Consent thread from website 10.25.16


conversation, recommendations, exercises, journal prompts

in the process of transforming into book // zine form - stay tuned ~


How we got here – why are we so disconnected ?

There is a strong thread of disconnection from the body running through the dominant culture of the US deriving from a confluence of factors including – body as base, lowly, source of sin, to be transcended, inherently impure from birth. Some people have been traumatized at a young age and due to this have internalized the notion that their body is not a safe place for them to be (because when they are within it, they have been hurt or made to feel violated). Some people are in frequent or constant physical pain in their bodies. Some judge, critique, and compare their bodies with those of others and feel that they are lacking. Advertising reinforces this notion – that you are incomplete or inferior in some way, but that this product or service will correct that deficiency. Even if not blatantly negative or critical it still implies that you could be better and that you are not enough as you are in your current state.

We are taught that the body is base - the source of shameful impulses that need to be transcended. Many around the world have received an oppressive dose of religious judgement for enjoying physical sensations (programming such as ‘catholic guilt’).


How Trauma affects the body

Although trauma can affect people in a diversity of ways, through my experience as a bodyworker I have found, as a coping mechanism, most people freeze trauma inside their bodies. For example, someone who has experienced a sexual violation may have very stiff hips that are closed off to the full range of motion. When receiving a massage in this area (such as the outside edge of the hip or the glutes) the receiver on the mat may have memories float to the surface or cry without knowing why. One theory as to why this occurs is that ‘in the moment’ of acute trauma the body/brain cannot handle and in an effort to ‘survive’ packs away the for a time of greater resources able to process the event.


Compounding the difficulty of unlocking frozen trauma inside the body is the tendency of some – like myself – to dissociate and ‘remove’ themselves from their physical experience (such as through ‘watching from the ceiling’) when overwhelmed.

Why bother – what are the benefits ?

Our sacred task is to reconnect to our bodies so that we may understand ourselves (and therefore by proxy, others) more deeply. This increases the bandwidth of sensory/emotional/subconscious experience available to us and expands our physical play palate. In so doing we access increasingly profound levels of connection/understanding to self/other and in so doing exponentially multiply the love that we are able to give and receive.

Liberate the energy that was frozen and guarded in service to constructive pursuits.

How do animals handle trauma?

Seeing as we are animals ourselves, observing the rest of the animal kingdom and how it handles trauma is in service to broadening our understanding and provides potential models for clues as to how we can release trauma. When one of a pack of deer is killed, after the rest have found a safe space they shake to remove the remnants of the trauma of being pursued from their system. If you have house cats or dogs and they are reprimanded, you will often see them ‘shake it off’ with head motions.

Loving touch as human right

I propose that we make safe loving touch a human right. Touch is essential for growth, development, and life. This fact came to light when babies in an orphanage who were being well taken care of in every way but receiving touch were dying from the lack of human contact.

Your body is a gift to be enjoyed by the wearer

Pleasure is our bodily birthright. We are born sensate, sensitive, and wide open – but over time we close down, protectively veiling ourselves behind shells, masks from the psychological blows of not being met and supported as we are. We are taught that sensitivity is weakness, to ‘toughen up’ to the ‘harshness of real life’ and so we guardedly shut down in self-preservation. Your body is the one thing that you posses, and the sole playground of your sovereignty. Your body is yours to share with those whom you choose in the way that you choose. Experimentation and self-inquiry allows you to track your inner experience, what you do/not enjoy, and know your boundaries.


Confounding Boundaries – Journal Prompts

Journal : What are your boundaries? Are they context dependent? What are the contextual  factors that cause your boundaries to dramatically change (what makes you put down or raise up your boundaries or ‘make more space’ around a hard line) ? How have your boundaries evolved through time? What caused them to change? How did you learn what your boundaries were? What was it like before you had a boundary? What happened to cause you to make a boundary? Have your boundaries become more general or specific over time?

