How do I ask for consent?
Hey, I’m Mike – Senior Community Officer at The Mix. I’m a huge nerd and have a keen interest in communication and social issues like masculinity, gender more broadly, and taboo topics like sex.
What is consent?
Consent is more than saying ‘yes’. A thorough and practiced understanding of consent isn’t just important for having sex in a safe way; it makes sex better and could forge deeper connections in a relationship.
Really, it boils down to communication and patience. Being patient with someone when their sex drive or sexual boundaries don’t match yours can make you more forgiving of yourself when you find yourself in that position. And being communicative about what you like, don’t like, and how you feel in bed opens the door to enjoying sex to the fullest. Because the better you know each other’s sexuality, the better the sex gets.
You may not realise how much power you hold around sex
Some people feel their most vulnerable during sex, potentially because of insecurities, trauma, or a host of other reasons. Doing your part to make them feel comfortable and trusting in you as a sexual partner can be immensely powerful, especially if they’ve never had that experience before. Don’t underestimate the impact of practising even the most basic parts of consent – you could literally change someone’s entire experience of sex.
For some people – particularly with marginalised bodies – cis men trying to exert power over them and their bodies is an everyday occurrence. You might not be one of those men, but as a man, you need to be aware that this can lead to an inherent power imbalance during sex.
Silence doesn’t equal consent
For example, someone might have learned through their experience with other sexual partners that it’s safer for them to stay quiet if they don’t like something rather than telling you. That might not be your fault, but you can play a part in empowering them to feel more comfortable communicating their boundaries with you.
You can also look out for signs that someone isn’t enthusiastically consenting to what’s happening, even if they’re not actively resisting. Freezing up, looking preoccupied or uncomfortable, and appearing unresponsive or disengaged are all cues for you to check in with someone and ask if they’re okay.
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You don’t have to make it a ‘thing’
Checking in during sex doesn’t have to be ‘do you consent to this?’ – it can be sexy. Asking someone to show you what they like, asking if they like something, and empowering them to be vocal about their enjoyment can be fun in its own right. Lean into it.
I’m also a big fan of the post-sex debrief. While you’re cleaning up and getting back to the real world, talk. Talk about what you liked, laugh about anything funny or clumsy that happened, and acknowledge anything that didn’t sit right with you. Ask each other questions and reflect. You need something to do while you’re recovering, right?
When in doubt, be extra safe
Whenever you’re not sure how someone feels, it’s best to be safe and ask them straight up – even if you’re in the middle of sex. It doesn’t matter if it feels awkward; awkwardness is better than putting someone through something uncomfortable or (in the worst case) traumatic. Besides, the more you ask, the less awkward it feels.
It doesn’t need to be perfect
When you’re not used to having these conversations, it can seem like a lot to think about. And if communication and social cues don’t come naturally to you, the concept of consent can feel intimidating if you’re feeling a lot of pressure to get it right. But by showing kindness, patience, and practising communication, you can foster a safe environment for you and your sexual partners to explore and be open about sex.
Once good communication and consent becomes an integral part of your sex life, you’ll probably find you feel more comfortable asserting your own boundaries during sex. It benefits everyone in the end (and makes sex better).
If you need support on sex and consent
- Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
- Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
- Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.
By Holly Turner
Updated on 11-Aug-2021
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