freedoms and covid

Freedoms and COVID

If you’re a fan of BISH then you’ll know that we are all about consent. And consent is about freedom and choices and agreement. But because of COVID we are all being asked (or forced) to do things that we haven’t agreed to, which restrict our freedom to choose.

No hook ups, no handshakes, no dancing, no hugging nan, no singing, no random snogs, no going to a football match, and no going to school or the shops without a mask* How is this consensual? I think it is, and it’s a really good example of collective consent.

*unless we meet one of the exemptions 

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There are always limits on our freedoms

There are always limits on our freedoms and choices, even if we are doing something just for ourselves. You can’t nick a bath bomb for your self-care bubble bath. It also obviously also applies when we are wanting to do something with someone else. There are always restrictions on what we can do. If someone doesn’t want to do something that we want to do, we shouldn’t do that thing. 

Consent should be a win win. By having conversations with someone about what we and they like, everyone gets to do something they want. This is true for sex but also relationships and pretty much anything else too. Like what film you want to watch with someone, what snacks you’re going to eat during it, and even how you say goodbye to each other at the end. 

Consent and the world

But consent is also about how our freedoms and choices affect other people in the world. For example if you wanted to treat yourself and get a new top, you might think about the working conditions (the freedoms and the choices) of the person that made that top. Another example is people eating less meat and dairy because of the climate crisis (which affects the freedoms and choices of all of our future selves but the poorest countries first and probably where our clothes come from). 

Read more about you, stress, and the world

There are many different and competing views about how we make ethical choices about all of this stuff too. Clearly not everyone is vegan, and we don’t all do an ethical audit of where we buy our stuff. There are lots of arguments to be made about whether our individual choices about eating meat, or buying a top for £2.99 have on other people and the world generally. However with COVID-19 this link is a lot clearer. 

We know that social distancing, handwashing, and wearing masks all help to prevent us from infecting other people with coronavirus. Like chlamydia, we can have it and pass it on without knowing: most often it doesn’t have any symptoms. Other people can’t consent to receiving the germs that we might be giving them. So we’re being asked to do these things to help others, as well as helping ourselves. The idea is that this buys us some time to help those in power come up with vaccines and treatments.

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The more people that do this the more we prevent everyone from getting it, and the statistics show that it’s working (certainly in the UK and Europe, for the time being). It’s not a vaccine or a treatment, but it has dramatically reduced the numbers of people that have it now, compared with the numbers that had it in the Spring.

And people do do this (mostly)

The fact that it’s working means that most people are complying with the guidelines. As enough people have limited their freedoms and choices over the past few months fewer people are getting ill and dying. It also means that people who were having to shield themselves are more able to get out and about. Most people are cooperating, realising that to help other people to live their lives, they have to live their lives a little less.

And yes, at this point you could say ‘but not everyone is doing this.’ Yup, and I get angry when I see people not wearing masks, or not being socially distant. However I think a) I don’t know what’s going on for them, perhaps they are exempt from wearing masks or maybe they are bubbled with the people they are with and b) I look around and see that actually most people are doing the right thing. 

Collective consent

It’s a large number of people making smallish sacrifices to protect a smaller number of people from dying or getting seriously ill. Lots of people giving up a smallish amount of freedom, so that a small number of people have the freedom to live. We do this because it doesn’t feel great for loads of other people to die, but also because we don’t want our loved ones to die, or for us to die. It says a lot about the kind of world that most of us want to live in.

Read more about safer sex and covid

This is where there’s a win win in my opinion. It’s for us, and for everyone around us, and so also for us. When I see someone in a mask, or washing their hands, or doing social distancing, I see someone that cares about me, us, and everyone else in the shop not getting ill. 

So although the freedoms we give up might not feel very consensual on an individual basis, it is an example of collective consent. It’s not about our own freedoms but the ability to choose for all of us. The pandemic is a useful reminder that this is what humans are like. There will always be a few people who care more about their own freedoms than those of everyone else, but mostly people don’t. Mostly we cooperate, care, and want to do the right thing when we can. 

Read more about stress and the people around us

It’s really hard, and as I’ve said before, anyone who lives with their family have basically had to give up dating this year. That can be huge for people personally, but seeing other people also giving up freedoms for the greater good at least might make us feel more connected to others. 

© Justin Hancock, 2021.

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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. Find out more about Justin here

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