Intimacy has been Wrongly Equated to having Sexual Encounters Only: Psychologist Avnish Mishra
What is consent? And what is intimacy? Is it a kiss? Is it consummation? Or is it something in between or all of these?
This week Counselling Psychologist and MentAmigo Co-founder, Avnish Mishra shares his views on what is ‘consent during intimacy’ and how it helps strengthen human relationships in a better way. An exclusive interaction with Senior Journalist Mahima Sharma, who kickstarts this series of some bold and deep interviews at The BaelyApp to help you ask the right questions towards strengthening the existing bond with your partner. Take a read…
Mahima: Avnish, thanks for joining me here for our audience. For our readers’ basic understanding let’s please start by explaining what intimacy means?
Avnish: Intimacy is widely used to denote the sexual life of relationships but is it limited to having a sexual encounter with your partner? It isn’t, it can be physical, emotional, intellectual, or experiential intimacy. Physical intimacy is considered to be sexual intercourse only but that is not the case. It involves physical touch, cuddling, holding hands, kissing, and sexual intercourse as well. Emotional intimacy says a lot about how often you express your emotions and feelings to the other person. In a relationship, it is important for us to be open with our expressions and feel comfortable while sharing our deeper emotions with our partners. Intellectual intimacy shows your comfort while sharing ideas and opinions even if they have a tinge of disagreement with it. You don’t have to agree with what your partner says all the time but are you comfortable sharing your disagreement, that shows how intellectually intimate you are with them. Experiential intimacy talks about spending time and creating experiences with each other, date night dinners for example are a great way of bonding on an experiential level.
Mahima: What’s your take on intimacy and its various forms (not completely sexual, but say just a kiss)…? What is consent and why is it important for a healthy relationship?
Avnish: Intimacy has been wrongly equated with having sexual encounters only while it is just a part of the concept as a whole. You can be intimate with someone and yet not consider sexual intercourse. All of us have an innate desire to fulfil our physical needs which include having sex, kissing, cuddling, experiencing physical touch, being desired, desire, et cetera.
But, with all of this comes a very important concept and that is consent. It becomes highly important when talking about physical intimacy. Physical intimacy is something that needs to be mutual and one should not by any means assume the other person is ready/willing unless they explicitly say so. As we have heard, only a yes is a yes. A lot of times, your partner might not be in the mood to get physically intimate. And any move without consent would eventually make them resent you, doesn't that make sense? When we are forced to do things that we don’t want, we might do it at that time but eventually we start resenting the person, isn’t it? Not being in the mood for it is absolutely normal and should not be taken as a sign of rejection. Any act of physical intimacy without consent is an act of abuse. Consent plays a crucial role in a healthy relationship, it helps partners bond over trust and mutual respect for each other. It helps them feel safe with each other thus catalysing other forms of intimacy as well.
Mahima: Coming on to our next query, in your understanding of human psychology, what is the importance of communication before intimacy amid a couple to arrive at consent? How must they communicate?
Avnish: Communication is one of the most important pillars of a relationship. It is important for the partners to communicate well and not get caught by surprise during their intimate moments. If you never mention that you don’t like being hugged from the back in a surprising manner, the other person cannot read your mind and avoid it. Regular conversations about likes and dislikes, negotiables and non-negotiables are a must in order to maintain a healthy relationship. Such conversations lead to the important conversation about consent. It is important to communicate that only when the two parties involved say YES to a physically intimate moment shall it happen. Feedback communication through body language plays an important role here. When a partner touches another one, they should be ready and open to an unexpected response as well and should notice the first reactions of the other individual, this too is communication. Some people prefer holding hands to hugging tightly, but again, this needs to be spoken of and nobody can read your mind.
Mahima: As a psychologist, what would you advise the couple towards consent and intimacy, even if they are married, considering people take marriage to be a liberty at times?
Avnish: Married or unmarried is a separate discussion altogether and it has no business with consent. Consent is a standalone concept whether or not you’re married. When the relationship is new, you do not want to hurt the other person so maybe you allow certain practices which violate your right to consent and when you get older, you feel awkward doing it because after these many years, how can you not consent, right? That’s not how it should work and consent should always be sought prior to any intimate moment. I feel the more a couple communicates about trust and how they would want to be intimate, it helps them to build trust in each other and expand their safety net.
