Sex + Dating

Navigating Consent: How to Get the Green Light Without Killing the Mood

By now, we all know consent in the bedroom is crucial. It’s an acknowledgement by both (or more!) parties that everyone’s down with what’s about to go down. 

But state laws and campus rules increasingly require not just a passive moan or heavy breathing, but clear and firm affirmations of “yes.” And every step of the way. Meaning that when things get hotter and a hand or mouth moves toward the next base, there’s got to be a clear agreement between the third baseman and the runner.

The rules are intended to make everyone safer... but what are you supposed to do? Sign and date a contract? Um, actually you could. You could likewise use an app that lets both parties create an encrypted record of consensual encounters. But do you really want to? Apps like We-Consent and the now-defunct Good2Go have been described with adjectives like “creepy” and “controversial,” which probably isn’t what you’re going for. (They’d also make it tough to revoke consent at a later time.) And, as if you needed more reasons not to use them, experts say the services don’t take into consideration personality, culture, or the context of an encounter.

So, how then to get the green light without killing the mood? Jaclyn Friedman, editor of an influential book on consent, believes there can’t be standard protocol, but she offers a few pointers. For one, avoid robotically saying: “Do… you… consent… to… me… touching… your… breast?”

There’s got to be a clear agreement between the third baseman and the runner.

On the other hand, “It’s really sexy if someone says, ‘I really want to blank your blank,’” Friedman says. It opens room for an affirmative response. “I find if you drop your voice an octave it makes everything sexier.” You can also just say: "Does that feel good?" 

“Most people are turned on by the fact that their partner is into them,” she says.  

Talking can feel awkward because it makes you vulnerable to being shut down. But the more you get to know a person, the easier this can become and the fewer words that need to be exchanged.

“The key is to pay attention to your partner the whole time. Do they seem into it? If you can’t tell, you check. It’s really as straightforward as that.”

Let’s say you’re hooking up and want to move on to the next act. If you’re not certain your partner is into it, you might just ask, “Does that feel good?” If their response is noncommittal, Friedman says, put the brakes on. Try something like "You sure you're into this?" or "Do you want to do something else?" 

Difficulties can arise when you get an answer you don’t want. “It can be hard to hear ‘no’ when you're really turned on, but trying to ‘get away with’ sex is a really dangerous attitude,” Friedman says. “You don't want to convince yourself you have consent on some kind of technicality. Also, sex with someone who isn't really into it -- why would you even want that?”

Alan Berkowitz, an LA-based psychotherapist who writes about sexual consent, offers a guiding principle for thinking about consent: imagine handing a hot coffee to a friend in a moving car. How do you know they have a good grip? You might feel them grasp the cup. You might ask, "You got it?" Or they might tell you they do.

“What is important is that you make the effort because you don't want to spill coffee on your friend,” he said. "Once you have committed to making the effort, you find ways to get the answer you need.”

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Chase Scheinbaum is a Thrillist writer undressing subjects of sex and dating. Follow him on Twitter @chaseshinebomb.