to stay in with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s watching a movie? If we think about simple situations like these where we have gone along with what another person wants and apply it to romantic encounters we can see how important it is that both of you agree in order for it to be good for both of you.

Trust is really important too. When we think about our really close friends, one of the things that is central to us in our friendships is that we trust the other person. We may have lots of friends in our group, but perhaps only one or two that we really trust; that we confide in; that we show our “real selves” to. When we have a romantic relationship with someone, mutual trust is critical. Especially when this is the person with whom we may have our first intimate experiences. There can be a pressure, as I’ve said, from what we think other people are doing, and the fun we think others seem to be having, to have that for ourselves. But, to be honest, you really want your first experiences to be one’s that you will remember positively. That’s why being both comfortable with and trusting the other person is so vital to ensuring that you will!

When I started my research, I searched for a definition of consent, and found lots! But, none that I thought summed up what consent means to me, or that would be readily understood by others. So, I came up with one of my own – taking the best of what I had found and compiling into one overall definition.

Consent is:

Affirmative:  the presence of a yes, not just the absence of a no (and no does not mean convince me!)

Active: silence is not consent; participation is not consent

Freely given:  it is not something you can be pressured into; it can be revoked at any time and is never implied. Someone cannot give consent when they are incapacitated by drugs or alcohol

Ongoing: just because you agree to one behaviour doesn’t mean you agree to another; just because you agree at one time does not mean you agree at another

Consent is ALL of these things, and it is also ENTHUSIASTIC!!!


If you would like to keep up to date with Elaine, you can find her tweeting here.

Check back in with us tomorrow to find out what Elaine found in her research about the effects of alcohol and drugs on our willingness to say yes…or no…

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