Boundaries & Consent: ‘is this really what you want?’

Boundaries and Consent: ‘is this really what you want?’

Read about the author Sean Wright

You’ve had a miserable day, you are emotionally drained, liable to get upset at the slightest thing, and you are not exactly good company. Those around you notice this and someone says, “Can I give you a hug?”. This could be an innocent request from a lover, partner, friend, family member.

You say “yes” and take the hug, but it does nothing for you, in fact, it doesn’t feel quite right even though you gave your consent, and you are, if anything, feeling a bit worse, but you are not sure why. Yet, you consented to it!

By the end of the next day you are feeling much better and the same person asks “would you like a hug?” you say “yes” but this time it feels much better, it makes you feel good and adds to the improved day you have experienced.

So what was so wrong with the first hug, you had a bad day and surely, everyone can appreciate a hug to try and make them feel better after a day to forget?

The answer to this question is no, you didn’t have to “appreciate” the hug, and for more reasons than you might think.

Have a look at the list below and put yourself in the situation where you have had something similar to that first hug, someone who means well by offering you some comfort that you agreed to, but it never helped, just made you feel worse.

Was it for you? Was the hug for you, or was it for them, were they so uncomfortable they needed to do something to emotionally fix the situation. Some people do it more than others, but we have all done it at some point

“Can I give you a hug” implies it is for them, language can be important in how we approach interactions with others? Language sets the stage to highlight exactly what we are asking for if we have learnt about the differences between giving and receiving, more on that later.

We say yes to too many things out of habit, we don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings, we feel obliged because we did something for them, it would be rude to say no, what would they think of us if we refused? I’m sure you can think of more.

You didn’t want the hug, but you did not know how to express your no, you wanted to be left alone. Then, when you received the hug, your body instinctively recoiled even if intellectually it never registered, that hug was for them, you didn’t want it even though you said yes! Then you felt bad/not quite right afterwards, even though you weren’t sure why. Has this happened in situations for you?

So why did the second hug feel so good?

“Would you like a hug?” is a question with the onus on what you want, the language implies it is for you, so it feels easier to say yes after a good day.

You had a better day, you felt better, and saying yes felt good because there was no resistance from your body or emotional state. Briefly, you thought about the request and that a hug would be good.

There was no negative somatic (body) response, you didn’t cross any noticeable boundaries and enjoyed the hug as icing on top of a better day.

Your lover, friend etc asked politely, you were in a better mood, and it was nice to have some intimacy with that hug.

How Can Two Hugs Feel so Different?

So there are differences in the way you felt, how your day had gone and the feelings that came up. The language was more geared towards you in the second hug, it was implied it was for you, where the first “can I give you a hug?” indicates it was more for them. Yes, you felt good, so why not have a hug the second time around. Seems pretty straightforward, that first hug had a lot going on that could make it a bad decision, whilst the second had a lot going on that could make it a good one.

I’m going to suggest that there isn’t much between either, apart from the fact that the second one turned out better, not because you had more control or understanding over your decision but because circumstance always dictated that it would feel better.

Let us get back to the giving and receiving in number 2 under the “bad day hug”. If someone asks “can I?” they are asking for something which is for them, they are not giving you a hug, they are asking to give you a hug because they want to do it, not because you want it.

It is a very crucial distinction, that hug was for them as they were asking for what they wanted for whatever reason, they are receiving the hug. You, on the other hand, are giving to them, it is the gift of hugging for them. You said yes, but you really did not want it and had no skills to navigate the situation or your own feelings to say no. Furthermore, you said yes out of habit, conditioning, but your body said no with its reaction and the feelings that arose.

On the next day, the hug felt good, you felt good. “Would you like?” is a much better way of asking, and there were no feelings of wanting to be left alone.

Here is the question though, if you cannot say no to something you do not want, how can you possibly say yes to something you do want? Maybe like a 12-hour clock, you will be right twice a day with your yes, those decisions just happened to fall at the right time, in the right place, whilst you were in the appropriate frame of mind. But all the other times during the day when you should have said no but said yes are still happening.


Maybe the second hug felt good, but was it really what you wanted, perhaps you said yes out of habit because your friend/lover likes them and on that particular day you didn’t mind giving a hug.

What if you really wanted to sit down and have a cuddle, nestle between their legs with your back to them and have their arms wrapped around you, making you feel safe and wanted? Could you have said no to the hug, but then asked, “will you give me a cuddle instead?”. You receive a gift of their cuddle by expressing your no then saying “will you?” they give to you willingly with a yes to your request and there is no ambiguity because you feel 100% certain that the cuddle is what you want. This doesn’t mean you didn’t enjoy the hug, as I have said, it just could have been better with something you really wanted.

Your partner asks “would you like a shoulder massage”, that sounds good, so you say yes? A few minutes in the shoulder massage has drifted down to your breasts but:

  • They haven’t asked your permission.
  • You don’t really want that but haven’t said anything
  • They think you are enjoying it.
  • You are not enjoying it, but don’t want to upset them because they “offered” a shoulder massage

The distinction between giving and receiving becomes blurred, what initially sounded like it was for you (the shoulder massage) has turned into something for them (massaging your breasts)

In fact, it was never for you, as consciously or otherwise, they have manipulated a situation for their own benefit. You think this is how things are, even though your body tells you it is not right.

We are not going to get into societal, cultural and gendered conditioning as that is for another time, but these situations are commonplace and in most “normal” and supposedly “happy” partnerships and intimate interactions are accepted as such.

Take this into the dating world and then the bedroom, and you can see how murky things can get, how we can come out feeling dissatisfied when our needs are not met, how, what we think, is “normal” doesn’t have to be that way. Most people do not do this stuff out of malice, we are just not taught any other way.

Real embodied pleasure and truly getting what you want whilst respecting others takes a bit of work but is well worth it, good communication and self reflection is key.

Couples come to me, married or otherwise, who have been together more than 10 years and need guidance around their intimate lives. After just one 3-hour session, a common discussion between them as they walk out of my door goes like this:

  • “I never knew you liked to be touched like that”
  • “Well, you never asked”
  • “But you never said”

My Boundaries and Consent work is based heavily around Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent, I highly recommend you get her book, The Art of Giving and Receiving, as it will change the way you look at your decision-making as well as your intimate life.

I specialise in Intimacy Life Coaching for women 40 plus, this work is powerful in helping people recognise where “the not quite right” feelings are coming from in their intimate lives, improving body confidence, exploring sensuality, becoming more embodied and much more. There is much more to it than The Wheel of Consent, but strong boundaries allow you more confidence to take a journey into your intimacy and sensuality.

If you feel this work might be for you, I offer a free 3-hour session to introduce you to a world of possibilities away from what you endure as “normal” in your intimate life. This is professional work in a safe held container where you can express and discover yourself.

Come and discover what you really want!

For details of Sean’s website, please see his profile here.

Written By : Sean Wright