Were there any signs in your body/mind the moment before your boundary was crossed that were red flags? These are your personal intuitive signs - mark them well, for monitoring them enables you to check in with yourself regarding your inner state. The following exercise can help clarify your internal process and help you identify your personal signals.

Exercise : Approach & Body Monitoring

People pair up, and stand 10-15 feet away from each other in two lines. One side designated the approaches moves toward the still line holding an intention (ex. Friendly, threatening, inquisitive). The partner standing still and being approached holds their hand up when they feel a reaction in their body, to which the approached stops where they are until the feeling in the standing partner dissipates and their put down their hand.

Discussion : How close was your partner able to get? Did the distance change depending on the intention the approaching partner was holding? How do you check in with yourself? What are your subtle signs? Does each sign increase in volume (does the feeling become more intense) or do you have a series of sensations that occur in an order that signals an increase in parasympathetic response?

Some examples of physical signals that someone is approaching your boundaries are : coldness in stomach, heat rising, discomfort, desire to back away, wanting to freeze, breath getting tight or shallow.

Children and Boundaries

Often, our boundaries are ingrained in an unconscious way – through well-meaning adults telling us that ‘no-one gets to touch us in our bathing-suit area except parents and doctors’. We model societal and cultural norms unquestioningly. Unfortunately, our society has room for improvement in the realm of teaching healthy boundaries and the consent that goes along with respecting the boundaries of others.

We are often taught that we do not over our own bodies at a young age – such as when parents tell their children to hug someone or give them a kiss. Often this person is either a trusted friend or relative of the parent/child however, the child may have good reasons for not wanting to engage physically with someone else at that time. Children are also often forced by adults to share their toys with other children or play together.

Beyond the Verbal – Types of Communication

Communication happens on many levels – verbal, physical, energetic, situational. Many consent educations teach that a verbal response is the gold standard and the only way to have ‘true consent’. However, when I examine my own behavior, solely focusing on the verbal does not always acknowledge the whole picture. Some people prefer or are more fluent in physical communication (such as those who often work in non-verbal modes – children, dancers, bodyworkers). Additionally, being in loud or silent places can remove the possibility of communicating verbally. There are times when I have been dancing (alone or with others) for an extended period of time and I am in a non-verbal physical/mental space – being called to speak (social chatter) takes me out of the depth and richness of experiencing the precious and exquisite now-ness that I am immersed in.

Why has the verbal been placed above non-verbal as the ‘only true way’ to establish consent? Possibility this is due to the clarity that utilizing the verbal form of communication attempts to reach. Perhaps because speaking invokes a verbal agreement - holding people to their word. Alas, using the verbal causes us to pop into our minds and can alter the natural and easy flow that energy in the body had been enjoying. Although disruption is often seen as negative, if it is in service to seeking clarity and checking-in this is a noble pursuit that demonstrates the attentiveness and caring of the individuals.

Non-verbal consent

In due diligence I wish to preface this section by proclaiming that this is an advanced technique and should only be used when all partners are confident in identifying and expressing their boundaries, know each other’s signals well, are deep listeners, and have pre-established trust.  Non-verbal consent should only be used after a verbal conversation (or several) establishing that non-verbal consent is appropriate and welcomed.

I have certain play-mates with which I have established a container of non-verbal communication and consent. I have given verbal ‘blanket consent’ for them to touch me in certain ways and that I am a pre-approved yes unless I state otherwise in a future moment. As an example, a frequent blanket consent I give is for hugs, although I occasionally turn down hugs even from people I love because I am too hot or sweaty for such close contact.

When learning and practicing the skill of non-verbal consent, it is even more important to be obsessively attentive to what your partner is communicating and to go slow. Due to the dearth of teaching the language of the body in traditional schools, useful comparison is as though learning a new language through visiting a foreign country. Be careful, courteous, and curious !

