A couple of months ago, I was presenting at a poly event. We were talking about consent, and someone used a phrase I’d never heard before, but which the linguist in me (who’s basically an eight-year-old squeeing over the neat things people do with language) was absolutely delighted by. She and her partners had, she said, shelf-stable consent.

Consent is not a thing that’s given once and lasts forever. You do not consent to sex with someone for all time simply because you’ve consented to it once in the past, or because you’ve married that person. Consent exists in the moment, as my sweetie Shelly said in this guest blog post that is one of the most popular things we’ve ever published on this blog.

And that’s all true. Consent is ongoing; it’s a process, not a product.

Sometimes, though, we make the choice to give shelf-stable consent. Sometimes, when we’re in a healthy relationship that meets our needs with partners who see us and who we see in turn, we don’t need to negotiate consent before every ass-grab. (Of course, it can be really, really hot to negotiate every ass-grab, don’t get me wrong!) Sometimes, we know our partners well enough to know what they like. I have a partner for whom grabbing her by the hair and throwing her against the wall is an awesome form of foreplay, sure to get her motor going. But we have a history that stretches back for years.

This is shelf-stable consent. It’s not irrevocable; consent never is. We can always change our mind. Nobody can ever assume access to our bodies, our minds, or our space now and forever. Like those little containers of shelf-stable milk, once the container is opened, it might go bad if you don’t take care to store it properly.

Within those limits, though, when it’s freely given and not assumed, when it’s treated with respect, shelf-stable consent is a lot of fun. It’s a gift, and one of the most special gifts we give each other.

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