Thankfully, consent is becoming a big topic on college campuses. However, most conversations about consent overfocus on the damaging outcomes of the failure to ask for consent rather than engaging students in learning the benefits of ongoing conversations about consent and sexual pleasure.
Many campuses are offering too little too late, after-the-fact rather than ahead-of-the-act. But really, everyone can benefit from practicing sexual consent regardless of whether you’re having sex with your partner of 30 years or a hook-up: Consent is mandatory. And it can be HOT. Here are 8 tips on how to keep it consensual and sexy:
1.) Play! Give yourself permission to have fun. Understanding your enthusiastic Yeses — whether it’s trying the next kinkiest thing or abstaining from sexual contact altogether — is the first step to being prepared to give or not give your enthusiastic consent.
2.) Ask for what you want. Often, when we pointedly ask for what we want, we’re seen as selfish, greedy, or entitled. And if you’re a woman, you get “slut” added on. But your desires aren’t a bother and your partners should always feel and be able to say “No” to your requests. Get used to getting what you want by practicing clearly stating what you want in your everyday interactions like at shops or cafes.
3.) Accept a “no” gracefully. Often when we hear the word “No” we don’t hear what our partners are actually trying to tell us. We might hear “You’re ugly” when they mean “This is my sexual preference.” Or “You’re not good at sex” when they mean “This position kind of hurts my hip.”
Stating a boundary can be a scary thing to do. When you hear “No,” thank your partners for sharing their limits. Know that you’re valuable whether a partner says Yes or No to your requests and that you’re even more valuable when you respect their answer.
4.) Build your boundaries. When we hear the word “boundaries” it’s easy to hear “restrictions.” Giving someone a hardline No isn’t just telling them what they cannot have, but is showing them the space they do have to explore and play in.
5.) Stop trying to be “sexy.” The most pleasurable experiences in my life weren’t traditionally sexy. Many involved having a literal instruction book in my bed and a lot of talking. This is your real life, not a scripted porn set. You might fall off the bed or spill the lube. It’s okay.
6.) Ask questions. Then ask some more. The assumption that we’re only good at The Sex if we know exactly what our partners want just by getting naked with them is totally absurd. You want to “give her what she wants?” Ask her what she wants. You want to know how to “blow his mind?” Ask him: “What blows your mind, babe?”
Talk about your sex life over coffee, over text, over dinner. Create experiences of intimacy that are intentional rather than accidental or assumptive, made more accidental and assumptive when fueled by “the heat of the moment” and/or drugs and alcohol.
7.) Track consent continuously. Your consent is yours to give or revoke at any time. If at any time during your intimate interaction, you lose your cognitive, verbal or physical ability to revoke your consent after you gave it, then that interaction becomes non-consensual. So, if you said an enthusiastic Yes at the start of an interaction and then became either too intoxicated, sleepy, intimidated, or otherwise incapacitated to keep saying Yes or to change your mind to No, that interaction was not consensual.
Simultaneously, your partner must be able to track and understand whether you are giving or revoking consent at any time during the interaction.
Drugs and alcohol impair each individual’s ability to engage in this ongoing process of consent. When drugs or alcohol are involved in any capacity, it drastically increases our risk of violating consent — accidentally or purposefully.
8.) Visit a good sex shop. Locally, Oh My Sensuality Shop in Northampton is my favorite. Their welcoming staff is highly trained in pleasurable anatomy and sex toys, and host workshops by educators like myself that create safe environments for women and LGBTQ folks to learn about sexual pleasure.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a pleasure-positive sex educator and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. She has a website bursting with sex advice, workshops, and resources at yanatallonhicks.com.