How do I know that my boundaries will be respected?
At the beginning of the session we both express our boundaries, which remain in place throughout. I remain fully clothed throughout the session. During the massage, you can ask for adjustments and I will also offer adjustments so the touch that you're receiving is exactly as you want.
Furthermore, the adjustments relate to the type of touch that is occurring, for example if you'd prefer lighter/deeper pressure during the massage then you can ask for that. Consent and boundaries stay the same throughout the session. The session remains a massage and there is no other form of exchange.
As a bodyworker, I wanted to understand people’s motivations for giving and receiving touch so I took a workshop on The Wheel of Consent by Dr Betty Martin. The Wheel of Consent was developed as a guideline for bodyworkers to understand how they interact with their clients during sessions.
The Wheel of Consent is displayed on a diagram (see the picture below) that explains what happens when two people or more people make an agreement around touch. It also describes the dynamics of what can occur when people are engaging in touch that have not been agreed.
During the workshop I learned that the Wheel of Consent is extremely nuanced. A good example of this is what happens when a person’s motivations change and what the consequences are when these motivations aren't expressed.
For example, if someone is "serving", i.e. carrying out touch specifically in accordance with a person's clear requests and then that changes to "taking", i.e. giving touch for their own pleasure, then, if that hasn't been agreed, the whole session can feel strange because there is no consent for that change.
This leads to the question who is the touch for? Is the touch for the person giving touch or the person receiving touch? If someone is saying they are serving, but they're actually taking then boundaries are being crossed.
In general, as the Wheel of Consent shows, there is nothing wrong with “taking” touch as long as it's consensual and the person receiving the touch is "allowing" the person giving the touch to take for their own pleasure.
However, the intention for my sessions is to give touch to the client according to the client’s exact requests. During my sessions, I ask my clients to give me specific adjustments, so the touch can be exactly as they want. In this way, I ensure that boundaries are respected and that, for the purposes of the Wheel of Consent, I am always “serving” and not “taking” and the client is always “accepting” and not “allowing”.
Learning the Wheel of Consent allows me to feel deeply into when I am giving touch. I understand what occurs when I or others move quadrants without the proper communication, how different that feels and how to ensure that boundaries remain respected throughout the session.
I believe that my coaching and bodywork sessions have improved as a result of completing this workshop. I'm grateful to Kian de la Cour and Katie Sarra for teaching the course on The Wheel of Consent and Dr Betty Martin for bringing it to bodyworkers and coaches.