Negotiating social contact

According to Canada’s criminal law, without active consent, sexual contact/activity is sexual assault. It is not enough for one party to say the other did not object: there must be clear agreement, in the moment, to whatever activity is being proposed. The person must have the capacity to provide consent to that activity, which means that someone who is being threatened or coerced or who lacks capacity because they are asleep, unconscious, intoxicated or have an intellectual impairment that affects their ability to consent cannot, in law, consent to sexual activity.

The criminal law approach to consent is one that should be followed outside the law, too: all of us deserve to have our wishes about sexual activity respected.

Consent is a serious matter, in the world of sexual assault, and ought not to be mocked or made light of.

Pandemic consent

We now must negotiate our social engagements with others through a pandemic labyrinth of rules and guidelines. Unlike the very clear rules about sexual assault and consent, the rules about who we can see, who we can hug, how many of us can come together, how close we can be, are plentiful, changing frequently, and different in different places.

Some of those rules and guidelines are unclear, leaving lots of room for interpretation, disagreement and misunderstanding (none of which should be the case when we talk about sexual violence).

A friend commented recently, in an email in which we were discussing an upcoming social encounter between her household and mine:

“I feel like I need to apply an in-depth consent process now for basic social interactions to ensure I’m not breaching other people’s comfort level.”

The new social contract

When Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote On the Social Contract in 1762 — a guide to establishing a political community in the face of capitalism — he was not thinking about a 21st-century pandemic that would keep us all separated from one another. However, perhaps he would have agreed with a new kind of social contract — a Pandemic Social Contact Consent Contract — to assist all of us in negotiating the terms of our lives with those outside our bubble.

Contract between _______________ and  ______________

In anticipation of our visit on ___________________, the parties agree on the following terms: (each party shall strike out any terms to which they do not consent. The visit will proceed following the terms that remain once each party has struck those to which they do not consent; in other words, social contact happens on a lowest common denominator basis.)

The visit will take place in the yard/driveway of _________________ on these terms:

  • Guest has had a negative COVID-19 test within previous two weeks
  • Host has had a negative COVID-test within previous two weeks
  • Parties are to be masked during visit
  • Parties will wear masks when ___________________________ (list specific activities)
  • Guest may walk through host’s house to get to the backyard
  • Guest may use bathroom inside house
  • Host will provide outside toilet facility
  • Guest must pee in backyard and provide own toilet paper
  • In event of bad weather or onslaught of mosquitoes, visit can move inside
  • Guest will provide own beverages, snacks, dishes, napkins etc.
  • Host will provide beverages, snacks, dishes, napkins etc.
  • Each party will touch only their own dishes, cutlery, napkins, etc.
  • Host/guest will wear gloves when touching anything other party will also touch
  • Host/guest are in shared bubbles and may hug, kiss, sit closer than 6 feet apart and ____________________ (strike any activities to which you do not consent and add any more to which you do)

Host confirms they have:

  • Not travelled outside province of Ontario in previous two weeks
  • No symptoms of COVID-19
  • Not had contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in previous two weeks

Guest confirms that they have:

  • Not travelled outside province of Ontario in previous two weeks
  • No symptoms of COVID-19
  • Not had contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in previous two weeks

Signed and dated by both parties.

This week’s cocktail

After negotiating the terms of a social encounter pandemic-style, everyone will be ready for a Painkiller; a cocktail bearing a strong resemblance to a pina colada that has been trademarked by Pusser’s Rum Ltd. Apparently, originally created in the 1970s by Daphne Henderson at the Soggy Dollar Bar in the British Virgin Islands, there is no pain this rum, pineapple juice, orange juice and coconut cream cocktail won’t kill. There are many variations on the proportions of the ingredients: here is a link to the trademarked recipe.

Enjoy your cocktail, even if you have to drink it with your consent form clutched in your other hand.

One thought on “Negotiating social contact

  1. Love it. I looked and saw that there are “yes means yes” consent apps, but no apps specific for COVID consent! Untapped market! 🙂

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