The wheel of consent is a diagram that looks like a circle which is divided into four quadrants. It has been developed by Betty Martin, a sexologist and intimacy coach. The wheel of consent is a tool which deals with the dynamics between two people when they exchange touch. Being in consent means that both people who are engaged in either giving or receiving touch are wanting the interaction to happen, and enjoying it. The tool also looks at what happens when either one of the people is not in consent, calling this ‘the shadow’.
In brief, the four quadrants are separated into two pairs. Giving-Receiving and Taking-Allowing. In the giving-receiving dynamic, the person who is the receiver asks for the kind of touch they would like to receive from the giver, for their own pleasure. In turn, the giver takes some time to feel into the request and, if they genuinely want to give this gift and it would feel good to them too, would give the kind of touch to the receiver that was asked for. For example, the receiver may ask: “Would you stroke my hand for three minutes for my own pleasure?” and the giver may reply: “Yes, I’d love to”.
In the taking-allowing dynamic, the taker asks for the kind of touch that they would like to give to the other person, for their own pleasure. The allower takes some time to feel into the request, and, if it is something that they genuinely want to allow and would also feel good to them, consent to the touch. For example, the taker may ask: “Can I stroke your hair for three minutes for my own pleasure?” and the allower may reply: “Yes, you can”. This dynamic is often more difficult for people in the ‘taking’ quadrant, because we are not usually accustomed to asking to give touch to another for our own pleasure. Some also associate ‘taking’ with taking something by force, which is not how it’s meant in this context.
The Shadows/ Saying no
Regardless of which quadrant the participants are in, being in consent implies that they are happy with the interaction going on. In order for this to be the case, it is important for both parties to feel into their bodies to make genuine requests of what they want to experience, and for their partners to be honest with what they are wanting, or not wanting, to give or allow.
Participants may stop being in consent when they are either not genuine with the request, or unable to say ‘no’ to something which has been requested of them. Taking the example above, where the receiver asks the giver to stroke their hand. If the giver says ‘yes’, when they do not actually want to do this, they are not in consent. Betty calls this ‘shadow’ of the giving quadrant a martyr, do-gooder, or someone who forgets themselves. It is therefore important to be able to say no to something we do not want to experience.
Similarly, if the person in the allowing quadrant is not able to say ‘no’ to a request from the taker to access to their body, they are enduring or tolerating the touch, and are therefore not in consent, either. When one person is not in consent, the other is automatically not in consent, too. Therefore, for healthy, enjoyable interactions it is important that both people are having a good time and enjoying themselves.
Use of Wheel of Consent in Tantric Healing Therapy
The Wheel of Consent is a great tool for both individuals and couples alike. It cultivates the practice of many important skills, such as being able to feel into the body to find out what it is wanting, and being able to communicate that. Equally, the tool teaches practicing both saying and receiving a no in a healthy way. I find with my clients that once they learn this tool, they start to apply it to many different areas of their life, and not just interactions involving touch. Read more about the importance of consent and boundaries in tantric massage therapy.
Please note that this article presents only a simplified version of the Wheel of Consent. For more information, please visit https://bettymartin.org/videos/ or contact myself. I offer sessions in Teesside/ North Yorkshire and London to both couples and individuals