Knowing how to obtain affirmative consent and to respect boundaries is a very important topic of discussion.
However, something that has perhaps been not so ubiquitously discussed is the excitement, joy, and fully-expressed sexiness that can come from consensual interactions! Yes, consent involves precaution and abiding by a certain set of rules to ensure consent is present (and enthusiastic!). It is also about creating an intimate, safe space—something that is not only necessary but is beautiful and sexy—whether the interaction is casual, with new partner/s, with someone whom you care for deeply, or any the many different types of sexual interaction that exist!
Creating a consensual space sets a precedent for your partner/s to feel mutually respected, heard, comfortable, and safe.
Asking for consent can be powerful. And sexy.
I asked my partner explicitly for consent for the first time about a month into our relationship. They had never been asked for consent, and the simple act of asking was so touching to them that they started crying. We embraced each other in a hug for a few minutes, allowing ourselves to respect and soak in the present emotions. It was a touching and extremely moving moment for me, and even though not every moment of asking for consent will be as intimate or charged, hopefully it will open up the space in a similar way—allowing people to bring their full selves to an interaction.
In addition to being powerful, asking for consent can be sexy as hell. I remember talking about consent for the first time in my freshman year orientation at Hamilton College—I remember a man on stage yelling, “make it sexy, people!” to a crowd predominantly comprised of uncertain and uncomfortable 18-year-olds.
Everyone laughed, but it’s true! You can incorporate asking for consent seamlessly into dirty talk—before you do something, ask, you want me to ______? Yeah? You like it when I ______? If you’re not into dirty talk, that is completely fine—a simple, is it okay if I _____? is more than enough!
It is important to keep in mind that, even after initial consent, a person can change their mind, and you have to respect that consent is subject to change. Also, someone can consent to certain sexual acts (e.g. penetrative sex) and not others (e.g. oral sex.) Ultimately, it is about maintaining clear communication throughout the interaction, and establishing a space where everyone feels respected, heard, and comfortable expressing themselves.
2. Allow Your Partner(s) to Come to You
A great way to make sure that your partner(s) is/are comfortable is to allow the space for agency in a sexual interaction! If you find that you are dominating the situation, back off and allow the other person to take the reigns.
Allowing for a switch in dynamic can also be a wonderful moment for playfulness, teasing, and sexiness! For example, if you are making out with someone on a bed, and you are on top, you could sit back on the edge of the bed, look at them, and bite your lip. This moment of teasing your partner(s), and making them come to you (if they want to!) is a great way to test the waters to see if the person is interested in continuing, or if they want to pause or stop.
Related, if a person stops doing something in an interaction, do not push that person into continuing! They may not want to—so either communicate about it or let the interaction to move into something different.
3. Pay Attention to Body Language
Body language is such an important thing to pay attention to in a sexual interaction—for more reasons than one! Once verbal consent has been established, it is still very important to pay attention to body language.
If you have already established consent, and you notice during the interaction that the person you are with is tensing up, that might be a sign that they feel uncomfortable or what you are doing doesn’t feel good—all of which can be cleared up with a simple, “does this feel good for you?” or “do you want me to keep going?” If a person is moaning, giving verbal cues, or encouraging you to continue what you are doing, that is a good indicator that they are enjoying themselves! Body language is usually intuitive—you just have to pay attention to it.
In addition to asking and listening to your partner(s), remember to listen to yourself as well! I know that I, especially when I first started having sexual interactions, would continue doing things in consensual interactions that did not feel good or were painful because I wanted to accommodate the other person’s needs. I thought that was normal, and, after talking to some of my girlfriends, it turned out to be a pretty common experience. But I have learned (and have to remind myself when I fall into accommodation): Sex is supposed to feel good for you! If you aren’t feeling comfortable, you can adjust, or do something different, or stop altogether.
Consent is so important but should not be a source of fear! Clear communication, truly listening (verbally and through body language), and respecting your partner(s) will not only make for a consensual experience, but will also amplify the experience by allowing everyone involved to feel safe, respected, comfortable, and fully self-expressed.