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.

We’ve had lots of restrictions we’ve had to face (and continue to face). Like wearing masks, or getting tested before we do things. Or showing evidence of our vaccine status. How is this consensual? I think it is, and it’s a really good example of collective consent.

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. 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: 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 more vaccines and treatments.

Read more about you, stress, and the world

We know that when we socially distance, or work from home, wear masks, and keep our bubbles small then the numbers of people getting coronavirus drops. Dramatically.

Read more about solidarity

And people do do this (mostly)

The fact that it has worked shows that most people comply with the guidelines. As enough people limit their freedoms a bit it keeps more and more people alive and healthy. 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.  It’s a good example of solidarity.

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. 

Please leave a (nice) comment below if you like or ask me a question here.

© Justin Hancock, 2024 Find out more about me and BISH here.

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I’ve been a sex and relationships educator since 1999 (with a background in youth and community work). In that time I’ve taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. I’ve worked with many charities, local governments, schools and youth organisations facilitating training and workshops. My two books, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and If You Want To) and Can We Talk About Consent? are widely available around the world. I’ve been on the telly and the radio and have written articles for newspapers and magazines. I’m also a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Read more about me and BISH here. Find out about my other work here Justin Hancock

If you’re over 18 and would like an advanced version of BISH check out my podcast Culture Sex Relationships. Also I’ve written a sex advice book for adults with Meg-John Barker called A Practical Guide to Sex available wherever you get books. We also did some zines to help you to figure out what you want from sex and relationships. They are at our website.

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