Guest Blog: Learning about Consent as Healing

Guest blog written by J Fiedler, Training Institute Facilitator, SERC

I have to admit, I’m on a consent kick right now. I also work in sexuality education so…maybe my whole life is being jazzed on consent? That is probably it. Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten into conversations about consent that emphasize it as a tool to create pleasure. Teen Talk and SERC have a few activities we do to demonstrate how we practice consent all the time (sexual and not) and how pleasure (sexy time and not) is something we negotiate and create all the time. Regardless, we still often get asked, “Who actually does that?” or the reaction of “That isn’t realistic! You expect me to stop what I’m doing and check in with someone?” Yeah, we do. Realistic scenarios to show are hard to come by when it comes to sexy time consent without getting too specific. Most media, including pornography, aren’t showing how it works. However, consent is all around us and I’d like to share an example with you.

In September the SERC and Teen Talk staff were invited to a sweat lodge put on by the WRHA at the Indigenous Women’s Healing Centre. For some of us, this was a familiar experience. For me, it was the first time I would be experiencing a sweat. I felt a little out of my comfort zone. I didn’t know what to expect, nor did I know the folks leading the sweat.

Turns out my worries would fade away because of some strong consent practices. Before the sweat we were given teachings and discussion about ceremony with knowledge keepers Margaret and Leslie. There was discussion of different methods and ways of leading ceremony along with reflection and clarification about how we were going to do things. I was able to identify boundaries of those leading the sweat and was informed on what I was going to participate in.

Then we were given the choice if we wanted to participate at all. Going into the day I knew I wanted to participate despite any nerves. However, by the time we were headed into the lodge not only did I still want to participate, I was more excited than nervous.

Rob, who lead the sweat, explained all the steps. Margaret stayed with others outside of the lodge who weren’t going to sweat and gave us encouraging words before the lodge closed. For those that have not gone through a sweat – yes, it is hot. There was much sweating happening. Songs were sung, stories were shared and medicines were added to the heated stones (grandmothers/fathers) that were helping us sweat. However, the part that I remember the most was a moment of silence after a song and then I heard, “How are you all doing? Are you still with me?” I believe we were asked to clap as a check in as an alternative to speaking if we wanted. It was at that moment that I realized and fully appreciated how much I was being taken care of.

A big part of healing is creating an environment where that healing can even happen. This can include sexual experiences (Marvin Gaye anyone?). Those that lead the sweat weren’t there for me to have a specific outcome, but rather provide a space where growth could happen. The whole time they were creating an environment where I could reflect and heal in a way I needed. I was informed of boundaries, introduced to concepts with the ability to question, invited in a non-coercive way, regularly checked in on and was allowed to participate in a way that worked for me without a predetermined specific goal. It wasn’t named that day, but to me that is consent.

As a newcomer to Canada, I’ve been invited to other ceremonies by Anishinabee, Cree, Dakota and Metis communities in both treaty 1 and 2 territories. Looking back, they have been similar experiences to the one I described above. Examples of consent in healing, healthcare and sexuality are all around us. They aren’t new either. Obviously they have been practiced on this land forever. We can also name these Indigenous practices as the first Trauma Informed and Mindfulness practices of this land as well.

Thinking of this long timeline, maybe it is the time to stop asking how to do consent and instead start recognizing all the ways it isn’t being respected. These examples of consent being denied are all around us and it is time we stop accepting them as the norm. It is prohibiting all of our healing.