Great sex is about so much more than just saying “no”…
When it comes to sex, consent is key! But we often skip over the talking part to get to the fun physical part. Movies usually show sex without talking—the partners are just so in tune with each other that communication becomes unnecessary. Alas, that’s usually a fantasy. But what does communicating consent look like?
If you had sex ed in school, you probably learned about “no meaning no” and may have even practiced refusal skills. Being able to say and hear “no” is essential, but it doesn’t help us communicate about the real reasons many people choose to have sex: pleasure, desire, and connection. Enthusiastic consent is a way to communicate your desires, learn about your partner’s desires, and be proactive about consent.
What makes enthusiastic consent different?
People often think of consent as one person asking (or doing) and the other person saying “yes” or “no.” Enthusiastic consent is different. Enthusiastic consent is both partners talking about and deciding what will happen in a sexual encounter. It’s like planning a road trip together—you talk about where you want to go and what you want to see, rather than detailing the exact turns to get there. This goes beyond yes/no questions, focusing on communication about wants and desires. In enthusiastic consent, all people involved move towards desired activities with mutual enthusiasm.
Unlike other sex skills like putting on a condom, consent is rarely taught. But it takes practice! Here are 4 tips to improve your enthusiastic consent and communication skills.
1. Know what you don’t want… and what you DO want!
Knowing your boundaries is essential. Your boundaries may change from day to day and partner to partner, so check in with yourself. Thinking about your own boundaries before anything sexy starts to happen with a partner may give you greater confidence to tell that partner what you are not interested in doing.
It’s equally important to think about what you DO want. Thinking about your own desires can help you identify what is a “yes, please!” If you’re not sure what you want or how you like it, research! Spend some time with yourself and get to know what your body likes. Then you can have show and tell with a partner, guiding them like a pro. You may also want to check out various forms of erotica, which can be another source of inspiration about desires.
2. Start talking
Don’t expect to be a mind reader in the bedroom—or to have your mind read by a partner. The only crystal ball that will show a partner the way to please you is communication. Clear, honest information is key.
This does not have to be a business-like conversation that happens before sex. Telling your partner your desires—whether it’s the first time you’re having sex or the thousandth—can be a real turn on. You don’t have to discuss all your wants before things get steamy; after all, you may find inspiration in the heat of the moment. A desire can be seductively whispered into a partner’s ear or growled as you pull your partner close. “It would be so hot if you got on top” will let your partner know what you want and provide the opportunity for your partner to decide if it’s something they want too.
3. Forget compromise—find the mutual yes!
Compromise is when someone gives up something they want or accepts something they don’t want. Compromise about sex may lead to feeling pressured, resentful, and even regretful. Saying yes just to please a partner, or because the partner said yes to you last time, or because saying no feels risky has the potential to lead to more harm than good.
Enthusiastic consent is based on finding the mutual yes. This means that both partners say what they like and what turns them on, and together they can find the overlap. Try things like:
- “Where’s your favorite place for me to touch you?”
- “I love it when you ______.”
- “I have a fantasy—can I tell you about it?”
4. Plan the journey, not the route
Think about what you want from the experience—how you want your partner to feel, what type of experience you want to have… Is it about having fun? Strengthening love? Creating a connection? Seeing how many orgasms you can both have? If both people are in line with what they want from the experience, they are more likely to feel satisfied in the end.
Just like a road trip, there might be some planning and communication that happens before and after the adventure. Checking in about STI status, recent tests, other sexual partners, birth control, relationship stuff, and what happens after can ensure that you both know what to expect and feel safer throughout.
Enjoy the trip
Changing the way we communicate about sex can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding to learn enthusiastic consent skills. We may be good at reading our partners and figuring out what they want, but we will never really know what secret, delicious desires they’ve been hiding until we invite them to share, and we share our own. Through getting to know what you want, communicating about those desires, and finding the mutual yes with your partner, you may be surprised how much more pleasure you can find together!
E.B. Troast has been providing sex positive, non-judgmental, inclusive sex education in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 10 years. She works with Planned Parenthood and San Francisco Sex Information (SFSI). E.B. may have the best job in the world, because she gets to spend her time learning and teaching about her favorite subjects—sex, sexuality, health, and pleasure!