Consent Is Sexy: How to Create Consensual Relationships
Consent: A verbal agreement between two people about how and when they are comfortable getting intimate
In our last post on consent, we talked about the need to create a culture of consent. Why, you ask? Because sex should be about empowerment and pleasure, not coercion and violence.
Remember, consent isn’t just about “yes” and “no” (or, worse, the mere lack of a “no”). It’s about creating an atmosphere of trust between two individuals, whether they’re having a one night stand or have been married ten years. And consent must be asked for and given each time. It should never be assumed.
The thing is, “consent” can feel so…abstract. Sure, we’re all on board in theory. But what does it mean to practice consent in your own life? How do we create consensual relationships?
Step 1: Get comfortable with your own voice
By this, I mean: Get comfortable hearing yourself expressing your own desires.
Practice standing in front of the mirror and telling your partner what you want. Say what feels good. Practice saying the parts of your body—we so rarely do that! Say them seriously, or in a silly voice, in a shout or a whisper. It’s all good practice. Just start getting your voice out there!
Then, practice asking your imaginary partner what they want.
Step 2: Start a conversation
Find a time to talk about sex with your partner, ideally before you’re already in bed. Talk about boundaries. What is your partner comfortable with? What do they like and not like? Remember that just because s/he is excited about something on Tuesday doesn’t mean that they’ll be comfortable with it on Friday. We’re all dynamic creatures. We change and grow in response to the experiences we have. And sometimes we just aren’t in the mood—and that’s totally cool.
Here are some good ways of initiating an honest consent-based conversation:
I’m interested in trying [whatever sexual act] – would you like to? If no, what would you like to do?
Are there things you know you don’t want to do? What are they? Mine are [x]
I’d like to have sex tonight; would you? What would you like to try?
Once you’re getting intimate, you should use constant communication to check in with your partner and see how s/he feels. Remember—consent is all about using your words. Don’t depend on non-verbal cues. They’re just not reliable. And just because your partner agreed to something earlier doesn’t mean that they will be into it in the heat of the moment.
Simple check-ins are the best way to practice communication around consent:
How is this feeling?
Are you still liking this?
Should I stop, or do something that I’m not doing?
Step 3: Practice makes perfect—and awesome!
The more you practice expressing your consent in your sexual relationships, the easier it’ll become. And the more creative you are in finding moments of such expression, the more fun it’ll be!
For example, you could invent a safe word. Here’s how it works: You and your partner choose a word that either of you can say when you want to slow down or pause the action. Choose your favorite food or a silly joke you share—the point is, it’s a gentle and personal way of telling your partner to stop whenever you need.
Or, make it fun! This may seem trivializing, but consent-themed underwear can be a great way to remind you and your partner that consent is an important part of foreplay.
I’m all for consent, but why so much talk?
I know that some of you are thinking: This sounds boring! Why so much talk? Why not just get down to action?
Well, first of all, because it can be dangerous. I don’t just mean physical rape, though that’s definitely a major concern. Even on a subtler level, we can end up doing things, or making others do things, that none of us are comfortable with. I know that I’ve definitely gone further than I felt comfortable and ended up feeling ashamed and dirty later. Not because of whatever sexual act I’d performed, but because I hadn’t been able to assert my own desires and limits. It’s not a good feeling—none of us should want to be involved in that.
On the flip side, consent means making sure that your partner is intowhatever you both are doing, whether that’s sexual intercourse or kissing or roller skating, for that matter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen couples nuzzling on Carter Road where one partner was obviously really uncomfortable. Practicing consent in your relationships, especially enthusiastic consent, not just the “Yes/No” lightswitch, means being in ongoing communication. You’re making sure that your partner is not just “OK,” but excited. This allows for more trust, more connection, and—you guessed it—better sex! Why wouldn’t we want that??
Devika Bakshi writes:
The whole point of consent is to provide a choice in any circumstance. We get to choose who to share our bodies with—and when, where, and how.
For me, this is the exciting point. Consent isn’t about being restrictive. It’s about being empowered. And it isn’t even just about sex or about romantic relationships. It’s about life and the way we move through the world. We—individuals of all genders and ages—can take charge of our bodies and how we experience pleasure. And it all starts with communication in our relationships.
- How to practice consent, including lots more “talking points”
- Fantastic college-themed Consent magazine
- Why consensual sex sometimes isn’t
- Only Yes means Yes
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