“I think it’s ridiculous to ask your sexual partner for consent every 6 seconds.”
I had this discussion thread on Twitter forwarded to me recently. It’s part and parcel of what happens whenever the idea of consent is brought up on social media. Whenever we talk about the concept of enthusiastic consent – that is, getting a definitive “yes” for sexual activity – there will always be an argument. There is inevitably someone who will complain about the burden. It’s portrayed as needless “social justice” interference, sucking the joy out of sex and not in the fun way. After all, who could sustain the mood when you have to keep asking permission to do anything? Why should someone ask if they can kiss someone and if they can touch their chest and if they can undo their belt?
At the same time, most of the talk about getting consent focuses on clarity and the necessity rather than the method. In fact, trying to make asking for consent more appealing can get no small amount of pushback.
And while it’s undeniably true that consent is required, the idea that asking is a stumbling block persists. It’s not really enough to say “well… tough” when people are legitimately worried about not knowing how to ask. It’s an ongoing failure in sex education.We may get a basic anatomy lesson, but we get nothing on how to talk about sex.
So consent may be required… but for every step? Does asking ruin the mood, or can consent be sexy?
The Consent Straw Man
One of the problems with talking about consent is the idea that asking for consent is inherently a burden – and a ridiculous one at that.
I’m willing to bet every sex scene in Mass Effect: Andromeda will revolve around consent fetish. “Can I kiss your neck?” “Are you sure?”
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) January 17, 2017
Case in point – calling enthusiastic consent a “fetish”, as though it were it were an unpleasant inconvenience or something absurd that only some people need.When we talk about enthusiastic consent, people act as though asking for consent is a never ending call and response that just serves as a series of speed bumps on the way to pound town. How can you have hot, mind-blowing sex if you have to stop and ask before you get to the blowing? Shouldn’t you be able to just assume that everything’s on course past a certain point? Why do we have to make sex a chore with these trumped up, unnecessary rules?
Of course, it’s difficult to take that question seriously with the number of people who don’t recognize sexual assault when they hear it. The idea that someone just let you do something – especially at times when their ability to consent is in question – isn’t the same as someone who’s actually consenting.
Similarly, people may not actually say no to something they don’t want to do; they may give a soft refusal in hopes to get the message across without having to be direct. Asking for consent, checking in with your partner and communicating are all part of how you ensure that the person you’re with is as down to clown as you are.
Then there’s the fact that consent is granular. Someone may well be down for giving a blow-job, but isn’t in the mood for penetration. Someone might be ok with the idea of fucking but doesn’t like the hair-pulling you like. Or – as can sometimes happen – they may decide during that they’re not actually ok with things and would prefer to stop. Asking and checking helps keep the communication going and makes sure everybody stays on the same page.
But what about the flow? Doesn’t asking kill the mood?
It’s Damned Hard To Ruin The Mood
Part of why the “awkward consent” straw man exists is because it equates asking your partner as an awkward stumbling block. It requires sex to be mechanical and impersonal and so fragile that looking at it the wrong way can shatter it into a thousand pieces. Sexual desire becomes a creature so shy and tremulous that the slightest noise or distraction sends it fleeing into the woods, never to be seen again.
Of course this ignores that things “interrupt the flow” of sex all the time. We fart, we fumble, we knock shit off the nightstand. Spotify suddenly decides that the Power Rangers theme is on our sex playlist. The cat leaps onto the bed and just does not want to leave. Somebody gets whiskey dick and offers to switch to their fingers instead. Most of the time we just laugh, readjust and keep at it. It takes some truly sustained effort to kill the mood when you and your honey are into it. In fact, when somebody is horny and determined, it’s kind of amazing what doesn’t kill the mood.
So why do we get hung up on the idea that asking if we can kiss someone or take off their bra or go down on them is a hindrance to sex? The fear that asking for consent ruins the moment comes less from actual practice and far more from our cultural aversion to treating sex as something deliberate. Sex, we are taught, is supposed to be something that just happens. If it’s not spontaneous, it’s not authentic or sexy. Planning sex “takes the romance out”, even when it actually can save relationships. If we put too much thought into it then it’s supposedly no longer an outpouring of authentic desire.
Similarly, there is the idea that if you have to ask, then you’re a loser. A true cocksman should be able to tell what somebody wants. Television and movies love to reinforce the idea that asking somebody for a kiss is the least sexy thing in the world.
So if you have to ask, then clearly you’re not a “real man”.
According to, you know. Other guys.
