The Question That Changed Everything

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Why we actually need to talk about sex.

The mood was electric. A gorgeous man was in my bedroom, and I was ready. Tonight, I was sure, we’d be having sex for the first time. Yup, this was going to happen. Our clothes slowly peeled off, and soon there was no sound but the heavy breath between our bodies and the smooth shifting of the sheets beneath us. Then, he broke the silence: “May I use my mouth on you?”

Yes. Oh, goodness, a thousand times yes. I was a little caught off-guard by his words, but his willingness excited me; not many guys are so quick to put my pleasure first.

Later, he asked, “would you like to use a condom with me?” I cringed a little at his slightly clinical brand of dirty talk, but the answer again was yes. Part of me wondered why he was asking so many questions. Was he nervous? Didn’t he realize how much I wanted every part of him? And oh, did I want every part of him!

A few days after the fog of post-coital euphoria had cleared, I was still thinking about my lover’s sexytime candor and how unprecedented it was. And it really was unprecedented. It suddenly dawned on me that this man was the only person to have ever asked permission to touch me. I realized that he wasn’t insecure, or nervous, or awkward; he was seeking my consent. Huh. I started thinking about all the sexual encounters I’d had where “one thing led to another” with no words exchanged. I’ve never done anything sexually that I didn’t want to do, but at the same time, I’d never exactly been specifically asked. Until now. By this gorgeous man in my bedroom. Kind of mind-blowing (just like the rest of the experience, by the by). Thinking about it more, I couldn’t believe I’d been doing it any other way.

“It was extremely sexy,” I told him in a text exchange a few weeks later. “It made every stage of becoming intimate even more so because it made me think about it and actively say YES.”

You may be thinking, hold up, consent isn’t just “sexy.” It’s mandatory. And you’d be absolutely right! Many people rely solely on body language and physical cues, but there is a better, safer, healthier, more enjoyable way to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Enthusiastic consent, as the name suggests, is a proactive, vocal, and explicit manner of asking for and giving consent to sexual acts.

As well as verbally communicating, listening and looking for non-verbal cues is an important part of understanding your partner’s needs, desires, and feelings. For example, if your partner is stiff or cringing, this is a good time to pause and check in to see how you can make them more comfortable. If they seem disinterested, they probably are. You should want your partner to want you as much as you want them, and setting a standard of enthusiastic consent ensures that everyone involved is aware, in agreement, and willing. From my own experience, it just makes everything better, not just emotionally, but sexually, and physically, too.

Practicing enthusiastic consent has changed my relationship with sex in two ways. Firstly, it has made me appreciate each sexual act as special in and of itself, as opposed to just part of a build-up to a “main event.” Far from being rote or expected, foreplay feels new and exciting every single time. It’s kind of like that game long-time couples play to reignite the spark, where they pretend they’re meeting for the first time.

Secondly, it has made me change my own behavior toward my sexual partners. Consent is often only framed as something that men need to get from women. In heteronormative society, it’s usually assumed that men will always want sex, or will never turn down a blowjob, but consent applies to everyone. As soon as I started mirroring this behavior and asking my partner “May I…?”, the entire dynamic changed for the better. Not only was there equal trust and respect, but I felt sexier and more in tune with my partner – like my sexual prowess just increased tenfold.

The way I think about my body—and others’—has changed, too. I now find myself thinking more about boundaries and privileges: how they are different for everyone, how they can change over time. Sex and intimacy with another person really is a privilege. I am sharing my body with this person, and they are sharing theirs with me. It’s a gift, one for which I am so thankful. And seeing that gratitude in my partner, the way his face lights up when I say “yes,” as if he’s hit the jackpot, reminds me that hey, hell yeah I’m a jackpot! The confidence boost we both get, playing off each other’s enthusiasm, takes the experience to a whole new level of hotness.

Another bonus of normalizing this kind of explicit communication is that it has become easier for me to talk openly about other aspects of my body that my partner needs to know about, such as birth control or period management. Being more comfortable verbalizing my sexuality means I’m less embarrassed to acknowledge my body and its other needs and functions. After all, if I’m gonna let you touch me down there, I need you to know what else is going on down there. It’s all part of ensuring everything—and everyone—is safe, healthy, and comfortable.

But back to the sexy stuff. Whether your relationships are casual or committed, long-established or just beginning, introducing enthusiastic consent into your sex life is something you can do easily. Here are our top tips to get you started!

Remember: consent goes both ways

As well as seeking enthusiastic consent from your partner, expect them to seek it from you, too. How you set those expectations will depend on the nature of the relationship. You might choose to have an upfront conversation about it, or lead by example and encourage your partner to follow suit. This can be trickier for newer or more casual relationships, when you’re still getting to know your partner, but if you’re in any doubt about whether you’re on the same page, don’t be afraid to be blunt and say, “Hey, can we stop/slow down/take a break?” to set the boundaries you need.

It doesn’t have to be clinical or awkward

You can initiate communication with open questions like, “What do you want to do now?” or “How are you feeling?” that aren’t specific to sex but allow your partner to be vocal and help you understand where they’re at. If they are hesitant or in any way vague, switching to closed (Yes/No) questions like “Do you want to slow down?” or “Are you feeling comfortable?” can make the situation less intimidating for them to respond to. And if you’re the one who wants to slow down, asking open questions like these will create a natural pause and give you a chance to make your own feelings known if you need to say “I’d like to call it a night, actually” (to which the reaction should always be supportive and positive).

Make it part of your dirty talk

Once you’ve established that everyone’s feeling good, it’s time to talk dirty. If you’re not into that, get into it now! Try phrases like:

  • Is it okay if I… ?

  • Can I take your shirt/jeans off?

  • I’d really like to …. Would you like to try that with me?

  • Would you like me to…?

  • I find … really hot. Do you like doing that?

Read up more on consent

tabú’s got you covered. Check out Consent 101 or send your lover this article to get the conversation started!

Header image created by Marcy Gooberman

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