#metoo. Brett Kavanaugh. The Access Hollywood tape. Matt Lauer. Left and right, stories of assault, unwanted touching, rape, and unwanted advances are streaming out from and against people of all genders, stations, occupations, and levels of power across the globe. As awful as it’s all felt, the movement has been necessary in creating a safe environment that has everybody’s desires in mind. We’re finally shaking out the dirty laundry and cleaning out all the garbage stashed under our beds, so we can move forward from our historically unbalanced relationship with sex.
But growth is painful, and for some, this conversation is downright confusing. On one hand, people are (rightfully) tired of having to explain time and again why violating boundaries is so bad. On the other, talking about it and teaching each other how to honor consent is the only way to change our landscape.
No matter how much we’d all love a perfect world where everybody is a pro at respecting boundaries, personal space, and consent, we just aren’t there yet. Sometimes, it takes an awkward, sloppy heart-to-heart to help show why consent and all the beautiful, messy things that go with it, are so important in the first place.
Only about a decade ago, most people commonly agreed that “no means no” was the prime sound bite for consent talks. But as we learn more about the dark truths surrounding women and their sexual experiences, our idea of consent is changing for the better, the sexier, and the safer.
These days, the rallying cry is “yes means yes.” The difference? The old phrase assumes that you have consent until it’s taken away – it assumes that people can touch you or make advances until they’re rejected. “Yes means yes” is different. It better strikes into the heart of consent because it means that no permission is given or assumed until that golden “yes” is heard. Translation: you can’t touch someone, kiss someone, or try to get sexual with them in any way until they tell you that you can. A phrase that puts power into both people’s hands is a much better explanation of consent and its crucial role in the bedroom.
So what does that phrase mean for you? That if you are looking to get sexy, you have to seek out explicit and enthusiastic consent from all your partners – and be sure you’re giving it, yourself. This means checking in at each new junction. Whether you’re making out with someone, or just hitting on them at a bar, get consent each time you up the intimacy to make sure that cutie’s still willing.
A sober decision made when you’re totally awake and clear-headed, consent is more than a one-time agreement, or just a lack of a “no.” Instead, think of consent less like a single word and more like an active and continuing dialogue that is brought to center stage with every new moment. As you shift from touching someone over the clothes to under them, outside, then inside, every stoke should invoke another seeking of that “yes.”
And just because you’ve gotten the thumbs-up before, don’t expect it again. Consent is renewed every time you get physical with someone, no matter how many times you’ve had sex before. Consent yesterday doesn’t mean consent today.
Don’t worry – asking doesn’t have to be dry. If you partner’s into it and willing, they’ll be thrilled you care about their boundaries and will be happy to let you know all the delicious things they’d love to do with you. And if they aren’t into it, then great! You found out straight away, so you can stop right then and there and keep you both happy and safe.
We’ve talked a lot about what consent looks like, and it’s a pretty clear visual – a big, enthusiastic y-e-s – but what about what consent doesn’t look like?
No matter how it’s given or taken away, consent isn’t a fixed point in time, and it’s not some little gemstone you acquire at the end of a level. It’s more fluid than that, like an ongoing conversation that never wholly ends. It isn’t something given and rescinded like a badge, either; it’s not a title to have, or a blanket statement. It’s something that begins and ends between breaths, that you have to communicate with again and again. There are a few common ways that consent is wrongly assumed – so be careful you aren’t guilty of falling for one of these common assumptions.
Circumstance, especially relationships, is often mistaken for implied consent. Your girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, or spouse are most likely dating you because they love you and love to (at least sometimes) get sexy with you. But that existing and general desire doesn’t mean you have a blank check for getting laid. A relationship is more complex than that, and a partner is within their right to not feel like having sex at any time without an explanation. Take cues from your partner’s body language, and if you aren’t sure, ask them.
But it’s not just in romantic relationships that people get confused. People (usually men) in positions of power – from being the karaoke DJ to the lead singer of a band to a high-profile political figure – frequently assume that their high standing means people are interested in sleeping with them, or at least getting the “honor” of their physical touch. However, for a million different reasons, that kind of touching isn’t welcome. Status doesn’t mean a hall pass, no matter how important you or your toupee may feel – so ask, ask, ask.
This misunderstanding of consent happens on more daily levels, too. I mean, how often are you really meeting a senator or movie star? That power play often rears its head in interactions with strippers, cam models, porn stars, full-service sex workers, and everyone who falls under that rich umbrella. Just because they consent in their professional lives to certain acts, doesn’t mean there’s a buffet of sex without any boundaries waiting for everyone who steps up with a plate.
This same idea extends to bartenders, servers, cashiers, or anyone else who’s paid to be nice to customers like you.
