"Yes" is Still the Only Word That Means "Yes"
Allow me to repost something from my old blog because it's still relevant. Especially since in the last week I've heard another handful of rage and sadness inducing stories of consent violations and discovered that even some otherwise intelligent people that I consider friends apparently don't quite understand consent.
The very simple concept of asking for permission to touch another person seems to make people really uncomfortable. The concern amongst many people who want to be open minded to the concept seem to worry that if you ask for everything there will be nothing sexy or spontaneous left. I understand, I really do. I’ve struggle with this myself at times. One of my partners and I spent most of our relationship dealing with this issue. It was hard having this uncomfortable conversation about consent and desire again and again. However, at the time it seemed worth fighting for. So time after time we left the bedroom, had a pint, and talked it out.
We both had non-consensual ick in our past, combine that with the fact that he flourished in awkward like Telsa in a park full of pigeons, and early on we created a policy of asking for it when we wanted it. Whatever “it” happened to be. This worked swimmingly. And yet...
Often I had no trouble going to the man cave and saying, “Baby, if you don’t get in here, undress me and give it to me now I’m going on the hunt for a gigolo.” He was happy to have it brought to his attention that I was desperately horny and he was flattered that I wanted him. He would put out, we both ended up happy.
Other times I got frustrated. I longed for the simplicity of other relationships where we would wake up next to one another, get mutually excited and go at it without having to talk about it. This rarely happened with my ex. Mostly because of opposing schedules and not sharing a sleeping space. Logically I understood the logistics of our situation, that we were rarely in the same head space when we were together so sexy didn’t happen as organically.
It made perfect sense and still led to me feeling confused, rejected or unattractive many times over our years together. There were so many nights I wondered why I continued to bother. If I had to solicit his attention he must not want me, right? Not necessarily…
I remember one night I was naked and kissing him in bed, talking sexy, all hot and bothered while straddling him. After several days of not having free time at the same time I was aching to reconnect with him. Just when I went to take off his pants, he stood up, kissed me goodnight and left to finish a project he was working on. I cried myself to sleep, too frustrated to jerk off. Why did he leave? It was obvious I was trying to seduce him!
When I got to a place where I could talk about it I asked him what the hell goes through his head in these situations. Turns out he wanted sex just as badly as I did but he didn’t think I was into it. You know why? Because most people stink at reading body language, it’s fucking impossible! He and I had been together two years and couldn’t read one another’s sexy signals more than half the time.
Admittedly he was worse than most at getting the hint but this is an extreme version of something that comes up on a daily basis. People think they know what others want, they can “read the signals” or “she was asking for it.” Things that are supposedly obvious to you aren’t obvious to the rest of us.
So that ex and I made a deal. And guess what, it involved more asking for what we wanted. I said I would try to feel less hurt about often having to ask for sex. He promised that when he was horny but unsure what the hell I was up to he would ask. So easy! We both got what we wanted in the bedroom with less confusion. It didn’t save our relationship because in the end we were very different people (and he turned out to be a sociopathic narcissist, but that's a story for another essay,) but it saved our sex life for the last couple of months we were together. I wish it was a conversation I would have had the guts to start much earlier.
Sure it’s uncomfortable to ask for things. It doesn’t come easily in our culture. We’re programmed not to do it. We’re scared of hearing the word “no” like it’s poison. It’s uncomfortable asking and not getting something because we don’t have a chance to practice hearing or saying “no” and having it be okay. You know what’s more uncomfortable? Getting fucking raped! That’s pretty damn high on the uncomfortable scale.
If you say asking is too hard and makes you feel weird, that’s like saying you would rather risk violating someone than having one moment of awkwardness to open your mouth and communicate with a fellow human being. My thought is if you can’t say it or talk about it like a grown up, you shouldn’t be doing it.
If someone responds to your question rudely or accuses you of being weird for being a kind and aware person by asking for their permission, is that really someone you want to spend time with? And if most people don’t understand the cues from their long term partners, what makes you think you can read the body language of a casual acquaintance as to whether they want a hug or kiss? We’re all special snowflakes, the signal one person gives will mean something different in someone else. So just ask!
More on this issue here.
Still don’t get it? Here are some examples of how you could ask for what you want in different circumstances so you can be prepared to take this lesson out into the world. Asking can still be sexy!
CASUAL, FIRST GREETING:
Bob: “Hi, it’s really nice to meet you. Are you a hugger?”
Sue, option 1: “Of course!” Opens arms to receive hug
Sue, option 2: “Not so much, but I would love to participate in a small interpretive dance with you to celebrate finally making your acquaintance.” Cue odd arm flailing and bootie wiggling (Bob is still greeted properly, doesn’t feel rebuffed and knows how silly Sue is.)
Bob, option 3: Goes in for hug
Sue: Steps out of his reach “Would you like a hello hug?”
Sue: Free to choose from option 1 or 2 above
FIRST DATE, FIRST KISS
Lisa: “I think this went well.” Moving in closer but not quite touching Mary, smiling slyly, this is seductive and gives Mary times to anticipate”May I kiss you goodnight?”
Mary, option 1: “Yes!” Hot fully condoned kissing that both people want
Mary, option 2: “I really like you but I don’t kiss on the first date, maybe next time. How about a hug for now?” Mary gets a chance to say no nicely, and set boundaries without having to physically reject Lisa or put up with a kiss she didn’t want for the sake of politeness
Mary, option 3: Leans in toward Lisa with puckered lips and nods; she’s too shy or taken aback to respond verbally.
Lisa, optional: “Shall I take that as a yes?” Mary gives a verbal confirmation, nods, or makes first move for kiss
FIRST SEXUAL CONTACT:
Leo: “Mmm, you’re so hot. I’ve wanted to touch your (fill in the blank) all night.”
Sam, option 1: “Please do!”
Sam, option 2: “I was really enjoying (fill in the blank) can we keep doing that more?”
Sam, option 3: Putting Leo’s hand on body part in question and grinning
(See how you didn’t even ask a question but got a yes? Isn’t that cool?)
Alex: “I want you so bad!”
Pat: option 1: “Me too! Get in there, bad boy/girl.”
Pat, option 2: “I want you too, I can’t wait until I’m ready to feel you inside me.” (Don’t stick your phallic object in this person at this time! Go back to doing what you were doing, don’t ask for penetration again during this encounter, if they want it they should ask this time around.)
Pat, option 3: Silence, but vague clues that he/she is interested (Don’t stick your phallic object in this person!)
Alex: “Tell me what you want. It would be so sexy to hear you say it.”
Pat: “Please, I want you inside me so bad.” (Now is the time to dive in! See how you can make getting them to say what they want sexy, it’s dirty talk, make them beg a little bit.)
Pat, option 4: Silence, hard to understand body language (Absolutely do not penetrate this person!)
Alex: “I’m so hard/wet. Oh please?”
Pat: Still silent (Still not a yes!)
Alex: Goes back to doing what she/he was doing before and revisits the question later. (Do not have sex with this person, they are probably too scared or unsure to communicate. If they want more they will have to ask. Don’t risk it. If you like them enough to have sex can’t you wait until the next time when you’ll be sure?)
If after all of this you still don't understand why yes is the only word that truly means yes or thinks that it's confusing to figure out when a no is a "real no" then kindly start reading from the top again until it sets in. Either that or stop having intimate moments with other humans, because you obviously can't be bothered to open your mouth and actually ask for consent which makes you a creep.