Creating Consent Culture available at us.jkp.com.
Can you briefly outline your history? How has this background influenced what you write about?
Marcia: I’ve been doing sex-and-consent education since the mid-1990s, when I started as a peer HIV educator. As an adult, in 2004, I co-founded Cuddle Party, a non-sexual workshop for adults about communication, boundaries and touch. Unexpectedly, overnight, it took off, as participants flocked to our events. The press wondered why it was so popular and why New Yorkers were suddenly cuddling.
I learned quickly that people felt starved for a sense of autonomy over their own bodies, the power to ask for what they want, and respect from others when they set their boundaries.
Since then, I’ve been teaching these principles to thousands of people, as a coach, workshop facilitator, and trainer.
Erica: I was sexually abused as a child, which led to me having problems with boundaries and consent. When I was a young woman I really didn’t feel that I had the right or agency to say no to others, and once I grew healthier and understood that I did have the right to bodily autonomy, I still struggled to say no. As a mom and landlady to young people I became aware that many people struggle with saying and hearing no.
After a health crisis in my mid forties I wanted to do something more meaningful and learned about Marcia’s work. Through her I learned how to teach consent skills in a fun and interactive way. In 2017, I asked her for permission to create a workshop based on her work but designed age appropriately for people aged 10 and up. The workshop led to this book.
What do you hope people take away from Creating Consent Culture?
Erica: I hope that people use it to teach consent skills far and wide. Also that it helps to foster a growing culture of consent everywhere. I hope it helps spread knowledge and understanding of the freeze response, currently a widely misunderstood human experience.
Marcia: I hope educators and students alike gain better understandings of how consent has and could work in their lives. Most everyone has learned coercive ways of relating, including boundary-pushing and manipulation. But there is a better way of communicating and relating where we are allowed to ask for what we want and to have boundaries. I really hope for a world where we can lead with kindness and honesty.
How can educators use Creating Consent Culture in a school setting?
Marcia: People can use the workshop outlined in the book in whole, or use each exercise on its own. Additionally, the different aspects of consent that we discuss can weave into existing curricula and help foster a more consensual school environment.
Erica: The book gives educators and youth facilitators tools that will enable them to teach consent to their students in a fun, interactive and effective way. This would be a great addition to the toolbox of any educator of students aged 10 and up.
What was your initial inspiration for Creating Consent Culture?
Erica: I was in Sedona on my very first “girl trip” of my life with my public speaking group when I woke up one morning with the words “Turn the workshop into a book.” reverberating in my mind. I emailed Marcia the same morning.
Marcia: I had been teaching consent education to adults for well over a decade when Erica came to me with the idea to write a book for educators who work with teens and tweens. Having seen the impact of consent violations on my adult students, and how profoundly some of these exercises affected their sense of personal autonomy, I thought it was a terrific idea to re-work this material for an audience who could then teach this to young people.
Many people, especially parents, feel overwhelmed when talking about consent. How can Creating Consent Culture help them create a dialogue?
Marcia: The truth is many parents themselves have been affected by a lack of consent in their lives and don’t have a real sense of what is possible when boundaries, autonomy and preferences are listened to and respected. For many parents, the first time reading Creating Consent Culture may give them epiphanies about their own relationship to consent. From there, they can explore and create together with their kids.
Erica: There are many gems of knowledge and inspiration in the book to inspire conversations between parents and kid. Parents will learn how to model consent skills, and also how to encourage their children to use these skills as well. Most of the exercises in the book can work individually or between two or three people, so even a small family could try them out. There are also prompts for discussions in the book that parents could find very useful.
Your book isn’t just about talking consent but also creating a culture of consent. What does a culture of consent look like? What are some easy steps to get on the road to this kind of world?
Erica: Our short definition for consent culture is a culture which emphasizes collaboration to create the most mutually beneficial interactions possible.
One of the issues we tackle in the book is dispelling the myth that consent is a simple matter of saying yes or no. In reality, there are many factors at play in any interaction, from power differentials to past trauma to systemic racism to different cultural perspectives to poor modeling, and more. So it’s complex, but the tools and skills to feel an embodied sense of consent within oneself and with others are easy to understand. Once felt, they can’t be forgotten.
Marcia: I believe we are all culture creators. By treating people with respect, not participating in bullying, extending compassion to others, or simply taking a moment to pause for another person’s real experience, we can shift how others relate around us, particularly in our roles as teachers and parents.
Easy steps can include listening for hesitation or the “habitual yes” when asking for something from another. Make it clear that you welcome your child or student’s boundaries or preferences. Work together to find a solution that works for everyone. Or simply listen a couple of beats longer than usual for what’s not being said yet.
It’s not about perfection or “doing it right.” It’s about learning how to stay in relationship with the people around us, particularly our young people, even when other pressures may be present.
Are there any other resources you would recommend?
Marcia: I have been profoundly impacted by Betty Martin’s work with the Wheel of Consent. Her book by the same name is a valuable resource for adults who want to learn more about the nuances of consent in relationships.
Erica: We have a whole list of additional resources at the back of the book, but the other books that are most focused on the same audience as ours would be:
Talking Consent: 16 Workshops on Relationship and Sex Education for Schools and Other Youth Settings by Thalia Wallis and Pete Wallis
What Does Consent Really Mean? by Pete Wallis and Thalia Wallis
Boys & Sex by Peggy Orenstein
Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein
Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: A Parents’ Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience by Peter A. Levine and Maggie Kline
We also recommend some wonderful websites, videos, and safety and crisis resources. You can also find these in the resources section of my website at www.creatingconsentculture.com/resources .
I feel it’s always important to note the 24 hour services of RAINN. You can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1 800 656 4673 or chat online at https://hotline. rainn.org/online