I’ve been working on a few articles recently about consent, abuse, victim blaming, and why it’s so difficult to communicate through the static of negative social programming regarding sexuality. It takes me into a somewhat dark head space to draw on my own negative experiences as a way of examining these issues, and as a result these pieces have gone on the back burner in the interest of my sanity. So I decided to write about something positive about consent – a strategy for making consent sexy, and dare I say, kinky.
There’s a lot of writing in the blogosphere that examines the negative aspects of living in a sex negative rape culture. These things are extremely important to talk about, but it can be difficult to be a “poster child” for sexual assault awareness on the Internet. For every person who is grateful that you have the courage to speak up, there’s going to some idiot commenter who resorts to victim blaming as a way of invalidating the experiences of people who are raped or abused, and sweeping it under the rug. And I don’t have the strength of heart to discuss that right now.
I do believe that devising and implementing positive strategies is the only real way to make a difference. It’s important to process difficult emotions, but at some point we have to say “what’s next?” and “how are we going to make this happen?” I had a positive experience with consent recently that really changed the way that I think about sex and permission.
I think consent is something that is much better understood and openly discussed in the queer and kink communities than in heteronormative and vanilla communities. I am a queer, kinky, woman who also has sex with and relationships straight men. And sometimes it can feel like there’s a disconnect in values that can be extremely confusing. Asking consent before touching is almost second nature to me. I am a very touchy-feely person, but unless I know you fairly well, I will always ask if you want a hug today, instead of just assuming that you do. Not everyone likes hugs, not everyone wants to be hugged by me! I want to be sure that being hugged by me is something you would enjoy. And If I am having sex with someone, or trying something new, I will ask permission and check in a lot. It just makes sense to me. There is nothing less comfortable than being touched when you don’t wish to be.
However, I find that consent can be like practicing safer sex at times: necessary and important for personal safety, but interfere with the spontaneity of sex at times. This is especially true with Kinky play – I want to make sure that my bottom is doing okay by checking in, without pulling them out of their submissive head-space, and it can be a delicate balance at times.
Another issue I’ve encountered is that the ways that we communicate consent are not always 100% effective. When I was younger and less self assured, there were many times when some well-meaning partner would ask “Can I do X, Y or Z?” in a sexual situation and I found myself ambivalent, but hesitant to say no. Maybe I didn’t want to hurt the person’s feelings or make things awkward by rejecting them. Maybe I was curious about doing X, Y or Z, but I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to do it with that person at that time. Or maybe I simply wanted to please my partner, even if I wasn’t 100% interested in the proposed activity.
This was further complicated in BD/SM and D/s situations where I was in a submissive role. My instinct was always to say yes, to gain approval from the dominant (just as many submissive people are hesitant to use their safe words because they wish to “prove themselves”). In these situations I would give my consent verbally to make everything “okay,” but felt conflicted inside. In an ideal world, we would all feel safe and comfortable enough to say no to a request we were unsure about. But on a certain level asking “can I do this, right now” adds a bit of pressure and expectation to an intimate situation, and becomes more of a formality than honest communication.
I recently hooked up with a straight man who was impressively consent oriented (he called it “being a gentleman,” but same difference), and it really changed my view on how you can work with consent early on in a sexual relationship, and even turn it into foreplay! During out first real clothed make out, he didn’t immediately grab my breasts or butt, touching my back, arms and neutral areas instead. I noticed this, and it was sexy to me, because I realized that he was waiting for permission.
So many times I’ve had a new partner interpret a kiss as an invitation to grope my breasts. Sometimes it's sexy, but sometimes it just feels like I’m fending off an over-sized toddler impulsively grabbing at candy, that they’re racing to second base while I’m still chilling in the dugout. I love having my breasts touched and played with once I feel comfortable, but when it feels like the person I’m kissing is more interested in my breasts than me as a person, it’s a major turnoff.
The cool thing is that when I finally asked him to touch my breasts, I really, truly wanted it. Tension had built to the point that I was genuinely craving his touch rather than feeling rushed and confused. I most likely would have said yes if he had point blank asked to touch them, but the fact that he instead waited for an invitation meant that I was absolutely certain I wanted it to happen at the point that it happened.
This pattern continued as the night progressed. Long past the point that your average straight man would have made a crotch grab, he demurred. I was actually starting to become frustrated.
“If you want me to touch you there, you have to ask for it,” he told me.
This statement filled me with conflicting emotions. There is a level where I find it very hard to ask for it. I’m an extremely sexually aggressive and libidinous woman, which can be intimidating for straight men. As a result, ironically, I often wait for my partner to make the first move so I don’t scare them off with my intensity. Women (even sex positive feminists like me) are socially programmed not to want it, and not to ask for it. Taking personal responsibility for crossing that line into sex – the irreversible line that can make everything potentially weird and confusing – is terrifying, yet empowering. As a result, I held out as long as I could, until I couldn’t hold out any more. “Touch me,” I said. When he finally touched me, it felt incredible.
Knowing that I was asking to be touched because I was ready, was so different than the rushed “consent” I had given in some past situations to please my partner. This was the true meaning of consent, and it didn’t feel like a barrier to pleasure at all. It was an erotic game, with a hint of a kinky power struggle. I could have whatever I wanted – but I had to be brave enough to ask for it. I wasn’t going to get my pleasure until I was absolutely sure that it was what I really wanted. And yes, I really wanted it.
What I learned from this experience is that there’s more than one way to discuss consent. Changing the conversation from “I want to do this, is that okay?” to “I want you to tell me if you want to do this” changes the dynamic of communication dramatically. Feeling that you truly have a choice in the matter, and that things will not go further than you’d like them to without your express permission creates a sense of trust that makes sex even hotter. Teasingly telling your partner that you won’t touch them unless they explicitly ask you to builds tension and desire, and removes the pressure to say yes if the answer is really “no” or “maybe.”
So, can communicating consent be sexy and fun after all? Yes, yes, and oh, yes!