What is sexual consent? If you’re wondering about sexual consent, you may be afraid of its ugly cousin, non-consensual sex. You wouldn’t be alone there. 81% of women and 43% of men have experienced sexual assault of some kind. Conversely, a large number of people have had a sexual encounter that their partner didn’t want or enjoy. We all deserve to enjoy sex, and sexual consent is the tool that will move us forward. When we connect over what feels good and bad, we grow a mutual sexual connection that’s satisfying all around.
Get to know yourself.
Getting to know yourself is the first step to really being able to participate consensually in any relationship. If you don’t know yourself, how can you even explain the boundaries you’d like to have?
The best way to get to know yourself is to check in with how you’re feeling. When you’re feeling alive, excited, and powerful, you’ll want to take note. For many, this may mean spending some time alone to develop their sexual understandings of themselves. Solo play through masturbation is a great way to get to know what your body enjoys, especially when you utilize women-specific sex toys to fuel this discovery. When you’re safe and feeling curious, you can learn more about what you like.
From nipple clamps to dirty talk, checking in with yourself and how you enjoy those things is pivotal to being able to share with a partner. Sexual consent requires mutual understanding. When you know yourself, you’ll be able to communicate this clearly to a partner. When you’re ready, work with your partner to show them exactly how you like being touched. You can move their hand or tell them directly how to please you.
Get to know your partner.
It’s great that you’re willing to share yourself with your partner, but if you want a truly consensual relationship, you’ll have to respect their sexuality too. Getting to know your partner is key to really building those clear boundaries of what they enjoy feeling and how you enjoy interacting with their body.
Step towards getting to know your partner at a time and place that feels best for them. They may prefer to tell you at the dinner table, or they may prefer to show you in moments of passion and intimacy. As long as communication channels are open in both directions, you can build your understanding of them and, in turn, be able to practice sexual consent.
If you still need help, try asking them directly. It’s an act of love to ask your partner how they feel or if they like what you’re doing to their body. Make it a habit to ask for consent before doing new things and also ask them for feedback. Some couples even find success in a post-coital debrief- what did we try this time, and did it work for you? When you’re both willing to share honestly with your bodies, you’ll be succeeding at sexual consent in no time.
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Use a tool.
Sexual consent forms are literal contracts. These forms are constructed by adults to reflect both their desires and their limits around sex. They’re a very useful tool for building a satisfying sexual connection. This gives you both some basic information about how each of you likes to engage with sex. They’ll often include a list of common sexual acts and provide a space for each of you to share how you feel about them.
If you’ve been hurt prior due to sexual consent violations, using a tool like a sexual consent form is a great way to get concrete with your partner about what you like and what you don’t. It can also help take some of the emotional intensity out of the moment you share this information. Many sexual consent forms help better enable deeper conversation. Consider using a sexual consent form as the tool it is to generate more conversation with your partner.
Try new things.
It may sound unorthodox, but believe it or not, some experimentation is critical when creating boundaries about sex. If you never try anything new sexually, it’s hard to make new guidelines about what feels good. What is sexual consent if it’s not shifting? The odds of you finding the same things enjoyable when you’re 22 as when you’re 62 are low. We’re constantly growing and changing. Taking the risk to experiment is part of what makes building sexual relationships so exciting.
If trying new things sounds terrifying to you, remember that it doesn’t mean you have to like all the new things. It would be normal that some things you try you like, and some things you don’t. Just like a kid hates peas the first time they try them, you may hate anal play. Find what you do and don’t like in specific terms, and be sure to let your partner know.
Sexual consent is gained by trusting our partner to both respect our boundaries when they are firm and when they are just being created. To do this most successfully, be sure to cultivate open lines of communication with your partner. Experimentation is never an excuse for an egregious consent violation, and your partner should respect you and your desires.
Notice what feels good.
Communicating our pleasure is essential to consent. When something feels good, and we lean into that good feeling, it grows. When we share our pleasure with a sexual partner, we have the opportunity to build and grow pleasure together. This could sound like so many things. Moans, dirty talk, and even “more to the left” are all ways of sharing what we enjoy about sex with our partner.
Allowing ourselves to verbalize what feels good can allow our sexual relationships to grow. Your partner should be actively listening to what you’re saying. Be direct and let them know what they’re doing and what impact it is having on your body. When you and your partner debrief mutually on what feels good, you can begin to create the boundaries that form a consenting and healthy sexual relationship.
Notice when something hurts.
While this seems like common sense, noticing when your body hurts isn’t always an intuitive practice. In fact, some women lose touch with parts of their body during sex if they’ve been the victim of a lack of sexual consent before. These prior consent violations can really make it challenging to notice when something hurts.
It’s important we tell our partners honestly when something hurts. If we’re not honest with them about this, we’re recreating the consent violations of our past. You deserve to feel good and pain-free during sexual intercourse. If things pinch, burn, tingle, or cramp at any time, you need to let your partner know.
Communicating your pain doesn’t have to be critical or unkind, but it does need to be direct. Directly label your pain and where it is on your body to your partner. Share with them what hurts and what they can do to help you feel more comfortable. Remember that lubrication, a quick time out, or repositioning can work wonders- but they can’t happen if you don’t let someone know.
Notice your boredom.
Boredom is a valid sexual experience. And believe it or not, it tells us a lot about what we desire. Boredom lets us know that our bodies are ready to enjoy different things and to learn how to interact with others differently.
When we are able to notice that we’re bored, we’re able to follow its natural cues. This lets us express to our partner that we’d like to try something new. Some fantastic sexual relationships have been formed when one party takes the leap of faith to confess a fetish or desire that they haven’t prior. Your pleasure, pain, and apathy are all valid signals that you need to revisit your sexual boundaries.
To do this best:
- Be clear and direct with your partner.
- Tell them what you’d like to try.
- Collaborate with them on what would work for them.
And above all, allow a lot of grace for mistakes and learning. Growing sexually with your partner can be both thrilling and confusing. It’s ok to take your time and learn something new with one another.