Consent = Body Love – Creating a Culture of Consent – Ryan Couples Therapy Tacoma, WA

Consent = Body Love: Creating a Culture of Consent

CONSENT = BODY LOVE. BODY LOVE = CONSENT.

My online course, “Wild Belonging: how to honor the intimate connection between sexuality, compassion and the cosmos”,  focuses on the inter-dependence between sexuality, pleasure, sensuality, compassion, and the mysterious, sacred wisdom of the cosmos and of Mother Earth.

The course also talks a lot about Body Love. Body Love is an essential aspect of creating a culture of consent.

When we love our bodies, we honor them. We protect them.

We engage in activities, or choose to not engage in activities, according to what supports, respects, and elevates being in alignment with the cycles, desires, and needs of our bodies. Body Love requires us to integrate the desires of our body with our heart, our spirit, our divine wisdom, and our erotic truth in a positive feedback loop of shared wisdom and powerful intuitive energy.

The more we are in alignment, the more we experience true embodiment: an awakened connection leading us to fully feel the experience of “being” in one’s body. This leads to heightened, and more vibrant, experiences of pleasure, sensuality, and sexuality.

It also means that, at times, we are more aware of our pain (i.e. physical, emotional, unresolved trauma, fear, anger, hurt, grief, depression, anxiety, etc).

When we practice Body Love (and it is a daily practice not a finite accomplishment), we also practice intentional, wise, and aligned consent.

WHAT IS CONSENT?

Artist, educator, and social activist, Hannah Brancato, who has worked extensively to inspire others in creating a culture of consent defines it this way:

Consent is a verbal agreement between people who are going to engage in any sexual activity about what they’re comfortable doing— how and when they are comfortable engaging in a sexual activity. In terms of a “culture of consent,” that also applies to children being taught that they have control over their own bodies. Children can decide what is good for their own bodies, so that they can set boundaries and say “no.” A classic example of a culture of consent as it applies to children includes things like tickling, or giving an aunt a kiss. We so often train children to believe that it is obligatory to give a hug or sit on somebody’s lap. A culture of consent says, “if you would like to give your aunt a kiss, she would love a kiss, but you don’t have to.” This involves training from an early age that you know what’s right for your body and know what’s right for you. The tickling thing is very basic: the child says, “stop” and that’s often taken as an invitation to keep doing it. Something like that, that’s not sexual, can later apply to a sexual situation. We talk about consent being verbal too, because body language can be misconstrued. We also talk about affirmative consent: “yes means yes” being as important as “no means no.” Consent is about pleasure, and is about creating better sex for everyone. What creates pleasure, what feels good, is different for different people both from a physiological standpoint and also psychologically.

Brancato has worked passionately, through educating others and through her artistic creations, to promote consent as a counter-culture to rape culture.

Body Love and Consent Suffer in Rape Culture

Without an intentional practice of body love, we also usually struggle in creating an intentional practice of consent.

But if we look more closely at body love and consent, we see that it is not as simple as just deciding to love our body and then creating clear boundaries around the kind of sexual activity or touch we want and do not want.

On a much deeper level, the practice of both body love and consent struggle for air and greatly suffer in the larger context of rape culture.

Rape culture minimizes the impact of sexual aggression, sexual abuse, assault, rape, or harassment. It blames the one receiving the abuse or harm, and protects the one doing the harm or being abusive. It does not uphold body love and consent as an intrinsic right for every human being.

Body objectification, misogyny, toxic patriarchy, silence, ableism, racism, heteronormativity, and a lack of accurate sex education are all part and parcel of rape culture and add to the forces that work against body love and consent.

Welcome to the United States of America.

So, in order to cultivate a practice of Body Love and Consent for ourselves, in spite of living in a rape culture, we must commit to four intentions:

  • Learning how to listen to our body. Listen to how it feels, what it wants, what it doesn’t want, what it is experiencing.
  • Respecting, recognizing, and honoring that our desire is cyclical.
  • Taking the necessary steps to heal from trauma and harmful sexual and/or relational experiences (whether we experienced them on a personal level or on a socio-cultural level).
  • Doing all we can to speak up against rape culture, racism, ableism, heteronormativity, diet culture, and body objectification.

