We’re creating a dance with our tongues. You softly bite my bottom lip and I respond by pressing my body up closer to yours. This is good. This is fun. It’s intriguing to get to know someone this way. But that’s just it. We’re getting to know each other.
You don’t know that I’ve never had sex and that when I decided to go out to dance with my friends tonight, I decided to go because I wanted to dance with my friends. And dancing with my friends turned into dancing with you, which turned into my tongue dancing with your tongue, and this feels so good, but I am going home with my friends tonight. And I don’t know that you don’t like holding hands when you’re kissing because it reminds you of your first partner, and that is never good. And we don’t know whether or not our souls are made of the same thing like those of Cathy and Heathcliff, and I don’t know if that matters to you because tonight and tomorrow it won’t matter to me. And you don’t know that I carry a condom and a dental dam with me at all times because I am a hypochondriac and always think I have an STD even though there is not even a possibility that I do. We do not know these things, and we quite possibly might never know. But your hands on are running down my waist and it feels good but they cannot go any lower. But you don’t know that.
In a culture that focuses so much on “don’t get raped” rather than “don’t rape,” how can we find a way to get these messages across without victim-blaming or alienating people who feel they are under attack? It started with “no means no” and then evolved into the sex-positive “yes means yes,” which then became simplified into the not-so-simple consent.
Consent scares people. Some think it’s unrealistic. You have to ask every single time? You’re supposed to notice if your partner gets uncomfortable and freezes up and stops responding? It’s not sexy if you ask, some say. I can’t just read a person’s mind if he or she or ze suddenly wants to stop. But then, how can you suggest that you can read a person’s mind on the flip side? When things are starting up?
We are not accustomed to talking about sex. We see models overtly sexualized, a romcom is not a romcom without a steamy sex scene, product after product is advertised to us by an irresistibly steamy actor. So why, in our highly sexualized culture, is it so difficult for us to talk about sex? I like this; I don’t like this; Mmm… I really like that. If it isn’t comfortable talking about sex—about boundaries, likes, dislikes—then how can sex itself be completely comfortable or safe?
Much of this can be cleared up in a healthy, satisfying relationship. There’s time to talk, time to experiment. In theory, it all works flawlessly. But here we are again:
Your hands are on my waist. And we live in a don’t-get-raped culture. And also, in a hook-up culture. No, no, no. NO, NO, NO! I want to grab your hands and you are hoping I don’t, but I don’t know that. And maybe you will say no, and I will stop and it will be okay. But maybe you won’t say anything because you are back, suddenly, in that unsafe world of your first partner, and I will never know how I made you feel because I never asked. All I had to do was ask and if you didn’t say “yes,” I would have known that meant no.
Is consent realistic? Yes. Is consent realistic in a world of hookups and drugs and alcohol and power structures? Yes—but obviously it isn’t as straightforward as it would be without these challenges. So, how can we practice consent, realistically, in our culture?
Recognize that both you and your partner have boundaries. Take the time to get to know your own and to understand your partner’s.
Remember that a person under the influence of alcohol can never consent. Be aware of how much your partner has consumed and of how much you have consumed.
Find ways to make asking for consent sexy. Play around with the tone of voice, the way you ask. Just make sure you hear the word “YES!”
If you know when you’re going out that you don’t want to end up hooking up with someone, tell your friends. It’s never your fault if something happens to you, but it’s always good to have back-up.
Start talking. This isn’t fight club; we can talk about sex all we want!
Reader submission by Hilary Korabik