On college campuses everywhere, the pervasive nature of hookup culture makes enthusiastic consent seem lame. For fear of “ruining the mood,” a lack of communication prevails in sexual encounters across the board. Yet, consent is essential to healthy, enjoyable sexual activity and it should be practiced whether you’re in a relationship or if it’s just a hookup.
All too often, the dialogue on consent focuses on a verbal “no” and while that is a vital element, the shift to enthusiastic consent promotes active communication in the collective experience of sexual activity. The idea of affirmative or enthusiastic consent is all about confirming that your partner’s “yes” is a genuine and eager expression of their interest in the act.
Here are some surefire tips to establish and maintain enthusiastic consent throughout the entire act.
The first step in approaching any sexual encounter is making sure all interested parties are in a place mentally and physically to make their own informed sexual decisions. If this is compromised in any way due to intoxication, consent cannot be freely given. And just to be perfectly clear: “No” means no. “Maybe” means no. Saying nothing means no. Even “yes” can sometimes mean “no.” This is where the idea of enthusiastic consent emphasizes that a “yes” needs to be freely given, meaning if there’s emotional manipulation, coercion or pressure in any form, that “yes” counts as a “no.” Only a “yes” that is expressed with sincerity means yes.
While physical intimacy depends on respect between partners, it also demands a great deal of trust. By engaging in sex, you open up your body and mind to another person. So before moving onto anything else, recognize that any sexual activity comes with vulnerability and enthusiastic consent lies at the threshold of a positive or negative sexual experience.
Talk it out!
Communication is key to any sexual activity. Before you start making moves, establish mutual interest. Be attentive to your partner’s body language and of any verbal cues of interest. But, understand communicating intent is not the same thing as consent. Ensuring your partner has the same expectations keeps everyone on the same page until the point of sexual activity.
Communication prior to sexual activity can even be a form of foreplay. Saying things like “I can’t wait to X!” and “Would you like it if I X?” can be a huge turn on — and there’s no such thing as too much foreplay.
Obtain and maintain enthusiastic consent
Now that you and your partner are all riled up, verbally obtain consent. Ask your partner at the start of sexual activity and at every stage of sexual activity. For example, if your partner has consented to one act and you want to include or move onto another, say something along the lines of, “Would you like it if I X?”
Although verbal consent is vital, be observant of any body language. If your partner is pulling away, frozen or not responding in any way at all, stop and just ask if they’re okay with the situation at hand. Do not continue until they give expressed consent again. That being said, if you are unsure of their body language at all, it’s always best to ask.
And as for yourself, providing continuous feedback — whether positive or negative — is the best approach to maintaining enthusiastic consent. While most of the conversations surrounding consent focus on obtaining it, it’s important to note there should be just as much responsibility in providing enthusiastic consent. Saying things like, “that feels good” or “keep doing that,” or even reciprocating similar body language assures your partner that your consent is freely given and it’s an enjoyable time. By vocalizing pleasure through verbal and nonverbal cues, it eliminates any uncertainty that your partner might be feeling.
Remember, consent can be withdrawn at any time. Respecting your own and others’ boundaries facilitates a pleasurable and healthy environment for everyone involved.