There’s been a lot of talk about consent, harassment, rape culture, and related topics in the various communities I am a part of lately. The kink community, the atheist community, and the gaming community in particular. A lot of time has been spent explaining the bad shit that happens when people aren’t careful about consent. That’s good; we need to talk about that, and I’m glad those conversations are happening. I want to take a moment to talk about the other side, though: I want to talk about the ways that being careful about consent can make life better. In particular, I want to talk about how it’s made life better for me.
First, a little history.
I think it’s fair to say I’ve always been pretty good about consent. Early in my college career, I attended a presentation about consent by the author of May I Kiss You. In his intro, he ranted for a while about how people don’t ask to kiss other people, and how great it would be if everyone did. I remember sitting in the audience grinning, my ego inflating like a balloon, because I had to that day (and still to this) never had a first kiss with anyone that I didn’t ask permission for*. There are few ego boosts more effective than someone giving a presentation that can be summed up with, “Why can’t everyone be more like this guy?” and “this guy” is you.
Early on in my dating life, it wasn’t that I was consent-minded so much as that I had absolutely no idea how to tell if someone was interested in me. The first girl I had a relationship with? I didn’t realize she liked me until about two months after our first kiss. That is how clueless I was.
I remember that kiss. I remember trying to communicate that I wanted to kiss her just with looks. I remember it not working. I remember honestly having no idea if she wanted to or not, I remember asking, and I remember the yes and what followed.
I also remember thinking that knowing when and how to make a move was something I ought to be able to do. That not intuitively knowing that was a weakness. I remember thinking about just making a move and being terrified that I would find out she wasn’t actually interested.
However, over the years I’ve more and more come to think of move-making as something that I don’t particularly want to do. I have gotten better at gauging people’s interest in me (though I still get both false positives and false negatives), and I’ve been in situations where, in retrospect, I probably could have made a move rather than asking and it would’ve been okay. However, in getting to the point where my intuition may be finely tuned enough to read when it’s okay to make a move, I’ve found I’m less and less interested in it. Because asking permission—and being careful about consent in general—has given me some of my favorite memories. I’m thankful that I’ve always been careful about consent. I’m thankful for all of the good things that have come out of it.
I’m thankful that I can be confident that the people I’ve kissed, fooled around with, had BDSM scenes with, and fucked actually wanted to do those things with me, because I gave them clear opportunities to say no.
I’m thankful for the friend of mine from college who told me that because of me she felt comfortable being assertive about her boundaries with the other men in her life.
I’m thankful that there are people that I can cuddle or** scene with or kiss or fuck even though they may not be interested in a certain subset of those things, because I asked about their boundaries in a specific enough way. Even though what I was initially interested in may have been off limits, they were comfortable enough with me to say, “but I totally am interested in doing this other thing with you.”
I’m thankful for all of the people over the years who have thanked me for being careful with their boundaries. That that has happened as often as it has makes me feel like a million dollars.
I’m thankful for the friend who, just recently, when I asked them what they found attractive about me, included the care I take with consent in the answer.
I’m thankful that because I make a habit of asking what people want and don’t want to do, I’ve learned new things about what people like and don’t like, and I’m better in bed for it.
I’m thankful that because I make a habit of asking what people want and don’t want to do, I’ve been able to add things people mentioned to my sexual repertoire. Things that wouldn’t be in it otherwise.
I’m thankful that because I make a habit of asking what people want and don’t want to do, I’ve learned that a lot of the things I like done to me are things many other people like to do, and that a lot of the things I like to do are things other people like done to them.
I’m thankful that because we were able to comfortably talk about it, I learned that two of my exes who are now in monogamous relationships are still comfortable with my being casually flirty with them. I fucking love flirting.
I’m thankful that because I’m able to respectfully take no for an answer, there are people who have felt comfortable letting me know when, sometime later, they decided they’d changed their minds to “yes” on something.
I’m thankful that I can still have comfortable, often even playfully flirty relationships with friends I’m attracted to who don’t reciprocate my interest, because I respect their boundaries.
I’m thankful that having deliberate conversations about people’s boundaries has made it easier for me to draw my own boundaries.
Perhaps most of all, I’m thankful that in being someone who cares about consent, I’ve been able to surround myself with other people who care about it, too. People who respect my boundaries, and who can articulate where their boundaries are as well. People who know how to say, “No, I don’t want that”, but also, “but maybe we could try this”, and also, “Oh God, please do that!” People who want me to be able to say all of those things as well. People who value me all the more because I’m careful about consent and who I can feel the more comfortable around because they do, too.
This is not an exhaustive list; it’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list. So if you think that being careful about consent is all boring conversations and “ruining the moment” and shit, take a good look. Those ‘Consent is sexy!’ posters are no joke. Take it from me: caring about consent often has the effect of making some very sexy things happen. Even when it doesn’t, lots of other awesome things can come from it, too.
Something to keep in mind.
Sidenote: None of this is to say that I’m perfect about consent. There are times I’ve fucked up as well. Like building good relationships, being consent-minded isn’t a destination you get to, it’s something you continuously work on. I’m just saying working on it has a lot of rewards.
*Unless they asked me, that is.