A common cultural example to pull in here is the often-heard sentiment of some women that they “don’t want to be asked to be kissed, just do it”. The subtext is that they do not want their partner to verbally ask them and discharge the sexual tension that has been building, however, they do want to be listened to and communicated with on a physical, animalistic level. One way to accomplish this is that if you have been reading the body language signs of your partner and they would like to be kissed (insert activity here) – to go 90-95% of the way, slowly and then pause, waiting for them to meet you the rest of the way. Through this method the engagement becomes a conversation and you are not simply impressing yourself and your wishes onto someone. Side benefits of this method and the slow pace is that it can increase sexual tension and therefor build arousal.


Non-verbal/Physical Language/Communication Common Translations/Basics

Although each individual is different, below please find some trends I have observed for how to interpret physical movements.

Moving towards : yes / more

Moving away : no / less / slow down / refresh

Speeding up : yes / more / increase energy, pace

Slowing down : no / slow / refresh

Tensing up : no / slow / decrease energy, pace

Yielding : yes / surrender

Other aspect to note are : eye movements – open/closed, eye contact, breathing changes (heavier, deeper, quicker, shallower, swallowing), repositioning

Additionally non-linguistic sounds are a wonderful way to communicate and stay in the bodily experience : moaning, heavy breathing, animal noises – grunts, growls, yelps, purrs, squeals.


When signals don’t match

Additionally, there are times in which someone may verbally be saying yes, but their body signals are saying no. This is a prime opportunity to check in verbally explaining what you are observing and sensing with your partner, which opens the conversation and engagement to a deeper level. Noticing and voicing the mismatch of signals demonstrates attentiveness to your partner, and deepens their trust in your ability to tune into them and speak up when the situation does not feel right. Additionally, discussing the conflicting signals verbally can allow for deeper understanding of personal dynamics/past trauma and unconscious body signals.

In general, an upstanding principal to follow is that a no on one level overrides a yes on other levels. This helps honor the principal of pursuing the path of highest hell yes of all participants.


What type of consent do you prefer? What do you do when verbal and physical not match? What do you do in situations where you cannot obtain verbal consent (eg. a loud place, silent place)?


Finding your voice

Although it can be most difficult for ‘shy’ or ‘quiet’ folks to be proactive and vocal about their desires it is especially important for us to not only be advocates for our pleasure, but also to extend invitations/advances to those whom we fancy. If we do not, we continue to silently support the status quo of dominant / aggressive individuals being rewarded for their forwardness and persistence. Much like power, the person who deserves your attention is the one who is honoring it and is aware of the responsibility of requesting your most precious resource – your time and attention.

Exercise – Warm up your throat

To start with, in a mirror, or out loud, get comfortable vocalizing each of the five main directives - no/yes/more/less/refresh. Practice all the different flavors of conveying the same message : pleasant, gracious, graceful, forceful. Note the areas that you are least comfortable or direct and focus on developing more vocabulary and inner awareness of what causes the discomfort and brainstorm wasys to convey the message while diffusing the tension.

Make juicy sexy noises. Start by yourself, and work on incorporating them into your life any time you are feeling pleasure, really let it rumble and tumble out from your belly, letting your jaw relax and soaking in the easy delight. Then move on to letting your sounds out when working with a partner – such as in a context of receiving a massage. Not only do your noises convey a wealth of information to your play partner, but they are they often quite rewarding for your playmate and those within earshot!


What does your yes / no sound and look like ? Does it change based on the situation ? What carries over into all situations – what are you preferred channels of communication?


When playing with a new partner it is good to have an exploratory conversation to establish your hard and soft boundaries, your rules/preferences around them, and what your intensions and desires for engaging with the person are to see if you are a good fit - having common ground to engage with harmoniously to mutual satisfaction. This may sound like sharing hard boundaries (not wanting to be touched in a certain place, no penetration, no kissing on the mouth) and describing moments that you want to be checked in with (check in before you slip under my clothing or taking anything off, check in when you increase the pressure beyond a firm handshake). This is an apt moment to establish words that signify stop, slow down, keep going, increase the pace, and decrease the pressure (for example, red, yellow, green, yes, more, lighter). Additionally, if you are engaging in pressure play it can be useful to have an intensity rating scale of 1-10 and asking your partner where they want to be within that chart (eg. I would like to be at a 5-6, starting by building up from a 2, with a few moments at 7, with a maximum of 8).