LEARNING HOW TO LISTEN TO OUR BODY

Most of us have not been raised to listen to our body; to listen and truly pay attention to our body’s messages of hunger, fatigue, emotional distress, sexual desire.

We are not taught how to respect how it feels, what it wants, what it is experiencing. So we live dis-embodied, cut-off, in denial, and disconnected.

Instead of tuning into our body’s internal cues and wisdom, we learn to only follow external cues about our own body’s needs, such as:

  • eating meals at specific times, instead of when we feel hungry
  • not eating when we are hungry because others tell us we are fat or we already have eaten enough
  • ignoring physical or emotional pain because we learn it means we are “weak” or “complaining” when we speak the truth about this. Or because silence leads to us being seen as “good”, “polite”, and rewarded for having a high tolerance for pain of any kind.
  • watching caregivers ignore, numb, and be disconnected from their bodies
  • allowing others to touch us even when we are uncomfortable or simply do not want to be touched

If we are to cultivate a practice of body love and consent, we must learn how to listen, attune to, and strengthen our capacity to respect what we want and don’t want. We must learn how to be steadfast in our truth when others criticize, are defensive, or get angry.

This is not easy. We develop patterns and coping strategies to help us disconnect from our bodies as a way to protect. These patterns and strategies protect us from conflict, distress, harm, and trauma. Once we get used to using them, these protective strategies are very hard to release when they are no longer needed.

Learning how to listen to our body, starts with compassion, mindfulness, and self-reflection. As you listen, breathe, and connect to your body with compassion, see if you can then follow through with action that supports what your body needs, wants, or feels.

Be patient with yourself. Some days you will feel stronger than others. And remind yourself this will be a life-long practice. A practice that will have immense rewards of living a life more connected and more aligned with your body and your truth.

DESIRE IS CYCLICAL

What do you desire in this moment? Are you tired? Hungry? Wanting touch? If so, what kind? (get as specific as possible); Where? For how long?

How is your environment supporting or detracting from your desire? Do you feel physically rested? Are you feeling any kind of physical or emotional pain? Do you feel emotionally receptive? If you are involved currently in an intimate relationship(s), do you feel supported? Are you able to relax, be playful, be present, and let go of your “to-do” lists?

All of these things, and many, many more influence our desire. Desire is complex, multi-faceted, and influenced by many different contexts.

We are not taught how to navigate the complexity of desire and to pay attention to how it flows in cycles throughout our days and our lives.

Instead, we are taught that desire just “happens”, especially if we are “in love”.  We are also taught that desire is static; what I desire now, will be what I always desire.

None of this is true.

The cyclical nature of desire means that it ebbs and flows. It changes and evolves. It follows the Life/Death/Life cycle. It is very much connected to the changes in our physical body, our emotions, our relationships, our place in the community, our work, and our responsibilities.

If we learn to pay very close attention our desire is also very connected to the seasons of the earth, the tides of the oceans, the phases of the moon.

If we do not respect, recognize, and honor the cycles of our desire, we become disconnected from our own sexuality and our erotic truth. We become disconnected from our body, and often engage in activities when we do not want them, are not ready for them, cause pain, and are not in alignment with our true self.

Desire is a beautiful human experience that allows us to experience the erotic pulse of life running through everything.

When we cultivate the things which bring us pleasure, delight, sensuality, we create desire. But to do this we must tune into our body, and live courageously in the world from our truest essence, our most divine spirit. When we do this, we can’t help but live according to what we desire.

TAKING THE NECESSARY STEPS TO HEAL

Embodiment, body love, and consent are not available to all of us. For those of us who have experienced trauma, being in one’s body, fully, feels way too threatening.

If we have any kind of trauma or deep wounding in our life, it is essential that we seek out help in order to heal. We cannot connect fully to our body, love our body, and cultivate a practice of consent if we continue to suffer from traumatic experiences and deep wounds.

