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By Leo Aquino
Ever since Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace, the word consent has been the center of heated debates in mainstream media. The definition of sexual consent may seem like common sense, but the experience of giving consent is actually pretty layered.
But what is the definition of consent?
In the context of sex, consent is the verbal and physical permission given to perform sexual acts with someone. Consent can sound like:
- “Yes, I can’t wait to have sex with you.”
- “Yes, you can take my shirt off.”
- “Yes, I love what you’re doing right now, give me more.”
- “Yes, I want you to f*ck me. Grab a condom.”
Any sexual activity that happens without consent is considered sexual assault. Here’s an acronym, FIRES, used by Planned Parenthood (and many other organizations) to describe consent:
- Freely given. Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
- Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.
- Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.
Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex).
Copied and pasted from Planned Parenthood’s acronym of FRIES.
Copied and pasted from Planned Parenthood’s acronym of FRIES.
Boundaries and consent make the world go ‘round.
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Consent is the finish line, and boundaries are the shiny racecars that we use to get there.
Boundaries are the limits and preferences we set with other people. Boundaries can be given when someone is doing harmful, or to prevent someone from doing something harmful. Boundaries can sound like this:
- “Hey, you’re a little too close. Could you please stand six feet away from me?”
- “My gender pronouns are they/them. Please don’t refer to me as she/her when talking about me in third person.”
- “I’m not really in the mood to talk about Pokemon right now. Could we talk about it later?”
- “Wait, this sex position is starting to hurt. Can we take a break?”
- “I’m excited to have sex with you, but I don’t feel comfortable doing it unless we both get tested for STIs.”
Those who are uninformed about boundaries may see them as barriers to having a good time. (Big red flag! Step away from that person immediately!) But we prefer to think about boundaries as connectors that make it easier to connect with one another.
Why do we need to practice consent in everyday life?
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Movies and television shows emphasize spontaneous body language to hype up steamy sex scenes, but that’s not usually how it works in the bedroom. Like any other shared experience, you have to communicate with your partner(s) to make sure that you’re giving each other pleasure in ways that are consensual.
Consent is a state of mind. When we take the time to understand what consent means — in every part of our life, not just the bedroom — we take agency over our bodies and personal space. If we practice consent in non-sexual scenarios, we’re more likely to practice healthy boundaries in the bedroom.
We will learn how to set healthy boundaries for our physical and emotional space, which will lead to healthy sexual boundaries as well. Consent will become second nature, and we’ll cultivate more mindful language when getting or giving consent.
How to celebrate consent in your everyday life
Consent is a muscle that needs to be strengthened over time. To help you jumpstart your journey to stronger boundaries, here are eight ways to celebrate consent in your everyday life:
1. Give big, exaggerated, enthusiastic yeses.
Whether you’re ordering from a drive-thru or agreeing to babysit your cousin’s kids, exaggerate your yeses.
Drop your purse, tilt your head back and give a slow scream: “YyYyYyYEeeeeeSsssss! I’d looooove fries with that!” Dance or jump around if you need to!
When you attach physical actions to the word “yes,” you’ll be able to notice when your body really doesn’t want to give someone that yes. You might discover that you really do want fries with your milkshake, but you hate babysitting.
You’ll become more honest about the times that you want to say yes, which is a blessing for everyone around you.
2. Spend five minutes every morning or evening writing in a pleasure journal.
Consent begins with awareness of what feels good. How can we give a real enthusiastic yes if we don’t know how certain things are going to make us feel?
Here’s a quick exercise to boost your awareness of pleasure: Start or end your day by making a list of things that gave you pleasure — even if it’s not sexual!
I saw a butterfly coming out of its cocoon today, and it was pretty neat!
My friend brought me homemade chili because I asked her for the recipe at a party last year. How thoughtful!
The water pressure from my shower was perfect today.
I love sleeping in my bed right after pulling the sheets out of the dryer.
She flicked her tongue in circles, instead of up and down, around my clit and I had the most mind-blowing orgasm, holy shit.
It’s important to know what feels good so that you can ask for more. ;)
At Lioness, we encourage everyone to become an expert in seeking their own pleasure. That’s why our vibrators are equipped with pressure and heat sensors, so that you can find out more about what feels good to you and fight for it.
3. Practice saying, “Thank you for naming your boundary.”
As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to think of boundaries as connectors instead of barriers. When you state your boundaries, you’re teaching someone how to love you and care for you.