Let that sink in for a second. Service industry workers, from dancers to cashiers, are literally paid to work customer service. That means their job is being nice – or at least personable – to you. Chances are, they have no interest in your attention, and definitely don’t want you touching them. If you think you have a chance, and they seem truly interested, write them a note that they can read on their own time.
Mistaking clothes as a flag for wanting sex is so common that government officials and police officers alike have been guilty of laying the blame at fashion’s feet for decades – but that isn’t where the blame belongs.
If someone is dressed to the nines in a club, they’re usually dressed for themselves or maybe to impress a partner they’re with. Honestly, though, jokes abound in femme fashion circles that most of the reason we do get gussied up is to get compliments from each other, not snag a date.
Regardless of why, no matter how sparse someone’s clothes are, they’re never an invitation for sex. In fact, you could stumble across someone hanging out in nothing but their birthday suit and have no right to touch them in even the smallest of ways unless they smile at you, look straight into your eyes, and give you a big old “yes.”
When it comes to substance use, the situation is very cut and dry:you can never get real consent from someone who’s unable to think critically for themselves. That’s when they’re drunk, on drugs, sleeping, or otherwise incpacitated or not in their regular state of mind. If you think it would be physically or mentally harder for them to defend or support themselves, then you can’t get a yes. Even if someone tells you they want it – yeses aren’t valid when they come from drunk lips. The more sober party should always be the responsible one – and yes, that means turning down sloppy horny advances from someone you’re into.
If you get a “no” once, that means you just try again until you get a “yes,” right? Wrong. Pushing someone to agree isn’t actual consent, it just means you’re being a jerk. Same goes if ask someone in a way that makes them feel unable to say no – doing so may get your prospective partner to agree, but they won’t be happy and you won’t have actually gotten consent.
Guilt tripping is just as toxic. Making someone feel bad for turning you down is a dangerous path that leaves your partner blaming themselves when something they really didn’t want ends up happening. Don’t be that person and make them grieve because of your inability to be rejected like a grown up.
Never assume you have consent just because someone is silent, shrugs in response, or doesn’t say no. Consent is only an enthusiastic and eager yes given by a clear-headed individual. Anything less than that, you’re crossing a line.
Any of these factors throw true consent out the window. You have to accept people’s boundaries and enjoy your time with them for what it is. And if you find yourself so horny that you just can’t handle hearing that dreaded “no,” well, you’ve heard of the internet. Hop on over to YouPorn, make an account on Chaturbate, buy some used panties, or do whatever it is you’ve got to do to keep you satisfied until you’re lucky enough to be receiving end of an enthusiastic, breathless, sober “yes.”
Consent can seem like a new part of our culture, upturning the way things have been. But the truth is, the way things were in the past, those “good old days?” They really sucked for a majority of the world population. Many people lived with the trauma of unwanted experiences, and their voices weren’t valued. Today, things are far from fixed, but we’re working together to build a society that lets everyone be the author of their sex life and be empowered to let their freak flag fly.
Today, we know that not asking for consent can ruin people’s lives. The trauma of assault and rape stays with people for years, if not for life, and when you fail to ask, you could be wrecking someone’s entire life because you wanted to have fun.
Think about it this way: consent is about evening the playing field. When sex isn’t used like a weapon or power play, it becomes an exchange that people engage in as equals. It becomes a balm, something that can help you grow and find joy, instead of leaving people bitter or angry or afraid. By asking for consent (and accepting rejection) you’re taking part in making the world a better and happier place.
So even when you’re flirting with a stranger, consent is still crucial for touching or getting into their bubble. The thing is, you never know what someone has been through and what their boundaries are. Your several seconds of thrill in patting their ass or brushing them with the back of your hand is never worth the dark and frightened path you could unwittingly be sending them down. You never know someone’s story – especially when you’ve just met them – and your touch could be so unwanted it physically hurts, conjuring up another dangerous encounter from their past.
Or, they could just not be into you. Both of those are equally valid reasons to not touch someone you don’t know.
Don’t put the ass in u and me. Never assume a yes is in your pocket, ever. Thinking you know the answer to the question will only make you disappointed. You may even find yourself subconsciously coercing someone into giving you the answer you want – and that’s not consent.
There’s never a time or place to assume you have a “yes” in the sack, and you’ll only end up hurting yourself and your lovers if you do. So play it safe, and always check in.
We all get rejected; it happens to the very hottest of us. There’s nothing wrong with hearing “no” sometimes – in fact, all it means is that you’re doing the whole consent thing right, depending on how you follow up.
When you get turned down, don’t sulk, don’t guilt trip, and don’t dwell on it. Accept their rejection with grace. If a stranger at a bar turns you down, just continue having a good night without them. Strangers don’t owe you jack, so don’t ask for a reason or justification, because that’s not their job. Instead, thank them and move on.