Specificity is Splendid, and has no end

May I touch your arm exercise

Can never discuss every possible occurrence


Philosophical Aside – From Whence Do Boundaries Come?

At this juncture it is interesting to explore the underpinnings of boundaries, names, where do they come from? Babies have no boundaries and only learn the concept of self as distinct from mother over time (or so goes the current party line in developmental psychology). In our current society boundaries are useful for long-term survival – knowing where I end and the tiger begins, but western personal boundaries seem especially rigid and self-focused compared with other cultures that are more group-focuses (for example eastern nations such as china and japan). This also extends to the sense of responsibility we feel for others situation, and why we espouse ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’. Is it possible we would live in a more loving community-supportive culture if we were to care for our neighbors as ourselves? In this reframe we could also include the earth as our mother, treating her with respect, reverence, love, and gratitude.

There is yet another possibility in the formation of boundaries to consider – that perhaps a boundary primarily serves a protective function to defend an area of the psyche that was damaged in the past. In this model a person initially starts out as a blank slate – open to experience and others manipulation and effect on their experience – until the psyche is damaged by a certain action or viewing a certain piece of media. At this point the psyche shouts “I don’t want this to happen to me (again)” and a deflecting boundary is created to keep others from getting close enough to that sore, sensitive place to inflict pain upon it again. In this way a boundary is like a guard, taking up psychic or mental energy to be watchful for any potentially dangerous approaches.

In this way, boundaries only exist because they have been crossed in the past, resulting in registering a violation in the psyche and seeing up a ‘safe zone’ to cushion the blister from future irritation. Thus, the understanding encoded in the idea of ‘breaking all of your usual rules for someone’. Ideally, the subtext of this phrase means the other is reading you so deeply that they are in tune with the needs underneath the boundary (usually safety). Thus, if the needs which created the boundary in the first place are listened to, this removes their need to exist.  So, have hope! It is possible to unpack boundaries that no longer serve you in a loving relationship/partnership (such as therapy).

De-sexualizing Touch

Compared to other cultures, we do not engage in as much platonic touch – why is this? In western culture, platonic touch culturally acceptable is reserved for babies, young children and their parents, lovers, close friends, and massage therapists / healers. Oftentimes, although platonic touch is reserved for these groups many who have these relationships do not engage in platonic touch anyway ! Most touching we see occurs between those who are in a monogamous sexually intimate partnership. In this way there is a lot of ‘attention’ around touch, meaning that it is highly monitored because it signifies a strong (often exclusive) connection. Often any touch between peers becomes equated with sexual interest. Due to this insipid assumption, there are often implied or unstated (shadow/subliminal) intentions behind touch.

Dangers of Implicit Intention behind touch and solutions

When the intention behind touch is not made explicit, unconscious fears and assumptions create uncertainty and can allow manipulators the space to blame lack of specificity or speed for a victim’s violation. This smokescreen allows the perpetrator to distract rather than speak the damming truth and deny their disinterest in whether their victim was enthusiastically consenting to the acts in question. Thus, the accused can blame the situational context and lack of understanding for the gap that allows them to fulfil their selfish desires without consideration for the victim’s satisfaction or clarity. When the impetus behind the touch becomes explicit and the onus is on constant consent excusing nonconsensual behavior with “I didn’t know what they meant” or “it all happened so fast” will soon become a thing of the past.

Solving this pernicious problem involves encouraging communication frequency, clarity, and breadth. This can be done through encouraging constant check-ins (including verbal and physical communication (eg. pausing the action momentarily)), increasing the vocabulary and specificity of terms, and dilating receptivity / increasing attunement to encompass greater information density. The responsibility lies with all parties engaged in the touch – the giver to check in, monitor communication channels, and acutely calibrate / adjust and the receiver to express their inner experience with depth, clarity, and timeliness.


