Coryl Reef

writer, artist, and freelance editor // blogging about words, life, and all the rest


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5 Ways to Practice Nonsexual Consent

At its core, consent is asking for permission knowing full well that the recipient is not obligated to fulfill your wishes. Consent is a hot topic for sex, and for good reason. Sex is multiple people engaging in activities that rely on bodily autonomy and personal space. Nonsexual consent is just as important as sexual consent. After all, consent doesn’t begin with sexual activities and physical intimacy.

Consent begins when parents tell their toddler to hug a relative. It begins when children are told to hold hands with their classmates in school. It begins before puberty. Consent exists outside of sex. It exists for non-sexual, asexual, and celibate people.

Here are 5 ways that you can practice show consideration for your peers, family, friends, and strangers with nonsexual consent.

Nonsexual consent is when you ask for permission when you want to…
Hug, shake hands with, or high five someone of any age

You should get consent before touching someone. Hugging, shaking hands, and high fiving are mostly touching hands. But it’s still important to respect someone’s boundaries. This includes with children! Children have bodily autonomy as well. They should never be forced to hug or high five if they don’t want to.

Cook or provide food for someone

Offering a meal to someone can be a nice gesture. However, there is also a lot of risk when eating food you haven’t prepared. Asking to cook or buy a meal for someone respects their dietary needs, such as allergies, intolerances, preferences, and eating disorders. Even hunger should be respected. Don’t make someone eat if they don’t want to!

Receive emotional labour from someone

If you’re unsure what “emotional labour” means, then here’s a quick read on it! This one is especially important in the social media world. Users can post their opinions and thoughts, and read strangers’ comments and opinions in return. But if someone needs to invest their time, energy, and emotions into a conversation, respect them and gain consent.

Consider it when you…

Privately message or friend request someone on a social network

Digital boundaries are still boundaries. Imagine entering someone’s private messages as the same as knocking on their digital door. Nobody is obligated to reply to you or connect with you on social media. If you want to engage with them, ask first.

Talk about personal, serious, or heavy topics

This nonsexual consent piggybacks off of the emotional labour one. There are topics that are meant for smalltalk, like the weather and how someone’s weekend was. And then there are topics that can get heated or emotionally heavy. These topics include religion, politics, mental health, trauma, and other private or personal details.


You don’t need to have an eloquent, highly formal method of asking someone to do any of these things. “Can I ______?” is an easy format. In spoken English, we can portray a question through vocal inflection at the end of a word or statement–when I hug my friends, I outstretch my arms and say “Hug?” (or raise my eyebrows), and this is still consent.

Over time, you build your consensual relationship and interactions with people. As you get to know someone and their boundaries, or as your relationship grows and boundaries change, you increase your awareness of what they consent to.

Here’s a real life example.

I love to hug people. It’s an intimate action that, for me, shows that I care. I also love to make friends, and I’m very upfront about when I want to have a friendship with a new person. So when I meet someone new, I tell them I’m interested in being friends with them. I also ask, “Are you a hugger? Can we hug?”

The majority of the time, this is met with an enthusiastic, “Yeah, sure!” and we hug. But there are instances where they say, “Oh, I’m sorry, no.” My reaction? “That’s okay! I totally understand.”

When you practice consent outside of sexual activities, you deepen your respect for people’s bodily autonomy. You also learn that consent is nuanced and part of daily life! There’s nothing complicated about consent unless communication is complicated.

Consent means respecting boundaries. Those boundaries are not always physical or bodily, too. Respect people’s time, privacy, and autonomy.

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2 Comments

  1. Georgie says:

    🙏 Thank you for writing this. For quite some time I have been thinking about the concept of non-sexual consent, and I’d only thought about and read about physical touch like hugging or holding hands. I had never thought about cooking or providing food being something to request consent for, and the emotional labour one hit home for me because I’ve had a few people in my life use me as a venting/punching bag without asking for permission – it’s assumed, that because I am a friend, I am OK with this. Some of my very close friends who know me well will ask “can I rant”; some friends will start to rant mid-conversation with me and then apologise afterwards for essentially hijacking the conversation.

    I’m a bit of a hugger myself, I usually outstretch my arms and shrug a little, and wait for a response before I go in for a hug. Hopefully it’s a positive one and the person comes in or also outstretches their arms ☺️ I’ve not had anyone show me that they would prefer not to, but I think I should definitely be prepared for that kind of response 👍

    • Coryl Reef says:

      I’m a hugger like that too! It’s my favourite form of physical contact. I’m glad I could help give some insight into different aspects. This post took me a while to write, since I had to really consider all the ways I’ve had my personal boundaries broken, as well as ways I’ve crossed the line with people around me. I totally understand what you mean regarding emotional labour! My friends and I have gotten into the practice of asking beforehand if we can vent–there have been a few times where I’ve had to turn them down, since I wasn’t in a position to support that way. It’s been really great and healthy for my relationships. 🙂