One of my professors, a very wise woman that lectured on sexuality, said: “When it comes to sex, wait for the yes please!” As a somewhat sexually inexperienced sophomore in University, I was wondering what that kind of consent looked like. At 27 years old and married, I now understand; yes please is uninhibited enthusiasm. You’re not saying “sure” or “ok, why not?” and you’re not asking questions in the back of your mind, wondering is this safe?… What does this mean?… Will this person act the same way towards me tomorrow or next week?
Instead of being preoccupied with questions, when you are saying yes please you are focused on the different things you want to do to your partner or what you want them to do to you. Both of you are comfortable with the expectations of the situation. They already have some sense of what arouses you, and you are at least somewhat knowledgeable about what they like and how they would like it to happen. You’re both hungry and eager to dive in. Once you’ve felt that raw enthusiasm or had someone feel that towards you, it’s difficult to settle for anything less.
A few people get a thrill from not knowing what could happen in a sexual encounter, but most people only reach the heights of sexual ecstasy when they have deep trust and affection for the other person. This only comes with time and communication. Most of our articles revolve around improving communication because a consistently better sex life starts with consistently good communication.
Imagine planning a road trip with your partner, you get out a road map and decide to follow the highway going directly from Point A to Point B. You’ll get to Point B quickly, but it’ll be a boring drive. If you stick to the easiest route, you’ll certainly avoid some of the challenges that come with the beaten path, but you’ll also miss out on the memories because those are made on the scenic route where you can discover things together. In relationships, people may want to get to the same destination but have different ideas about how to get there. Others couldn’t care less about how they get there or don’t even know where they want to go.
- Step 1 is knowing what you want.
- Step 2 is learning how to ask for it.
- Step 3 is asking for it.
- Step 4 is listening to your partner’s response, asking them what they want, and deciding how to proceed.
Step 1 is where consent and boundaries begin. If you don’t know what you want, how can you really give consent or ask for something?
In terms of the law, sexual consent means both people agree to participate in a sexual encounter, and if either person decides they don’t want the experience to continue they can stop at any time and the other person will respect that decision. Consenting to a specific experience does not obligate you to continue or the other person to follow through with that experience to the end or engage in other behaviors beyond that. Even if you consented to an experience one time, it doesn’t mean you are obligated to do it again at any other time.
According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, when determining whether someone is giving consent, you must be able to answer these questions:
- Does the person want to give consent?
- Is the person capable of giving consent?
The simplest way to determine if a person wants to give consent is to ask. The absence of “no” does not mean “yes.” Asking eliminates the uncertainty of guessing and trying to interpret signals – also any controversy of implied consent, age of consent and statutory rape, or other legal issues. If a person puts their hand on your hand it might be their way of indicating that she or he likes what you’re doing or it’s their way of telling you to slow down or stop. So, when in any doubt, get verbal confirmation. Or better yet, get a yes, please!
Boundaries go into specifics about what you are or are not comfortable with, which is part of consent. Boundaries reflect your wants, needs, and fears. As such, they are part of the nonsexual areas of a relationship, for example, you may set a boundary that you need a certain amount of time to yourself on the weekends. Relationship site, Two of Us, sums up healthy boundaries well:
Having good boundaries doesn’t mean shutting people out. It doesn’t mean rejecting all input from others. And in a long-term relationship, it doesn’t mean resisting the natural progression of merging lives with the person you love. Strong boundaries are not the same as rigid boundaries. Relationships require flexibility, compromise and consideration. Your partner should have a say in decisions impacting both of you. However, you should never feel pressured to discard parts of your essential self—your most cherished values, personal attributes and goals.
Creating boundaries and asking your partner about theirs is crucial to maintaining trust and love in a relationship. Respecting each other’s boundaries keeps the whole connection running smoothly. Sometimes boundaries need adjustment, evolve, or are just temporary, so check in regularly with your partner to prevent misunderstandings. It’s best when you discuss boundaries from the start of a relationship, but it’s never too late to start. Learn more about setting healthy boundaries in this article by Jennifer Kass.
Featured image of couple looking at road map © Bernd Vogel/Corbis
Further reading: Teaching Kids About Consent – Having The Other “Talk”