You don’t have to be a mind-reader, but your lover will think you are

If this feels overwhelming (constant check-ins ?!?) know that it is a skill set that can be learned and practiced like any other.

Examples of those who have developed this skill set include : accomplished therapists, bodyworkers, empaths, parents with infants, animal whisperers and renowned lovers (either historical or personal).

Benefits to honing this skill sets include : people thinking that you can read their mind, understanding someone’s unspoken motivations, knowing when people are telling you the truth, increased understanding of babies / children / pets,  being an unforgettable lover.


When Over-communication becomes under-communication

One may think of this change as a shift in the current status quo towards a penchant for over-communication. What is currently considered ‘over-communication’ may indeed in the future be seen as laconic (especially when as we collectively reach the point at which we can mind-meld and communicate through consciousness itself).

Through expanding opportunities for communication we also increase our opportunities to practice this skill and in so doing gain the additional benefit of raising the general communication skill level of all. This common communication skill will serve us especially well when we are interacting with those whom we have not yet established rapport / patterns, interacting with those who challenge us, and when engage in activities in a small or compressed time frame (high speed/pace).

Everyone needs touch

All humans need touch to thrive. Babies even need touch to survive! An orphanage* was befuddled when their infants who were otherwise taken care of (food, shelter, warmth, etc.) ‘failed to thrive’ and were dying. Once the babies received physical affection each day the trend reversed and all the infants lived. Engaging in platonic touch releases endorphins and oxytocin (the bonding, love hormone) into the body, increasing feelings of well-being and connection. These compounds decrease stress allowing the immune system to operate at highest efficacy.

Today many people are touch-starved including most males and vulnerable populations such as the elderly and infirm. It is my personal belief that many ‘crimes of passion’, rapes, and violence against women is due to an unfortunate majority of males being touch-starved. *Men who travel on business hire prostitutes just to touch them lovingly.  The shadow of a touch-starved and touch-judgmental culture is dark, depressive, and deprives us of the potential of bountiful daily connections.

Teaching healthy boundary management

Unspoken beliefs around touch (such as ‘it is only appropriate within a monogamous sexual relationship’) constrain the situations in which people are socially supported in engaging in touch. With good intentions but negative unforeseen outcomes we have tried to protect vulnerable populations (such as the young) from manipulative or exploitative touch by making all touch with them suspect. A common example of this is an adult making a big deal of children wrestling or enjoying their bodies which instills shame in the children who had pure intentions rather than the perverted projections onto them by adults. The clear downside of this method occurs when a predator gets a child alone without the protective scrutinizing gaze of society.

A strong solution to this issue is teaching children (and all people) strong boundary management. This includes lessons on how to know where boundaries are, what common healthy boundaries look like, how to know if someone is respecting your boundaries, and how to  communicate (vocally and physically) when someone is approaching a boundary and how you feel most comfortable proceeding.


Re-conceptualizing Touch - Touch activism

My purpose as a touch activist is to re-normalize touch as a pathway to intimate platonic connection and wellness. Touch activism bridges the realms of dance, bodywork, massage, deep platonic connection, physical communication, and consent.

My personal passions as a touch activist include : non-verbal communication, dance-floor consent, creating body-supportive spaces, translating the physical embodied realm of dance & bodywork into evocative / explanatory language, and developing new bodywork tools, techniques & styles (and engaging in bodywork { everywhere } ). As an educator I seek to make safe and consensual platonic touch supported in all spaces and expand our physical language to increase the range of ways that we can touch each other to mutual satisfaction.

Showing your cards

When playing with a new partner, making the intention behind the intended touch explicit allows all those participating to fully understand and agree to the activity and subtext. Although ‘showing your cards’ and letting others else know of your romantic / sexual interest in them can be scary for the ego, there are a plethora of benefits to making this commonplace.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Most often conveying deep feelings is scary because of the fear that the other’s feeling will not align and the revealer will be rejected. The extreme terror that rejection can cause is bound up in fear for survival – when being accepted by others was a prerequisite for inclusion in the tribe during a time when aloneness equated death. The ego’s oversized fear is outdated - a symptom of the inflated alarm over a potential social gaffe, obsessed with saving face and sparing embarrassment.