In practice however, asking for consent can be sexy as hell. You just need to know how.
Consent As Seduction
The key to making consent sexy is to stop seeing it as this stumbling block that you have to get over as quickly as possible. Asking if somebody wants something isn’t about taking a hot moment and making it awkward. It’s not about a pause between stages or asking every six seconds, it’s about making asking for enthusiastic consent as part of the seduction.
Seduction, after all, is about persuasion. You are making someone want to let go of decorum and just surrender to their passion. A skilled seducer is someone who elicits consent, inspiring to say “yes”. Over and over again.
Let’s take the ever classic “A guy shouldn’t ask to kiss a girl”. You two have been flirting all night. The sexual tension has been building with every laugh, every touch and every glance. And, as you’re standing close, you lean in and whisper “what would happen if I kissed you right now?”
You would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t think that was the hottest thing ever. And yet you’ve just done the unthinkable: you asked if you could kiss someone. That should be unsexy according to the “asking is awkward” crowd. But by asking – especially in the way you asked – you’ve made getting her consent as much of a turn-on as the act itself.
This follows with sex as well. “What if I were to kiss your neck right now?” “Would you like me to run my fingers over your hip?” “Can I kiss my way down your stomach?” With each step, you’re asking permission but you’re also asking your partner to participate in their own seduction. It makes them as complicit in their desire as you are.
“Do you like this?” you might ask as you start to kiss your way down their neck. “What would you like next? Do you want me to touch you here?” You may be asking with each step, but in doing so, it makes your partner eager to say “yes” over and over again.
Now asking for consent isn’t a speed bump interrupting the proceedings, it’s pacing. You are controlling their arousal, making their consent part of the game… all the more so when you space things out to drive them crazy.
Of course, while knowing how to ask in the moment is important, it’s not the only way to make sure you have consent…
Plan Out Consent In Advance
One important lesson in asking for consent comes from the bondage scene: plan things out in advance.
Bondage play isn’t something that can be done on the spur of the moment. Neither do doms just spring a scene on their sub. Whether the play involves spanking, ropes or something more extreme, it requires planning and preparation on the part of both the sub and the dom. The scene and how it will play out is often planned out in exacting detail. The consent of both partners is quite literally designed in with the planning… and far from making things awkward or uncomfortable, it makes the resulting play that much hotter.
Even in the scene itself, consent becomes part of the play. “I am going to tie you to this bed and then I’m going to flog you. If you make a sound, I will take it as a sign to continue.” “I am going to hold you down and I’m going to use this on you. Do you want this?”
Giving that yes – even when it is seemingly coerced – becomes a moment of utter freedom; part of the sub-space, as some call it.
Why? Because with consent given in advance – and the knowledge that it can be withdrawn – there’s freedom to simply give in to the scene. You are able to surrender into the sensations and give yourself to it entirely without having to think about it.
Even in cases of total power exchange – rape and ravishment fantasies, for example – the fact that everything from the seeming lack of consent is planned and consented to in advance gives the scene it’s power. It’s surrendering to the moment and allowing yourself to be carried away without having to think, secure in the knowledge that you have the means to end things if you need it.
But how would this work if you’re not necessarily going in for floggers and rope?
You have what sex expert Reid Mihalko calls the “safe sex elevator speech”: your consent elevator pitch as it were. Here is what someone can do to win with you: what words or actions bring you out of the mood, what do you like, what are you up for tonight, what are your hard “no”‘s… and what about them?
Talking it out in advance lets you put everything on the table up front… and in doing so frees you up in the moment to simply be.
But the most important part about asking for consent is how it makes you a better lover.
Communication Is Key
Asking for consent isn’t just about being in the moment, it’s about our relationship to sex.
Part of why asking and checking in with your partner is seen as so awkward is because we get trained out of communicating our needs. Our sexual development – our desires, needs and limits – happen in private. We are taught that sex is supposed happen without conversation or without words. We are, in short, expected to be mind readers, able to intuit what our partners want.
That’s the literal opposite of a skilled lover.
Being a great lover isn’t about “knowing” what a partner wants, it’s about communicating with them. Treating asking for consent as an obstacle hinders communication and makes the connection needed for great sex even harder to achieve. But by asking for consent – not just once but throughout – you empower yourself and your partner to advocate for your needs. You make sex something truly collaborative, rather than a guessing game or something to be taken. It creates a space where people can be truly comfortable and truly open. And that leads to the truly mind-blowing, bed-rocking sex you both want.
Consent is fucking required.
But it’s sexy as hell too.