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Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi/Person in the photo is a model

Consent in online dating: What it really means

Tina and Parth connected on a dating site during pandemic lockdowns and hit it off. After months of dating each other online, they decided to meet. Just before their meeting, Parth sent Tina a picture of his genitals, asking, ‘Would you like to see this up close too?’. Tina did not show up and blocked him from everywhere. What went wrong?

Tina was, ostensibly, put off by this. Not only did she abruptly end that conversation but also cut Parth out completely. Parth couldn’t understand why someone he thought things were going really well with would ghost him. They had been talking naughty for so long, so what was the fuss with the picture, without realising that his complete disregard for her consent was to blame. 

In a country, where generations have been fed the ‘uski naa mein hai haan’ (her no means yes) notion through pop culture, cinema and societal constructs, consent and boundaries can seem like alien concepts. Even though Gen-Zers are doing a better job at understanding and respecting consent than the previous generations, gaps still remain. Particularly, given the tricky landscape of online dating that can be confusing to navigate. 

If you don’t want to come across as the creep who makes people swear off online dating, we’re here to help you make sense of what consent means in the online world and how to not to defy it. 

Consent in the online world 

The dictionary meaning of the word consent is 'permission for something to happen or agreement to do something'. That’s essentially what it also means in the world of dating, In real life (IRL) or online. However, decoding whether or not you have someone’s consent in an online setting isn’t always that straightforward. 

Of course, a clear ‘yes’ means they’re consenting to take things forward, and ‘no’ is an indication to stop. But what about the grey area between ‘yes’ and ‘no’? Does a ‘maybe’ mean you have the other person’s consent to go ahead? Does not saying ‘no’ explicitly mean a ‘yes’? And most importantly, what is the correct way to seek consent? 

As a broad rule of thumb, you must always seek consent before taking a new step in an online connection with clear questions like ‘Is this okay with you?’ or ‘Would you like to try video sex?’ or ‘How do you feel about doing this or that?’ 

Unless the other person responds with ‘Yes, I do’, hold off on your overtures. Let’s explore a few scenarios at different stages of online dating to help you understand what it means to disregard consent and how to avoid it: 

Scenario: It’s a Match! 

Do: Get to know them in a consensual way by interacting over the dating app’s built-in chat option. 

Don’t: Ask to connect over text messages straight off the bat, suggest exchanging numbers or sliding into the person’s DMs without their permission. 

Scenario: Get talking 

Do: Take interest in the other person, make an effort to get to know them without any expectations about where it’s going to lead. 

Don’t: Inundate them with a barrage of messages if things are beginning to die down and they don’t seem to respond to your texts as enthusiastically as before. Take the hint and stop trying to contact them. 

They may not have said ‘I’m no longer interested in talking to you’ but their silence is saying just that. By ignoring it, you’re disregarding their consent in taking this connection further. 

Scenario: Let’s meet 

Do: If you have been talking for a considerable amount of time and they seem interested in you, by all means, suggest meeting in person. However, it’s imperative that you ask, and not announce taking this next step. Always lean in favour of ‘Would you like to meet up?’ over ‘I want to see you’.  

Don’t: If the other person doesn’t say, ‘Yes, let’s meet’, it’s your cue to put a pin on it. ‘No, I don’t think I can’ or ‘I don’t know if it’s a good idea’ does not mean an invitation to keep pestering them until they relent and say ‘yes’. 

Scenario: It’s heating up 

Do: If things heat up and you’re venturing into the exciting territory of sexting, it’s imperative to not get carried away in the heat of the moment. Ask and seek explicit consent from the other person if you want to try something new (exchange nudes, for example). 

Don’t: Surprise them with a picture of your genitals out of the blue. It won’t be appreciated and in all likelihood, it’s going to put them off and douse the fire of desire raging between you two. And, it amounts to sexual harassment. 

As is clear, when it comes to consent in online dating, nothing short of ‘yes’ can be construed as the green signal to go ahead. Silence or evasive responses are also a way of withholding consent, and must not be considered as an indication that the other person will come around if you just pester and persist. The most important rule of consent, be it online or in the real world, is to establish clear boundaries on both sides and respect them. 

To protect the identity, the person in the picture is a model and names have been changed. 

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