Mahima: Not always women express in words towards consent. So the common question men ask - How do I know if my partner is consenting? What’s your advice to look for what kinds of signs and hints from the female partner?
Avnish: First of all, never assume silence as consent. As I mentioned earlier, only a yes is a yes. A lot of times when things get heated up, there can be quick questions to check if the woman is involved and enthusiastically consenting to the act or not. For example, shall we go ahead? Are you okay with this? Do you want us to slow down? Move ahead only when she answers with her consent and do not assume anything. Consenting means respecting boundaries and it is not about loving any lesser. Just because you have had sex before doesn’t mean you can have it again and without consent. There is no other way than to ask if the woman is okay with it and only when there’s a yes do you have the right to initiate it. Silence, maybe, No, Not now, later, give me some time, anything other than a Yes is a NO.
Mahima: There are days when one of the partners is not in a mood for intimacy. How should the other partner go about creating a mutually suitable environment?
Avnish: Be patient. We often hastily try to create an intimate environment while we need to have patience. Trust building is a slow process and it is okay if the other individual is not yet ready. You may want to sit down to communicate and try to understand the reason behind your partner’s mood. It is not necessary that an individual would always want to be intimate, maybe something is troubling them or maybe not, sit down and talk. Talk about your needs as well, it is important to know each others’ needs and expectations to be able to again, build trust and expand the safety net. Make yourselves emotionally available to them in case they want to share something. Put down any electronic gadgets you have and make them feel attended to and heard.
Mahima: How to go about speaking to your partner when it comes to intimacy? Please elaborate this considering none of the two wants to hurt the other’s preconceived notions and feelings.
Avnish: Be truthful when it comes to speaking to your partner about intimacy. Honesty helps build trust and helps the partner as well to be open and vulnerable in the conversation. You should always be emotionally available for each other when such conversations happen because these are little offbeat conversations till now . Therefore, your partner might not be very open when talking about their intimate needs and expectations so we must be open and honest and emotionally available for them to be able to discuss these. It is also important to respect boundaries when it comes to such conversations because it is not necessary that the other individual is wanting such a conversation at that moment, we may have to be patient enough to have an open conversation pertaining to sexual intimacy with the partner. A lot of times, people aren’t comfortable talking about their intimate life in the past. We might start with the easy stuff and talk about the current times and later, when the comfort level is higher, maybe the previous conversation can be brought up with a mutual understanding of knowing each other. Sharing secrets about your intimate life can be a good icebreaker at times. Some easier questions might include a discussion on what does intimacy mean to your partner, how do they see physical intimacy and is there something they expect specifically or not? Talking about if they have had intimate physical relations with someone earlier or not becomes difficult for your partner to answer straight away. For that matter, a question about sexual inhibitions too is a difficult one for some one to answer early on in the relationship.
Mahima: Who should be the go to person when it comes to understanding consent and intimacy, for a man and for the woman, as a couple? And why?
Avnish: Primarily, it has to be the couple who has to communicate amongst themselves to understand their needs, expectations and desires. But, a lot of times, we find ourselves in a rut where we aren’t able to have these conversations and it requires an objective external lens. But, we aren’t able to talk about it with the elders or our parents. Let us not allow movies to decide what consent and intimacy are because, for a long time, intimacy meant having sex and consent, well, that is not even in the discussion yet. However, from a movies off late, it has been insinuated that only women should consent and men have to seek it but that is not true. Consent is to be given and sought from both sides and not just one. Kissing your partner while they are asleep is a violation of their consent but movies don’t really care about it. A couples therapist, who has expertise in handling relationship clients should be the go-to person when it comes to these concepts because they understand the concepts better and have a much more objective lens to them than anyone
ABOUT AVNISH MISHRA
Avnish Mishra is a counselling psychologist and co-founder at MentAmigo. He completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Amity University, Noida. During this, he underwent a lot of internships to add to his experience. He interned at hospitals (both public and private), clinics and NGOs as well. He volunteered with Project Step One during the COVID19 Crisis as a frontline warrior. After this, he started working with an organisation as a counselling psychologist and a year later, he along with his friend Tanvi Jajoria, co-founded their own Mental Health Services Startup.
The opinions expressed within this interview are the personal opinions of the protagonist/protagonists. The facts & statistics, the work profile details of the protagonist/ protagonists do not reflect the views of BaelyApp or the Journalist. Neither BaelyApp nor the Journalist hold any responsibility or liability for the same.