Worst case scenario

Although there may be a moment of awkwardness or discomfort if the other does not share your sentiment, you are able to know right away rather than wasting energy in courting this person sexually (no more unknowingly being in the friend-zone!). You are then able to divert what would have been wasted energy chasing the un-interested into pursuing others who are more likely to enthusiastically meet (and even celebrate) your needs. Both ‘rejector’ and ‘rejectee’ can then decide if they would like to engage on a more platonic level, leading to a trusting friendship that is borne of evidence that both parties will communicate authentically even when uncomfortable or difficult. As date night movies lead us to believe it is even possible that through the organic deepening and growth of the platonic relationship over time may result in feelings of attraction blossoming from the romantically uninterested that were not there initially. However, I strongly caution that this should not be the primary goal when agreeing to be friends !

Working up the courage to clearly communicate how you feel allows you to seize the reigns of your life and avoid wasting opportunities that present themselves out of fear of rejection. This confidence translates into having more power and proactivity when interacting with others. The more frequent the rejection, the more effective the inoculation against fear of failure – for ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. There is wariness of saying or receiving a ‘no’ as well as a stigma around rejection that we as a culture would do well to dissipate – for our yes is only as strong as our no. Normalizing saying no without judgement and making rejection an acceptable and commonplace occurrence would also break our distended fear of receiving these as answers.

Best case scenario

Upon revealing your undying love you may find that they have a crush on you too – and you would have never known had you not bared your heart!

Bus Stop Backrub Exercise :

Offer someone a touch that you are certain that they will say no to (eg. ask for a massage at the bus stop) Consciously practice comfort with making a fool of yourself, and be surprised at the range and style of answers you get to your offer (this is also a good way to learn the variety of ways that you can reject someone). Propose a counter-offer or invite them to make a suggestion for how they would like to be interacted with. Be open and receptive to their response.

Pure Play

Occasionally, such as with children, pets, or friends, one may find a play partner who will simply enjoy the touch for what it is – an exploratory gift of the moment. Wonderfully happy hedonists all!

  1. Does not need to have underlying intention beyond enjoyment for that moment
    1. If it does be clear about intentions so you can see where you and your partner match up – leaving may be the best chance for you to fulfil you needs with another enthusiastic excited partner where there is alignment
  2. Not ‘trying to get something or somewhere’
  • As gift
  1. No not need to repay !
  1. Enjoyable / innocent / nurturing
    1. Listen to another’s heartbeat – head on their chest
    2. Karen Moriarty’s ragdoll cradling exercise
      1. Allow oneself to be taken care of without expectation for return
        1. Clearly knowing the terms of the trade
          1. Some young women think that the only way they can get physical affection is through sexual activity
            1. My dream to normalize platonic touch
              1. Renewable resource!



You don’t have to be a mind reader – learning body attunement


Sex just for sex- as release – higher standards

Situational specifics


Clarifying in the moment – you can change your mind, do not owe anything!


“In our current society” = the author’s background, Lithuanian American born 1990.


On the double edged sword of talent / high expectation

If you are talented, capable, or/and above average in any way others will hold you to their high expectations.

This can be hard, as they may even be holding you to a standard they hold no one else, including themselves

However, this is what you have dreamed of, fervently hoped, secretly wished for - someone who can see how bright your light can shine even if your future rays would blind your current eyes

The challenge of meeting such a standard and the fear of not living up to it is why people play small and cover their light so as not to blind those eyes have adapted to the dimness around them (even their own).

The dim ones question - who am I to shine so bright to cause you to adjust your gaze, increasing your tolerance of brilliance ?

The true question is - who are you not to do what you were born to do, numbing, attempting to forget why you came here, and leaving undone the work you were made to passionately complete?

A dream deferred or denied is dead - and who are you to deny your destiny?