This blog was updated on January 24, 2018.
“One thing is undeniable: The need for more education and conversation around consent is critical.”
As you’ve probably read or heard, reporter Katie Way published a story on Babe.net detailing an anonymous woman’s account of being violated by the comedian Aziz Ansari. Since then, the article has sparked a fierce debate around the meaning of consent and sexual assault. Regardless of where you land on the spectrum of reactions to Babe.net’s story, one thing is undeniable: The need for more education and conversation around consent is critical.
Numerous articles have talked about this, but they haven’t addressed how to do it. And, it should be noted, most of the dialogue has only centered around heterosexual, cisgender sex.
Talking openly about sex is integral to understanding consent, and to learning how to communicate, understand, and respect sexual boundaries. Unfortunately, sex is still a very taboo subject—and if we can’t talk about sex with our clothes on, how are we ever going to be comfortable talking about it with our clothes off?
To help you wade through the often murky waters of consent, we’ve provided some questions that could lead to open, honest, and vulnerable discussions about sex, consent, and communication with your friends and people you have sex with.
- Think about your expectations when you go home with someone or bring someone home for the first time, whether it’s after a first a date or a night at a bar. What do you think will happen sexually?
Some people think that going to someone’s house means you want to have sex. Some people may just want to hang out and maybe make out, but not do much more. Instead of assuming, ask the other person what they’re thinking, because you may not have the same expectations.
- How do you talk about your sexual boundaries with someone, especially the first time you hook up? People communicate differently about what they want to do when they hook up, and it’s best to be upfront about what you do and don’t want to do. For example, if someone is trying to go down on you but you’re not ready or interested in reciprocating, you can say that (i.e., “I love that you want to go down on me but I’m not ready to return the favor so how about we stick with what we were doing?”). Not everyone is comfortable being that direct early on so they may use nonverbal cues to communicate. But one person’s nonverbal cue to keep going can be another person’s nonverbal cue to stop. To help make sure you don’t cross a boundary, ask questions to clarify and ensure consent (“How are you feeling?” or “Is this okay with you?”). If there’s anything other than an enthusiastic yes, you need to stop.
- How are you supposed to tell if someone is interested in one thing but not interested in another thing if they don’t explicitly say so? The best way to know if the person you’re with is comfortable is to simply ask. But when it comes down to it, many people don’t verbally ask for consent because they’re worried it will kill the mood or be awkward. If you initiate something without verbally asking for consent (i.e. unbuttoning someone’s pants), you should proceed with caution and be extra sensitive to the other person’s nonverbal communication. For example, if you move someone’s hand towards your penis to show that’s what you like and they move their hand away, you should assume that they didn’t want to do that—and definitely don’t move their hand back. While there may have been numerous reasons why they moved their hand away, unless you ask, it’s best to assume they’re not comfortable and not consenting.
Why are you afraid to be honest about your comfort level during sex? Often times, people are afraid to communicate what they want during sex. Fears can range from not wanting to offend the person you’re with to not wanting the sexual experience to end to feeling physically unsafe. You might even be afraid because you don’t want to admit you don’t know what you’re doing. By talking about your fears with friends, you’ll realize you’re not alone and can figure out ways to be more confident and less uncomfortable when the time comes.
- What’s the best way to be told that you’re doing something the person you hooked up with doesn’t like? Given that some people don’t speak up because they don’t know how the person they’re with will react – it helps to know how the other person accepts feedback. Some people prefer direct and straightforward communication (i.e., actually saying, “I don’t want you to go down on me, but I wouldn’t mind if you used your hands”) while others are more receptive to subtle redirection (i.e., redirecting someone’s hand away from one part of your body to another). Awkward as it may feel talking about it, knowing how to give and receive feedback will help you communicate with whomever you’re with more effectively during sex, especially when you’re navigating your first time being with them.
We are only scratching the surface with this discussion. If you want to be a part of the post #MeToo cultural shift, continue to challenge yourself to have awkward, vulnerable, and honest conversations about sex with your friends, romantic partners, and hook ups. When men and women begin to understand each other and how the culture has shaped our ways of communicating about sex, we will live in a healthier society free of any unwanted sexual encounters—from bad dates to rape.