On Consent

Shortly after I was sexually assaulted in September of 2016, I began a relationship with a man who we’ll call Jack. Jack was aware of my assault experience and the first time we had sex/did anything remotely sexual, he became the first partner of mine to ever explicitly ask for my verbal consent.

The issue of consent is one that’s important, complicated, and sometimes very frustrating. Sometimes it seems like things are going so well physically (i.e. you’re on the same page as your partner) that there isn’t any reason to bring in a verbal agreement. But without your partner explicitly confirming what you think they are trying to convey through body language, things can get confusing fast.

Before Jack, none of my sexual partners had ever asked me for verbal consent to have sex with them. This is not to say that I didn’t want to have sex with them. I did. But I conveyed that through my body language, not through actual verbal communication. This goes both ways – before Jack, I don’t think I had ever asked a partner for explicit verbal consent either.

This is why I was so surprised that in the midst of making out in a bed with clothes flying, Jack stopped. He stopped moving, his body poised above mine, in a non-threatening, comfortable way, and said “is it okay with you if we have sex?” I was so surprised that I didn’t answer right away, and in that pause he softened his body, making it clear he was not going to do anything I didn’t readily agree to.

I’ve thought about that moment so many times since, how safe it made me feel with him. It truthfully was some of the best sex I’d ever had to this day, not because it was physically amazing but because I was so emotionally at peace, knowing that this person cared that I was comfortable in this scenario. Let me say that again – as a woman, who had had trauma relevant to this situation, it made me feel so safe in his hands that I was able to enjoy the sex immensely more than I ever had enjoyed sex with people who had not asked for verbal consent. I know “consent is sexy!” is a really cliche term at this point and it just sounds a little cheesy. But Y’ALL it is TRUE!

It astounds me to think about now, and I’m not sure whether I’m more aware because of my experience with assault, or the political climate in light of things like the #MeToo movement, or just being older and wiser. It also makes me very aware that it wasn’t ever taught to me that you should always ask for verbal consent in your sexual encounters. My high school didn’t teach sex ed (it is not an educational requirement in several states), so the last curriculum-based sex ed I had was in middle school, where the “just around the corner!” videos told us about periods and AIDS and basically nothing else. I don’t think I had ever heard the word “consent” in a sexual context until well after I’d lost my virginity.

It’s on all of us to be conscious of this huge issue. Sexual assault is not a gendered issue, and I take full responsibility for the times I went off of body language cues rather than asking the person I was with if they were okay with what I was doing. But this brings me to another part of the issue, which is that a lot of people, admittedly including my self, aren’t super comfortable with blurting out “do you consent?”

A lot of people have written articles telling you how to ask for consent in a “sexy” way. This approach is great! It simplifies things and it serves the purpose without being super blunt. Saying things like “do you like it when ___?” is a great way to get consent from a partner and if posing the question that way makes you feel more comfortable posing the question at all, awesome.

For me though, that’s just not the simplest and easiest way to do things. I feel like with sex and sexual activity, most people want to get the formalities out of the way so the fun stuff can happen (this sort of sounds like I’m describing an encounter with a prostitute, but I didn’t know how else to phrase it). Personally, I would much rather follow Jack’s lead.

Here’s a script you can tuck into your purse (next to the condoms I hope you’re carrying) in preparation for any SAFE sex you might have:

YOU (relaxed body language, non threatening tone, pausing what you’re doing to put full focus on your partner and their answers/reactions): “Hey, is it okay with you if ____ (I give you a blowjob? We have anal sex?). Choose your own adventure with this part.

Wow, that was easy! One sentence! If you’re comfortable enough with someone to let them see you naked, you can muster up the courage to spit out that sentence. If they say “yes” you are cleared for takeoff. If they say “no,” THAT IS NOT AN INVITATION FOR YOU TO TRY HARDER. I’ll write another post about that whole issue with taking a “no” as a challenge at some point but for now, just remember: no means no. It’s something you learn before preschool, you just gotta keep that definition in your brain now as an adult.

All this to say, don’t feel awkward about asking for sexual consent, no matter how you choose to ask. You also don’t have to be in a relationship with someone you’re having sex with to expect this level of feeling safe and cared about. You don’t even have to know someone’s name to ask them for consent. You just have to ask.


xoxo, Ella

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