Sometimes, when you can tell that the friendship or relationship isn’t going anywhere, it’s so much easier to just leave instead of naming boundaries.
Show gratitude to your friends and loved ones who make their boundaries known. Sharing a boundary is an act of love and respect. It shows that someone is willing to grow in relationship with you!
4. Ask your friend for a BDE — Best Day Ever ;)
Call one of your friends and make very specific plans for your Best Day Ever.
“Hey, friend. I’ve been having a shitty week, and this weekend, all I want to do is laugh in front of a TV and eat chocolate cake with you. You in?”
Your friend may have suggestions to make it an even better day, which you may or may not agree to. Or they may say they’re too tired to hang out. All of those outcomes are okay!
The important thing is that you know exactly what you want from the interaction, and you asked confidently — with Big Dick Energy (the other BDE) — for what you wanted. (And you gave your friend their own space to share their boundaries and consent as they saw fit.)
This practice can embolden you to whisper naughty things in your partner’s ear and direct them in giving you pleasure. “Babe, I want you to start by grabbing my hair and running your fingernails down my thighs. Then I want you to kiss me all around my pussy and make me beg for it.”
5. Don’t be afraid to change your mind.
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Maybe you asked your friend for your Best Day Ever, but once you started hanging out, you were in the mood to order Chinese Food. Maybe you started watching a movie or TV show that isn’t funny at all.
Speak up and say, “I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would. Can we do something else?”
You have the freedom to change your mind! Practicing it as a form of celebration non-sexually will encourage you to speak up when your partner is doing something you’re not totally cool with sexually.
6. While driving, talk to other drivers out loud.
In an article informing teens about consent, Teen Vogue wrote that driving is one of the best examples of consent. When someone cuts you off in the highway, you might say, “What the fuck!?”
When someone lets you cut through traffic to turn into a side street, you might say to that other driver, “Thanks, dude! Appreciate you!” even if they can’t hear you.
We don’t encourage road rage, but tracking your reactions when basic rules of safety are violated can help you speak up if things go south during a sexual encounter.
Remaining motionless or silent (freezing) or resorting to extreme people-pleasing (fawning) are normal reactions when traumatic situations arise. These reactions help us survive, and they shouldn’t be discounted as weak or irrational.
If we speak up when we’re upset — which is normalized for an activity like driving — we train our minds and bodies to fight for what we need.
7. Order a cake from a local bakery, just because.
When you order customized baked goods, you’ll find that the world is your oyster. They ask all kinds of questions: What color icing would you like us to use? What size would you like the cake to be? Which cake flavors would you like? What kind of decorations do you want us to put on your cake?
(Bonus points: Ask them to write the word “consent” on the cake. We’re here for consent cake, all day, everyday, baby!)
Notice how many different preferences you’re asked to name in this experience. By naming each choice boldly, you’ll end up with the best possible Consent Cake — and you’ll enjoy eating it even more!
Remember that in every sexual encounter, you have a choice and a voice. You’re allowed to name as many preferences as possible to have the best experience.
Practicing consensual non-consent (CNC)
Consensual non-consent (CNC) originates in BDSM culture, but the concept holds many lessons for all sexually active people. CNC might include roleplay fantasies of being dominated or raped. Consensual non-consent is practiced safely when both partners communicate deliberately before, during and after the experience. Partners might even use safewords to keep the experience from going south.
Returning to our bakery analogy, you may surrender to the fact that you can’t bake and trust the baker wholeheartedly to make the best decisions for you. Even in that surrender, you’re allowed to set the terms beforehand to ensure that you get the best Consent Cake ever.
8. Stay present in your yeses.
Here’s another helpful writing exercise: Make a list of things that you agreed to do, from the mundane to the major.
I want to sit and drink tea on the couch, on that one spot where the sunlight sits before the sun goes down.
I want to eat a delicious home-cooked meal, and I want all of my groceries delivered.
I want to go down on my partner again, that was fun.
Be careful! This exercise is pretty life-changing. When we realize how many times we sacrifice the things we really want to do, we might not go back.
When we can readily identify a full-bodied, intentional, enthusiastic yes, we can stay present in the things we agreed to do. We planned these activities, and now they’re happening just the way we like it! What a concept.
Some people shrink at the thought of discussing sexual consent. Some believe that consent should be discussed in hushed whispers in private. But in reality, consent is something we can celebrate in our everyday lives, sexually and non-sexually.
It’s a mindset that helps us achieve the maximum amount of pleasure — both sexual, and otherwise.
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