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TPC: Hey Mia! Tell us a bit about who you are and what led you to the work you do today.
Mia: I’m Mia Schachter. I use they/them pronouns. I trained to be an intimacy coordinator for TV & film. What fascinates me so much about this work I do is everything I was learning about consent, boundaries and trauma was around the same time I was just coming to understand the depth of the autoimmune issues I was dealing with. All of this stuff was kind of weaving together and was all feeling very healing to me. I remember thinking as I was learning about it, why isn’t all this information widely available and how can I make it widely available? Not only in the entertainment industry, but also beyond. So I began developing classes and courses on consent around the time that COVID happened and production on TV & film sets shut down. Next thing I knew, I was running an online consent school and it has just blossomed.
TPC: What kind of messages and education around sex did you receive growing up?
Mia: Yeah, I remember very clearly in the car going to ballet class one day asking my mom the "where do babies come from” question. I remember she was very deliberate about stating at the end of her explanation that, “and sometimes people do that for fun!”
TPC: That’s pretty pleasure-based sex talk from your mom!
Mia: Yeah, I mean she tried! It was definitely lacking a bit of information. At the time that was completely incomprehensible to me. I remember being confused and grossed out. Later on when I was around 10 years-old she gave me a book on bodies and anatomy and I was fascinated by it.
TPC: What about in school? Did you receive any sex education there?
Mia: I went to Los Angeles County Public Schools so you know, it was pretty standard - about how to put on a condom and explaining all the types of STDs. It wasn’t very pleasure centered and was missing a lot. I was born in 1989, so there was still a lot of HIV panic. It was all very preventative and fear mongering and not a lot of information about living with HIV.
TPC: So when do you feel like you received the right information you were seeking?
Mia: It really wasn’t until college where I started seeking out my own forms of sex ed. I started listening to Tristan Taramino’s podcast and Dan Savage’s podcast and sort of collecting my own information. I wasn’t even aware at the time that I was clearly seeking out very queer perspectives on sex, relationships, dating, and polyamory.
TPC: So getting a bit more into your expertise, let’s talk about consent. What messaging or education did you have around consent growing up?
Mia: When it comes to consent, I didn’t grow up in a family where it was like “you have to kiss grandma” but I grew up in a household of a lot of “shoulds” - like this is the way you “should” behave and this is how you “should” act if you want certain outcomes. There was a lot of messaging that there was a “right” way to be. There was not a whole lot of understanding and respecting “what feels right to you”. I saw that messaging reflected in a lot of different aspects in my childhood. There was not a lot of room for individuality when it came to my choices.
TPC: What about in school?
Mia: When I was in school any messaging around consent was, “If you don’t have consent, you don’t have permission”, which relates to the whole “no means no” messaging. This leaves no room for the nuances like curiosity, exploration, the nerves of trying something new, or entering back into sexual exploration after having an experience that you pushed yourself to do before you were ready. A lot of the messaging when you’re in school centers around the legal definition of consent, which conflates it with permission. Like asking, “Can I do this?” and if the answer is “Yes”, then consent happened. I believe that consent education is overly simplistic and doesn’t account for what it’s like to try new things. The way that I talk about consent is that it’s ongoing and it’s a practice.
TPC: So consent is often taught as if it’s a yes or no deal, but what about in those cases of maybe being curious or unsure of what you want to do?
Mia: I like to use the yes to no spectrum. On the yes to maybe side, you are generally asking questions that are really to you. Like, “would I like to try that?” Or “how would I feel after or during?”. When you start to move towards the no side of the spectrum, you start to think more about other people. Questions like, “what will this person think of me?” and thoughts about how perhaps I want someone else to think I am cool, not a prude, exciting or interesting. This is usually about other people. So whenever I feel a bit of resistance about trying something, I always stop and think about where I fall in this spectrum. Am I nervous because I’ve never done it before and I would like to know what it feels like? Or am I hesitant or resistant because I am feeling judged by someone else? So really checking in with my own motivations and what I am considering in terms of my own decision making.
TPC: How about when it comes to practicing asking for consent?
Mia: Often when I am talking with someone else and they are feeling hesitant and not giving a clear no, I will ask them, “what do you think the hesitation is about?”. If someone gives a clear no, I am obviously not pushing it. But knowing I can use follow up questions like, “is it something you are curious to try? Or “are you afraid that if you don’t try it there will be some consequences?”. Generally this will help us get some clarity on it.
TPC: What about consent being reversible? How does that factor into this?