Our body is very intelligent. When traumatized, it will create protective strategies that help us to survive the trauma and return to safety. Often, this includes strategies of dis-embodiment and emotional shut-down. These strategies are our body’s way of taking care of us when we are unsafe, being harmed, or are in danger (physically, emotionally, sexually).

The problem is that, long after the trauma is over, our nervous systems continue to use these same protective strategies in a patterned, habitual way. If we have the opportunity to be sexual, our body and nervous system will equate the current moment with a past, sexually traumatic moment and respond as if that trauma is about to be repeated. We then go into our protective strategies and become disembodied, frozen, defensive, emotionally shut down, or must flee the scene.

So even when we are safe and feeling sexual desire, old trauma can get triggered.

Practicing consent when we want to be fully sexually engaged, but old trauma gets triggered, is very challenging. We can say “yes” but our body and nervous system can over-ride that and say “no”. This requires us to first heal from the trauma as a precursor to practicing consent.

Part of the healing work is to learn to release old protective strategies that we no longer need, rewire our brain to create new patterns that affirm our safety, and to cultivate a deep abiding trust in ourselves.

As we do this healing work we begin to release the traumatic protective response and create space to participate in the activities we truly want. In order to do this, we must begin to identify what we truly want in any given moment. To identify what we don’t want at any given moment. And to learn how to be clear, firm, and unyielding in speaking the truth of what we desire.

All of this can be much more available to us when we reach out for professional help to recover from trauma and to receive support in cultivating body love and a practice of consent.

SAYING NO TO RAPE CULTURE, DIET CULTURE, AND BODY OBJECTIFICATION

Finally, we must learn how to say NO to the inappropriate, disrespectful, aggressive, abusive, violent culture around sexuality and our bodies.

For some, this can be in the form of social activism, community work, changing policies, public speaking, and education.

But for many of us, it looks more like speaking up around the holiday dinner table when others comment on what we eat, or how we clarify that we do not find unwanted touch complimentary, but rather an invasion of our boundaries.

It can be how we say “no” in any given moment of sexual pleasure and allow ourselves to stop, pause, change our mind, and respect the truth of our body and our desire.

It is how we raise our children by teaching them to honor and listen to their bodies and supporting them in learning to communicate consent.

Mostly, it will be in how we live our truth, connect fully to our body, and respond with the utmost loving compassion and respect.

As each of us individually learns to compassionately integrate our body with our heart, our spirit, our divine wisdom, and our erotic truth in a positive feedback loop of shared and inspiring wisdom and powerful intuitive energy, we support healing on a  collective level and work against the destructive tenets of rape culture.

THE POWER OF YES AND NO

When we say “yes” to ourselves or others, it communicates consent and our truth. When we say “no” to others, it communicates our boundaries and our truth. If we do not learn how to practice “NO” how can we, and others, trust our “YES”?

The truth of “yes” lies in the authenticity of that response. If “yes” is said because we can’t say “no” then it is not really “yes”. It is a way to avoid “no”.  If everything is a “yes” and nothing is a “no”, that does not create an authentic exchange and therefore does not support a context of physical, emotional, relational, and sexual wellbeing.

Vibrant, fulfilling, sacred pleasure, sensuality, desire, and sexuality require both the “yes” and the “no”.

“Yes” is love. “No” is love. Both are essential in building trust.

Trust in ourselves, our bodies, our wisdom, our intuitive energy. Trust in relationships. Trust that we can live in this world in an embodied, awakened, empowered way and be safe. Trust that fully feeling our pleasure, our desire, our erotic truth is transformative and healing.

As always, Peace in the Journey,
Jane

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Jane Ryan

Jane Ryan, M.A., LMFT, is a Licensed Couples and Family Therapist with twenty years of clinical experience. She specializes in intimate relationships, sexual challenges, sacred sexuality, and helping clients embrace their true erotic nature. She supports women in discovering their most radiant, vibrant and powerful feminine essence.