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Wheel of Consent

Image description: A yellow circle sits on a white background under the heading The Wheel of Consent. The circle is divided into four quadrants which are labelled Serve, Take, Allow and Accept.

The Wheel of Consent was created by Betty Martin who has made lots of fantastic videos which you can find on her website. It helps us to move away from the idea that there are only two roles in touch: giving and receiving. The person who is giving is being generous and the person who is receiving should feel enjoyment and gratitude. Sometimes this dynamic does exist, but there are other types of touch which fall outside this model. 

The Wheel of Consent offers a four way rather than two way model of touch. The four roles are:

  • Take: you are doing the touching and it’s for your benefit.

  • Serve: you are doing the touching and it’s for the other person’s benefit.

  • Allow: you are receiving the touch and it’s for the other person’s benefit.

  • Accept: you are receiving the touch and it’s for your benefit.

Each of these roles correlates to a question and answer:

  • Take: May I…?

  • Serve: Yes, I will.

  • Allow: Will you…?

  • Accept: Yes, you may.

These phrases are sometimes more helpful than saying something like, “Can I hold your hand?” There could be a lot of different desires and motivations behind this question, none of which are made very apparent in the verbal communication. For example:

  1. I might want to hold your hand because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy and in love - it’s for my benefit and I get what I want. 

  2. I might be offering to hold your hand because I think that you’re nervous and this would provide you with reassurance - I’m correct, in which case it’s for your benefit and you get what you want. 

  3. I want to hold your hand because my hand is cold and I think your hand will warm it up - it’s for my benefit and I get what I want. 

  4. I offer to hold your hand because I think you would like the reassurance - I’m wrong about this, but you agree because you think that in fact, I’m nervous and want reassurance. No one gets what they want. 

Unfortunately, it’s very common for people to spend a lot of time in the fourth dynamic listed here. The Wheel of Consent can help us to get clear on our motivations when making agreements with other people. If these motivations can be communicated explicitly between you, you’re less likely to spend time in dynamic number four which is fertile ground for disappointment, frustration and resentment - both people think they’re giving and no one is really receiving. 

Some people can find that looking at the Wheel feels overwhelming, because the ideas are too abstract and there are too many words. If the descriptors of the different roles don’t feel helpful to you, try using these simplified practices instead:

  • Always start by asking yourself:

  • Who is going to do the touching?

  • Who is the touch for? 

  • If it’s for you and you want to do the touching, phrase your request to the other person, “May I…?”

  • If you want the other person to touch you for your benefit, phrase your request, “Will you…?”

Even if the Wheel feels a bit too abstract, you might find it useful to apply these simplified ideas in practice - try having a go at the Three Minute Game even if the Wheel itself hasn’t quite clicked for you. 


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