Mia: When I forget that consent is reversible and that I can change my mind about what I want to do, it will often prevent me from trying something that I am curious about. Because if I do it and I don’t like it, I am afraid my partner will be disappointed.
TPC: Got it. Can you give us an example of this?
Mia: Yeah, so let’s say I tell my partner that I would like to try watching porn together and my partner gets really excited about it. But later I decided that it’s actually not something I liked. I may feel like I am letting down my partner. This normally happens when I forget that consent is reversible! So instead, I will say to my partner, “I am definitely interested in trying to watch porn with you, but I don’t know how I am going to feel, so be prepared for that I may not want to do it again." That both helps them manage their expectations and also helps me be clear with my partner of where I am at with this.
TPC: Consent is one of those messages that seems to not play a large role in free online porn - what are your thoughts on this?
Mia: I have quite a few thoughts as you can imagine. First, I think it’s a huge missed opportunity because consent can be so hot, fun, intimacy building, funny, cute and sexy. So, I often wish that I could see it more in porn that I am watching just for that reason. I also want to believe that these people like each other and want to be doing this together and if they are not talking and asking each other questions, I am like “how do you know what each other likes?!”
TPC: As an intimacy coordinator who has worked on porn sets, what has been your experience about consent there?
Mia: The consent conversations are very thorough on the handful of porn sets I've been on. You see that the performers trust each other, know what they are doing, know what each other likes and they have a whole plan, even down to the choreography. As a person on a set witnessing that, it is so touching. When it comes to the sex scenes, there is not a moment where I am worried because they spoke it all through. It’s odd to me that it is not seen as a part of the actual sex scene we see in the final cut. I personally experienced consent as foreplay and something that is a huge turn on. Consent feels really good and exciting to me because it brings me into the moment with giddy anticipation as to what’s to come!
TPC: What are your suggestions for someone who may be having sex for the first time and wanting to get into the practice of sexual consent in a way that doesn’t “kill the moment”.
Mia: Just like doing anything for the first time, there is a period of time where you have to think about it until it is in your body - which is what we know as fluency. For example, I play the guitar. When I am learning a new song I have to think that I am going from G to C to A minor and I have to look at my hand. Eventually I do it enough times where it becomes easier without having to think about it too much. That transitional moment also happens with practicing consent.
TPC: What are some misconceptions you believe people have about the practice of consent?
Mia: Most people don’t know that consent is largely based in the practice of self honesty and it really starts with you first. A lot of people try to practice consent to make sure they are treating other people properly before they are using it in a way to know and protect themselves. So often people start to say, “can I do this to you, is that okay?” before thinking, “do I even want to do that to that person?” They may be dwelling on what they assume they are supposed to do now, rather than what they are actually interested in doing. One of the reframes that is useful in terms of smoothing this process out is seeing practicing consent as a way of naming your desires instead of asking for permission.
TPC: Good point! Can you give us some examples of what that sounds like?
Mia: When I say, “can I kiss you?” my subtext is, “I really want to kiss you” as opposed to saying something like, “would it be okay if I kiss you?”, which has a different energetic charge to it. It definitely takes a lot of confidence but just like anything, it just comes with practice.
TPC: Tell us about your Instagram, Consent Wizard. What is your overall goal and who do you wish to reach with your message?
Mia: My overarching goal is to make this information accessible, meaning free and easy to understand. My Instagram is a growing encyclopedia of information, questions, and exercises that is available for free. This goal expands into the educator training I offer for adults. I mainly speak to queer millennial artists, activists, and freelancers. I hope that people who attend my trainings will learn from them and share this information within their own communities.
TPC: Can you tell us bit about the importance of hearing no, which is something you cover in your Practice Saying No workshop?
Mia: I think about those moments in life where I hear “no” and I feel rejected and this shame spiral starts and I think, “should I have asked that?” I can stop this shame spiral by digging as deep as I need to in finding the gratitude in what just happened. If someone tells me that I did something that is harmful to them, I am grateful that they trusted me enough to tell me that. It shows that they want to be my friend, so they told me instead of not talking to me anymore. When hearing a clear “no” from another person, I have the gratitude that I know how not to violate someone, and that they are not trying to people please or give me what I want. It shows that they are actually very in touch with their capacity, their limitations, and their desires. Those kinds of reframes help me to pause and recognise that hearing a “no” is about that person's needs and it’s not about me and what I did wrong.
For more information and to participate in Mia’s Practice Saying No workshop, click here.