Avoiding Sexual Harassment

The question I’m hearing now that our sensitivity to gender inequality has grown is: How do I approach a person I am interested in without crossing the line into sexual harassment? Harassment meaning: one person is aggressively pursuing something another person is unable or unwilling to provide permission for. First and foremost is the importance of permission. This word means to obtain consent. The implication is both persons have the right to say “yes” or “no”  and they are “equal” in their right to do so. If love is what you’re interested in, let this be your first act of love: acknowledging another person’s right to give or refuse to give permission.

There might be a technical consideration to deal with when someone asks: Other than a verbal declaration of consent, which may not always happen when two people are trying to figure out if it is OK to proceed when attracted, how can you tell if someone is giving you permission? I don’t think this is as complicated as it might first appear, if you know where to look. Judging permission essentially involves paying attention to how the other person feels and acts. It’s not just about one’s own desires. I think that’s where a big part of the problem occurs. Permission comes from the other person, either in the form of words, feelings or actions or a combination.

An important complication in this type of interpersonal experience occurs when there is a power difference between the two people involved. First up, is the problem of unequal power between the two individuals. That means that the right and ability to say “yes or no” is not present for one of the persons involved. The person with the power is dominant. This complication is common these days as more and more people in power are found to have overstepped their responsibility to recognize and respect the inequality involved in the relationships they have with the people around them. Remember, only when there is interpersonal equality, does the right to say “yes or no” truly exist. Otherwise, one person could dominate another and harassment is possible.

How does someone in power with a “sincere” interest in approaching for love (or just sex) another person with less or no power, go about making their intentions known? I would say, there are responsibilities that come with having power. One of those responsibilities is to protect those around you who have less or no power. In this particular love life situation, it involves making sure that the other person has the right and ability to give permission. The greater problem is, arranging for an experience of equality between two people who are not equal is complicated at best and too often unappealing to people in power.

In summary, the keyword is mutual. When approaching someone with the intention to reveal one’s attraction to that person, the experience must be mutual. When it’s self-centered, focused exclusively on “getting the prize” so to speak, while overlooking the need for permission and whether or not the other person can actually give it, harassment is often the result.

Comments welcome. Tell me about your love life.

Dr. Thomas Jordan, founder of the LoveLifeLearningCenter.com and author of Learn to Love: Guide to Healing Your Disappointing Love Life.

Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.