It seems like everyone is talking about consent these days. But when it comes time to have the conversation, we still get stuck.
The #metoo movement shows that fucking up consent happens a lot more than we realise, and that it has nasty repercussions for both the victim and the perpetrator. #metoo also has a lot of folks running scared, because they’re afraid they’re going to be called monsters for not knowing how to do consent properly.
That’s not my beef. I’m not going to shame you by saying you’re a bad person if you don’t do consent the same way I do. I understand that most of the world doesn’t understand why it’s important, and most people don’t really know how to do consent during their sexual encounters.
Lots of folks assume that consent is something you ask for once, before you forge ahead bravely like a Spartan soldier. Others reckon it’s a buzz-kill – they’re afraid of being that loser who says, ‘may I kiss you?’ Or it goes the other way – we assume it’s the other person’s job to do the consent stuff, and not ours.
Here’s what I think: consent is something we’re all entitled to – it’s good to know your human rights. And also, consent is an amazing tool for having better sex.
The basics: Consent is a human right
To understand consent, you need to understand boundaries.
There are certain things that we have the right to control in our lives. This includes our bodies, our immediate space, our thoughts and our feelings. All this – what I call ‘your stuff’ – falls within your personal boundaries. Nobody has a right to control your stuff. nobody has a right to tell you what to do with your body, what to eat or where to go. Nobody has a right to tell you what opinions to have.
Society is fucked up around boundaries. Society (in the form of our parents, teachers, friends or boss) often tries to make us do things we don’t want to do with our stuff, such as being forced to kiss our relatives on the cheek when we’re kids, being pressured to drink with our mates when we’re trying to quit or being told to ‘man up’ when we’re sad. This is one of the reasons we suck at consent – we’re so used to other people invading our boundaries, that we barely notice when we invade the boundaries of others.
When our stuff isn’t under our control, we get messed up. Being good at consent means being aware of your own stuff, and other people’s stuff, and respecting everyone’s right to be themselves.
The advanced moves: consent as a tool for better sex
Consent doesn’t just stop sexual assault. Consent is a tool that makes sex way, way better. When you understand how to use this effectively, your bedroom abilities will go through the roof.
First things first – what happens when one person’s boundaries gets smooshed up against someone else’s, in the context of a sexual encounter? When you’re hooking up with someone, the overlap between your stuff and their stuff needs to be negotiated.
If you kiss someone, they need to want to kiss you too. If they decide to get all kinky on your ass, you both need to be sure it’s something you’re into. Not just physical stuff, either. If you want to ‘Netflix & chill’ and you put a horror movie on, you both need to be ok with seeing zombies. As I said before, we’re not good at just being honest. Usually we try to guess what other people think, and then if someone complains afterwards, we shrug and say ‘sorry, I thought you liked zombies.’ But that doesn’t cut it when it comes to sex. Because good sex means that everyone is having a great time. To know that it’s good, you have to actually ask while it’s happening.
A lot of folks think that doing consent means asking ‘is this okay?’ every thirty seconds. That’s not how a sexpert does it. I hate ‘Is this okay?’ in the middle of fucking. Not because my partner is a loser for asking – I appreciate the concern. But it’s super unhelpful, for two reasons:
- They’re already doing the thing when they ask, so if I’m upset it’s too late.
- ‘Okay’ is a pretty low bar to set, don’t you think?
I don’t want the sex you have to be ‘okay’. I want it to be amazing. I want you both to love it. If you’re having sex with someone and they say ‘Look, this is okay, but honestly I’m sort of bored and I’d rather just watch television’ then of course you’re going to stop – what’s sexy about that? If you’re not getting off on your partner’s enjoyment, then you may as well just stay home and have sex with yourself. This is ‘enthusiastic consent’: not just ‘yes’ but ‘Oh, God, yes, don’t stop, you feel amazing!’
Trying to guess leads to bad sex. Here are five ways to get talking with your hook ups, and learn how to be an outstanding lover.
How to do consent like a pro
1. Get consent before you do stuff
Not awkwardly, but sexily. It’s not about saying ‘can I x your x?’ every bloody minute. It’s about demonstrating your intentions by moving slowly (moving in to kiss them gradually so that they have a chance to say no, for example). It’s also done by asking but asking in a sexy way.
Player One: ‘I’d love to put my arms around you right now.’
Player Two: ‘I want that too.’
You might be able to ask for directions, if your partner is good at communicating. Try:
Player One: ‘How do you like to be touched?’
Player Two: ‘I’d love you to pull my hair.’ Player One: ‘I’m up for that…’
Note that just asking isn’t enough. Ask…pause…and listen for an ‘enthusiastic yes’. Anything less than clear ‘Yes!’ is a ‘no’.
