Before we get started, I want to emphasize that verbal consent is mandatory before engaging in sexual behaviors. I do not mess around with consent and neither should you. If your sexual boundaries have been violated, please reach out to RAINN (www.rainn.org) or locally, you can call the Sexual Assault Service Organization (SASO) at 970-247-5400. Consent has so much potential to be sexy! I regularly refer to consent as sexy because I want to move people beyond the fear and shame of communication. Imagine if talking about sex was celebrated rather than whispered. Rather than only hearing rejection, people would be able to hear yes, no, maybe, and let’s talk more about this behavior. Expanding and exploring sexual communication does not impede sex, it enhances it!
How much joy do you get when someone says yes to a request? Yes, is a joyful word. Yes, yes, yes, YES! A refrain some may even shout during sex. So then how do you begin to practice consent in your relationships?
Enhancing Sexual CommunicationMany of the folks I speak with who are of older generations struggle to engage with the idea of consent. “Life was different back then.” “Sex was just something you didn’t talk about.” “I know what my partner needs and wants without asking.”
This is not altogether surprising. Spousal consent wasn’t legislated until 1993 – meaning until then it was legal in several states for marital rape to occur without legal consequences. The process of determining the legality of marital rape didn’t even start until the 1970’s. Generations have grown up in a culture that for decades legally supported the right of one person to have sexual ownership over the other.
This cultural understanding filters down through generations via nurture and education, or lack thereof; leading to continued struggles with the concept of sexual consent. This is a complicated and serious topic dominating our news and is at the forefront of a cultural shift. A significant piece of this issue is the fear and shame built into the act of communicating about sex. Happily, I am fielding more and more requests to navigate consent – how to bring it into the bedroom, how to make it sexy, how to introduce it to a partner.
Words Into ActionsYou may be in a long-term relationship and sex is great or just fine, either way you have a rhythm down. Your relationships may be short or from a distance and you can’t quite imagine slowing things down for communication. Have no fear, I have some suggestions!
When a person is presented with a yes or no question about what happens to their body, something magical happens. You are giving them control and power over what happens to them. So many of us feel out of control of our bodies and when presented with the opportunity to take control, few will pass that up! It is empowering to say yes to that kiss or no to putting that finger there.
Many couples who have been in long-term relationships are struggling with the same-old sex. Very often engaging in behaviors they may not enjoy but have been doing for so long without saying no, they just keep doing it. Introducing consent as foreplay will spice things up and address old behaviors that just don’t work anymore (if ever!).
New partners contend with a separate set of issues such as first time jitters, awkward pauses, uncomfortable positions, and missed orgasms. Practicing consent throughout a sexual encounter can alleviate many of these problems.
Let’s get into the how. There are a couple of ways I recommend introducing consent to a partner.
Just dive right into it. Explain that you practice asking consent for all sexual behaviors. This may lead you into a bigger conversation about what types of behaviors each of you are interested in. Then you both get and give consent while your clothes are still on. (On a side note this is the time, in the BDSM* community, when a contract is created – where all parties involved explicitly discuss what is going to happen when and who is doing what. No behaviors begin until everyone agrees to the contract. I love the level of communication and consent practiced in the BDSM community, it is the best model for respectful and consensual sexual activities!) Discussing sexual behaviors while fully clothed and with a table between you can be incredibly arousing. Don’t forget to follow-up during sexual behaviors to regain consent, in case the behavior in action is not quite what was discussed earlier.
Another option is the foreplay or ongoing consent system, where you clearly ask for what you want to do in that moment or in the near future and get consent. Rather than a larger conversation about consent, you begin using consent to elicit turn-on for your partner and yourself. Think about the things you want to do to your partner, write them down if you need to, then ask permission before and during each activity. You can be as graphic in your ask as you want – “I want to nibble the underside of your breast until you are writhing. May I do that?”
“I need to lick you from your testicles all the way up your shaft and circle the tip of your penis. May I do that?”
And so on and so forth.
For some this may feel too bold and for those folks, I encourage you to bring consent into other areas of your life that feel less intimidating. For example, ask permission before you give a friend a hug. Ask to hold your partner’s hand while walking down the street. Ask before you touch or kiss your partner. Taking time to practice in less intense situations, creates repetition and opportunities for you to find the language you feel most comfortable using.
Yes, Please!There is no reason we cannot begin using consent in our daily lives and actively practicing it during sex. Rather than avoiding change, we should grab this opportunity to enhance our sexual lives and begin modeling for other generations. Consent isn’t a negative it is a practice in finding the positive.
*BDSM: Bondage and Discipline, Dominance & Submission, Sadism & Masochism
Erin Brandt (she/her/hers) has been a sexologist for 15 years. When she’s not spreading sexual knowledge, Erin can be found learning from her child, hiking with her partner, cuddling with her pitbull, knitting with her cat, dancing with friends, and searching for the nearest hammock and ocean breeze. Want more? Visit www.positivesexed.com