How To Practice Affirmative Consent In Your Sex Life

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In the wake of the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses and the #MeToo movement, activists have been calling for a new model of consent: affirmative consent. This means that rather than simply teaching people “no means no,” we teach them “yes means yes” and anything else is too ambiguous to serve as consent. This idea has gotten criticism from people who believe asking permission for every sexual act is unsexy or ruins the mood. But there are ways to do it that actually are sexy and only enhance the experience. At ConsentCon, held at the Brooklyn club NSFW, NSFW's Founder and Chief Conspirator Daniel Saynt explained how to do this.

“We’ve been given this constant steam of people who don’t practice enthusiastic consent,” Saynt said. He has a point: How often do you see people in porn stop to talk about what they’ll do next? Or see movie couples establish what people are and aren’t OK with before sex scenes?

However, the #MeToo movement has been getting people to think harder about how they practice consent in their own lives. Critics have said that men are now afraid to even ask women out because of it. But the truth is, women (and people of all genders) still want to go on dates and have sex. They just want to be respected in the process. Instead of feeling like bad people if we haven’t always practiced affirmative consent in our lives, we can use this opportunity to be better people. Here’s how everyone can better practice affirmative consent in their lives, according to Saynt's talk.

1Treat Asking For Consent As Foreplay

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Saynt likes to think of asking for consent as foreplay or dirty talk. A good place to start is “I want to do [sex act] to you,” “Do you want to [sex act]?”, or “I’ve been thinking about [sex act] all day.” This gives them the opportunity to say “yes” or “no.” If the answer is “yes,” they'll probably be turned on by the question. If the answer is "no," they'll have the chance to say so.

2Discuss What You Like In Advance

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Conversations about consent shouldn't only happen when you’re about to do something. You should also have a larger conversation with your partner about what each of you likes. “Be open to asking your partners what they find kinky or interesting,” says Saynt. If they express interest in an activity, that doesn’t mean they consent to it at every future point; you still need to ask each time. But knowing what each other likes can give you an idea of what to try — and what’s off the table.

3Take “No” Gracefully

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It stinks to be rejected. But what stinks even more is being guilted for rejecting someone. This can teach people to say “yes” to things they’re not comfortable with in the future to avoid that guilt. So, Saynt advises telling someone it’s totally cool if they don’t want to do a particular thing and there is absolutely no pressure. The insecurities that the rejection brought up are real and valid and worth addressing, but they’re not the other person’s responsibility.

4Say “No” Gracefully

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On the flip side, it’s important to reject someone respectfully so that they don’t feel bad about having asked — or about asking for consent in the future. “Don’t try to destroy them,” says Saynt.

5Be Aware Of The Other Person's Body Language

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If somebody says “no” and their body language seems to be saying “yes,” it’s still a no. But if it’s the reverse — they verbally say “yes” but their body language, facial expression, or tone of voice seems uncertain — it’s best to take that as a “no,” says Saynt. “Just because someone is saying ‘yes,’ if their body language is saying something else, be aware of that.” It’s possible that they’re saying “yes” because they feel pressured. Or maybe they’re interested, but they have some reservations they need to discuss. If they seem uncomfortable at all, you should talk about it, not take advantage of the ambiguity.

6Speak Up If You See Something Suspicious

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We can all help one another practice affirmative consent. If you witness a physical interaction that only one person seems into, make sure the other person is OK. Saynt also advocates speaking up if someone’s given a hard time for saying “no.” The more people are held accountable for their behavior, the more thoughtful they’ll be about it. Or, if they don't become more thoughtful, people will know to stop engaging with them and inviting them into their spaces.

#MeToo isn't just about calling other people out; it's also about examining ourselves. And all of us could stand to think more about how respectfully we behave toward our sexual partners.