2. Check in while you’re doing stuff
This is where the real magic happens. Instead ’just doing the sex’ and hoping your partner likes it… slow down, look them in the eye and ask, ‘How does that feel?’ This line is especially useful for complicated stuff such as giving head or making someone cum. Rather than having to guess, you can listen to their feedback and adjust your technique until you get it exactly right.
Player One: ‘How does this feel?’
Player Two: ‘It feels good. Although… maybe a bit faster?’
Player One: ‘Like this?’
Player Two: ‘OH MY GOD YES.’
3. Debrief afterwards
Talking about what you’ve both just done allows you to enjoy the afterglow. It also addresses all those little post-sex insecurities: do they still like you? Did you do okay?
Player One: ‘How was that for you?’ Player Two: ‘Great, except for that bit where I head-butted you when I came. Sorry about that.’
Player One: ‘It’s fine. I had fun too.’
Communicating during sex almost feels like cheating. You have a direct line to someone’s needs and desires. No more guessing, only asking. More connection, more orgasms, less angst. What’s not to love?
What if I fuck it up?
If you’re like me, nobody taught you how to do consent when you started having sex. All we usually have is trial and error … it’s inevitable that we fuck up from time to time.
Ways we fuck up consent:
- Not being specific enough – ‘He said he liked rough sex, so I thought it was okay to slap him in the face.’
- Mistaking a ‘maybe’ for a ‘yes’ – sometimes, if we’re keen, we hear a ‘maybe’ as an enthusiastic yes. But for good consent, a ‘maybe’ is a no.
- Forgetting we need to ask – some of the ways we touch people are so common, we forget that consent is required.
- Power imbalance – there are times when a person’s ‘yes’ is less valid, such as if they’re scared of you or if you have power over them. If you have reason to believe your partner can’t safely say ‘no’, you need to back away.
- Inability to consent – if your partner is drunk, high or under the age of consent then they are unable to consent to sex (no matter what they say).
- Severe emotional states – if your partner just broke up with someone or had a death in the family, they might not be thinking straight. In these sorts of cases you need to say ‘no’ for them.
- Becoming distracted – there’s this idea that good sex means getting carried away, and not bothering with pesky stuff like safer sex or consent. I call bullshit on this. If you realise you’ve dropped the ball, stop and check in with your partner immediately.
- Withholding information – sometimes we hide information from our partners that would stop us from getting laid, if only they knew. The classic example is letting your partner think you’re in love with them, when you just want sex. But it also includes behaviour such as ‘stealthing’ (taking the condom off halfway through sex and hoping they don’t notice). Withholding info if you know your partner wouldn’t consent otherwise is a form of sexual assault.
- Not stopping when the ‘yes’ stops – sometimes folks freak out during sex or freeze up. Sometimes they’re not having fun but don’t know how to tell you. If you don’t get an enthusiastic ‘yes’ at any point, you need to stop and make sure everything is still good.
- Assuming you don’t have to ask, because you’re not a guy. Consent is not a thing only guys have to do, it’s a thing everyone must do. Mens’ consent can be violated too.
If you’ve fucked up you may realise immediately, or you might be confronted afterwards by someone who is (rightly) pissed off at you. It feels bad when we find out we’ve hurt someone else, whether it was intentional or not. What do you do, if you find yourself in this situation?
- Listen – Especially if it was an accident, you might feel defensive. You might have the urge to say, ’But I didn’t mean to!’ or ‘Why are you giving me a hard time?’ You might feel angry. The thing to remember is, the person you’ve violated deserves to have their feelings heard. It’s important that you behave in a way that allows them to feel safe. It doesn’t matter whether your mistake was large or small. It doesn’t matter whether it was accidental or intentional. This is about them, not you – they need to be listened to.
- Accept that everyone makes mistakes – If you genuinely didn’t mean to hurt them, then you’re not a terrible person. People of all genders fuck up consent and live to tell the tale. The crucial thing is the next step…
- Own your actions like a boss. Take responsibility. Stand up and say, ‘I did that.’ Ask your partner what you can do to make amends. And – most importantly – ask yourself what you need to do to avoid making the same mistake in the future. Consent fuck-ups are valuable because they help us become better people.
Taking responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be ‘forgiven’. Even if your partner does forgive you, you don’t get to pretend the incident never happened. Taking responsibility means living with the consequences of your actions: that might mean losing a friend, feeling bad for a while, or facing criminal charges. Whatever happens, square up to it and treat it as a learning experience.
Consent makes sex better
People make out that consent is this big, complicated thing that will make sex awkward. We feel as though we’re bad people if we try to do consent and get it wrong. All this stuff makes it difficult to change our habits. But it’s worth it I promise. Consent doesn’t need to be complicated. Ask before you do stuff, check in while you’re doing stuff, debrief afterwards … these three steps will put you ahead of the competition.
Life’s too short to have mediocre sex. Get this stuff right, and you’ll be able to have incredible experiences.