How many times have you thought, “if I just find the right toy, I’ll be able to orgasm at last.” Or, how many ads have you seen for products that basically promise to fix your sex life? We’re here to tell you the best vibrator in the world can’t fix underlying issues with partnerships or a lack of communication. In fact, consent is the foundation to all pleasure, and you can’t get by without it.
If you’re struggling to enjoy pleasure solo or with a partner, let’s talk about intimate partner communication.
What Is Consent?
First thing’s first: what is consent? According to RAINN, the Rape, Asbuse and Incest National Network, consent is “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.” Consent is also an “ongoing process,” and not something that happens just once. It includes both physical and verbal affirmative cues.
RAINN points out that consent to one thing is not consent to everything. Agreeing to kiss someone does not in any way obligate you to take off your clothes or perform other sexual activities. Consent can be withdrawn at any time, and it’s normal for partners to set boundaries, like not wanting to have anal sex or participate in an open relationship, for examples. Boundaries should be communicated clearly.
Lastly, RAINN describes a new concept called “enthusiastic consent.” This means your partner gives both verbal and physical affirmatives, and it is the presence of “yes” rather than the absence of “no.” Obviously, if someone feels pressured to say yes but is showing closed-off body language, or is unable to say “yes,” that means you don’t have consent. Enthusiastic consent can mean letting your partner know they can quit at any time, or checking in with them along the way.
Getting Consent Before Partner Play
Now that we’ve talked about what consent is, let’s talk about how to get consent before partner play. You’ve probably heard the phrase “consent is sexy,” and maybe you thought it was a good motto. But actually, consent is really sexy. Has someone ever asked “Can I kiss you?” while making sultry eyes at you? That gives us butterflies. In the same way, using naughty details and explicit language to describe what you want to do with or to your partner is a major turn on, and gives them a chance to set boundaries if they aren’t comfortable with something.
Aside from sexy talk (sexting is a great way to set the stage and brainstorm bedroom activities), having real and vulnerable conversations are important. If a partner has experienced sexual trauma, including sexual assault, they may want to explain how it makes them feel and why it’s caused any sexual boundaries they may have. Getting these weights off our chest is often a good way to ensure sex is more comfortable, fun and safe. Good communication is crucial to consent because your partner needs to know you can talk about mature subjects responsibility, and they want you to acknowledge their needs. They need to trust you, and vice versa.
If you need to, consider visiting a couple’s therapist to navigate particularly vulnerable conversations about consent or previous assault. Trauma has physical consequences, like pain during sex, and it can be difficult to explain without making either party feel responsible or guilty. You may think communication is just about getting a “yes,” or a green light to have sex, but it’s so much more than that! Without it, pleasurable activities are no longer pleasing.
Types Of Consent During Partner Play
Consent extends into partner play, too, and doesn’t end at the beginning. Make sure you check for both types of consent, which can be verbal or non-verbal.
- Check in with your partner and yourself during sex. If something is upsetting or uncomfortable, make it known. Asking “does that feel good?” and using dirty talk to check in makes sure you’re both comfortable. Safe words are essential for kinky play, and these must be decided on beforehand.
- Use and look for non-verbal cues to continue getting consent. If a partner looks like they’re in pain or starts to have closed body language, like turning away or bringing their legs together, ask what’s going on. If you’re using BDSM gear or otherwise unable to get verbal cues, make sure you have a safe movement, like making a slashing motion across your throat. This indicates your partner needs to stop, and do so immediately.
Keeping Consent After Sex
After play is over, you may want to recap with your partner(s). What felt good? What could’ve been different? Is there anything new or different you’d like to try? Good foreplay starts immediately after the last orgasm and lasts until the next one, even if it’s a week or more later. Breaking down what went right and what could change is an excellent way to keep pleasurable and consensual sex top of mind.
We hope this guide will get you thinking about consent differently. If you haven’t lately, simply start by asking your partner how they feel about your sex lives. You both deserve pleasure! And remember, a walk-in closet full of sex toys won’t bridge the gaps bad communication leaves.