There has been quite a bit of discussion recently about the idea of “enthusiastic consent” as it relates to engaging in sexual activity, and honestly, it’s about time. In recent years, we’ve witnessed a surge in discussions about sexual assault and debates about whether or not no really means no. Congressmen have questioned the legitimacy of “rape,” and the courts of public opinion (particularly the exchanges on social media) have yet to come to unanimous verdicts about what classifies as “rape.” There are still too many “jokes” made about rape.
And maybe it’s me, but people seem to be growing increasingly indifferent or apathetic to the very real threats and instances of sexual violence.
We do more to teach people how to avoid being raped and not enough to teach people not to rape in the first place. A big part of the problem is that we don’t discuss the importance of proactively and clearly consenting to sex. I’ve thought a bit about what it means to not simply consent to sex, but to do so enthusiastically, leaving no room for confusion for all parties involved.
Let’s Talk About Sex
Consenting to sex with enthusiasm isn’t just about saying the word “yes!” with excitement and a big smile, though that can certainly be part of it. It’s more about having conversations prior to doing the do during which you convey your desire to have sex with someone, and talk about the things you enjoy, the things you don’t like, and begin to build anticipation for what might turn into a few rounds of amazing sex. It’s in these conversations that people express their boundaries, fantasies, and make it plain that they do want to have sex and want it to go as smoothly as possible.
Sexting is a great way to initiate talks of desire, and watching some adult videos can help with identifying boundaries. You might see a woman taking a foreign object inside of her and yell out, “Hey, I am not doing THAT!,” making it very clear to your partner that that particular act is not for you.
Having these conversations can only happen if we feel safe and comfortable discussing sex openly, which is what I encourage. The key to getting the most pleasure out of sex is to be an aware and active participant in the planning and the execution. Increase awareness of your partner’s desires by asking questions like, Do you like when I do this?, You want to do what we did last time again?, and I noticed you didn’t respond much the last time I did this. Would you rather I not do it again? Being keenly aware of your partner’s responses makes you become a better lover, so why not seek out consent to try new things and move forward?
Inebriation Doesn’t Make the Choice
Having discussions prior to sex is ideal, but they definitely don’t always happen, and we have to be mindful about potential consequences. Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol can make for rather dangerous sexual situations if consent isn’t clearly conveyed. Some people argue that a drunk person can never consent to sex. Others believe people can consent while under the influence and have a really great experience, especially when people are “drunk in love.”
I think both sides of this debate are valid. Every situation is different, but it’s important to err on the side of caution and cover all of your bases. The last thing anyone should do is approach a situation with the “How many drinks will it take to get you home with me?” attitude. If you must get someone drunk to get them to “agree” to have sex with you, you need to seriously check yourself and see what’s going on with your life.
Full disclosure: I’ve had sex while intoxicated on a number of occasions. In some instances, I made it clear to my partner before the drinking began that I wanted to have sex that evening, and that he had permission to get freaky with me even after I’ve had a few drinks. I usually tried to initiate the sex. But there were some times when my partner put me to bed instead, opting not to have sex with me while my speech was slurring incoherently. (That wasn’t appealing at all.)
In other instances, I found myself in situations far less than desirable and I couldn’t remember agreeing to have sex… but maybe I did? I just didn’t know for sure afterwards, and that made me feel mostly confused, often scared, and worrisome about what might have happened in the blurred haze of my night.
Enthusiasm Trumps Coercion
I’ve heard men say they sometimes feel obligated to pursue women, and some even admit to enjoying the thrill of the chase. Sometimes, men feel expected to keep trying until women give in, dismissing women’s rejection as some “playing hard to get” mask. This is troubling, because this is, in many cases, a form of coercion—which is very wrong. Why should anyone feel guilty or pressured to give into sex?
Too many women have admitted to “giving in” to sex just to get men to leave them alone (as I’m sure has also happened with men). There’s an underlying reluctance there that’s not even remotely sexy. In fact, it can be quite the turn off. No does, in fact, mean no, and I think we should aim more for “Yes!! Give it to me one more time, baby!!,” which clearly means full steam ahead.
We need more conversations about the ways in which we can clearly convey desire to participate in consensual sex with willing partners. We should stop letting shame, secrecy and antiquated beliefs about the propriety of sex talk get in the way of asserting our enthusiastic desire to have great sex. It’s time to change how we approach sex, because sex isn’t something that we should just let happen to us. We need to grab the bull by the horns, if you know what I mean.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.