With a partner – from a first date to ten years of marriage – it’s just as vital to accept that rejection well. If things are heating up and they tell you to wait or stop, or they just seem like their head is somewhere else, check in and ask what they need. Being present is the least you can do for sexual partners and people you’re pursuing romantically.
If it seemed like you were about to have sex when they backed out, don’t get angry at them, don’t try to convince them otherwise. Instead, ask what they need. Offer them a glass of water. Be in tune with what’s going on for them in that moment, and listen to whatever they have to say. Your relationship will be stronger for it, the person will be soothed, and you’ll sleep with a clear conscience that night.
Concerned you’re doing it wrong or not checking in with partners enough? Remember that you can never go wrong by playing it safe.
Try it the next time you’re hooking up with someone. In fact, be direct about it. If you’re on a date with someone, regardless of if it’s a hookup app, a Bumble date, or your college sweetheart, tell them something like, “Hey, I just read this article on consent and I’m trying to make sure I do my best.” Invite a conversation about it. Your prospective date won’t mind talking about boundaries, and there’s a good chance they’ll be thrilled and soothed to know you’re trying.
If the conversation goes well, and your date has a few too many drinks while talking about it, safety and caution reign. If you think someone’s drunk and in no position to tell you they want to have sex, tell them so explicitly. It doesn’t have to be dry, or some condescending lecture about alcohol. If you’d really love to sleep them as well, but they’re slurring their proposition, say something like, “I’d love to have sex with you, and I want to do it when we both won’t ever forget the ride of our lives.” The next morning, shoot them a text checking in to see how they’re doing. If they really wanted to have sex with you, their mind won’t change because you took their consent into consideration.
And if their mind does change? Congratulations! You just saved them from a lot of heartache and emotional trauma by turning them down.
But it’s not all about making sure you’re asking for consent well – it’s just as important to know how to give it. After all, just because you’re coming on to someone today doesn’t mean you’ll want them to come on to you tomorrow. Consent is a two-way street and all parties need to learn how to share their boundaries. To appropriately give consent, check in with your own body before you do. Why are you saying yes? If you’re agreeing to something because you feel like you should, you’d feel bad for rejecting them, or you just don’t want to start drama, then find your voice – find your no.
There’s no reason to say yes just because you’d feel bad. Your body is your own, and no matter if they’re your spouse or you find yourself canoodling with them on a couch at an orgy, you don’t have to say yes to anything ever. Period.
If you’re in the middle of getting hot and heavy with someone when you suddenly want to stop, you’re allowed to speak up at any point. Find that voice, tell them “hold on” or “wait” or “stop.” You don’t have to say yes to someone just because you’re currently on a trajectory for a higher level. It sounds easier said than done, but once the word leaves your lips, it’ll be easier to keep saying it. It just takes practice.
You can also say it when you want to keep doing other sexy things, but don’t want to keep going. Try listing all the sexy things you do want, so you can keep having fun while maintaining your boundaries.
Most importantly, if you’re being approached by a stranger, you don’t owe them a thing. Say “no,” turn your body away from them, and move on.
Whether you’re saying “no” to the love of your life or a total creeper, do it with confidence, look them in the eyes, and hold firm. You got this.
Most people, at least in theory, already know that consent is an essential part of having sex. What some people don’t realize, however, is that consent runs deeper than that, too. It’s also about asking for permission with each new touch, even ones that aren’t necessarily leading to sex. Consent means holding back from grabbing someone’s ass at a party, or rubbing their back uninvited at a bar. It means, if you really think that person will want you to touch them like that, then there’s no harm in asking, right?
Consent is mandatory, but if you’re asking someone you’ve been flirting with, it’s sexy when executed right. It doesn’t have to be a dry, “Is this okay?” If you think your partner has shown interest in getting sexy with you, ask them before moving on to the next thing. If you’re already fingering your partner, for instance, instead of asking, “Can I do oral?” ask “Do you want me to taste you?” or “Do you want me to lick your clit?” Or, if you aren’t sure, ask them what they want you to do. It can be thrilling to hear your partner’s desires spoken aloud – and if they want you to stay right where you are without moving forward, you’re giving them a perfect place to say so.
But that consent can be taken back at any time, too. Just because someone said yes to oral doesn’t mean you have a green light to Buttplug City. They can also start to say yes to something and change their mind whenever they want, and it isn’t your place to question it. No matter what you’re doing, the second someone says, “no,” or makes any indication of changing their mind, you have to stop immediately.
“No” is a complete sentence, and the first “no” you hear should also be the last.
Consent is the most important part of any sexual relationship – whether that’s with one partner or a room full of twenty. Always check in, always ask for consent, and don’t assume one step leads to the other without another conversation. Sex is fun and incredible and juicy and dynamic – and it all needs that sweet, sweet “yes” to help it hum.
Regardless of if you’re the one learning to ask or you’re finding your voice, remember – yes means yes, and don’t accept anything less than that.