Enthusiastic consent is non-negotiable. It’s also the foundation of a sex life that’s joyful, willing and hot. Embracing inclusive, passionate dialogue is my end-of-year promise to myself, and maybe you’ll get something from it, too.
In the 2017 the New York Times story Cat Person, author Kristen Roupenian sketches a scenario familiar to many women: sex happens although it is not really desired, because it feels less complicated than stopping it. The piece ignited an important ongoing conversation around the nuances of consent, with sex columnist Ella Dawson saying:
Bad sex is the result of a society that makes discussing pleasure, desire and consent impossible... We do not teach young people how to enjoy sex. We don’t teach them how to talk about sex before, during or after. We don’t teach people how to say no, and we don’t teach them how to say yes.
Since then, analogies and mnemonics about consent have flooded thick and fast: from the stop-wait-go traffic light model, to the Savage-approved, “Say what you’re going to go, say what you’re doing, say what you just did.”
These are great rules of thumb.
But, what else can you do? Maybe these approaches don't come naturally to you, or maybe you're with a new partner and aren't yet familiar with what they like (and, importantly, vice versa)?
Below, a list for you (and myself). Also, a reminder: Don’t settle for sex with somebody who’s willing to accept you at anything less than enthusiastic.
Remember that you can change your mind
Withdrawal of consent is allowed. This goes for both parties: even if you’ve vocally, happily agreed to sex, even if it felt good at the get-go—consent can be rescinded and that has to be honoured.
Duress is not a yes
In fact, if you’re pressing for a yes, or if somebody’s laying the pressure on you, you already know the answer. It’s a no. Eking out a word resembling ‘yes’ from somebody with clammy body language and contrived sighs of pleasure isn’t consent, and it isn’t sexy. One-sided gratification, physical or otherwise, is not the goal—unless that’s your kink, and you’ve talked about how to express that with a willing sub (who, if done right, will be getting their own thing out of it).
Ask questions—and yes, these can be hot, too
The enduring criticism of open, ongoing communication during sex is that it somehow takes the shine off—that it’s a silent act punctuated by moans, one where asking outright questions is off-limits. Instead, spell out what you want—what you want to do, what you want to have done to you. Get specific. A rigid tongue? Lingering fingers? Inside, right now? We owe it to each other to find out.
Know what you’re working with
If you’re not reading Salty yet, get on it. These multi-gendered, multi-faceted deities are putting out some of the best sex content on the Internet. It’s also where I read about the Yes-No-Maybe list—a predetermined list of what’s on the table for you and your partner(s), what’s decidedly not, and what’s up for bedroom brokering. Move on from the No list, and find something that works for everyone. Yes, it can be that easy.
Spell it out
This is Dan Savage’s move, but you’ve probably done it before. After all, it’s common sense: say what you’re going to do (listen for interjections, questions, protests), say what you’re doing (listen for interjections, questions, protests), ask if what you’re doing is still okay (listen for interjections, questions, protests), say what you just did. You’re on this journey together.
Your partners don’t get a medal for asking if they can kiss you, fuck you, date you. And wanting a pat on the back for doing the bare minimum isn’t sexy.
Making space for each other’s voices, now that’s sexy.Tabitha Laffernis is a writer based in Sydney, Australia. Her short fiction has been published in Flapperhouse, Hobart, and Gigantic Sequins. You can keep tabs on her work here.