In physical intimacy, the ethos I learned while growing up was that the boy would try to get “as far” with the girl as she would “let him” and if she said, no, he would pause for a moment and then try again. It was a level of offense and defense with women holding the role of a traffic cop on the actions in a makeout session. During this time, the word consent was not part of the world’s lexicon.
The word date rape was first seen in print in the 1975’s Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape by Susan Brownmiller. In 1982, Ms. Magazine published an article called “Date Rape: A Campus Epidemic?”
Although the term has only been around for a generation, date or acquaintance rape has been happening throughout history. Historically, wives have been seen as the property of their husbands, and it wasn’t until 1993 that all fifty states criminalized the concept of marital rape.
We come from a long, torrid history of men not asking for consent for what they wanted from the women in their lives. This is another reason why women have a history of not directly asking what they want. Once a woman feels safe with a man, inside and outside the bedroom, she can speak more directly about her desires.
I’ve heard a common complaint (by all genders) that consent can “ruin the mood,” and therefore no one wants to ask and be asked what feels good. We are flying blind with our sexual partners and what they truly want. Women are also taught to “brave it out” and stay in unpleasurable situations until it’s done. They turn off their sensory bodies, clench their teeth, and let the men do as they please.
I am a strong believer in consent.
The way for a woman to feel safe in your presence is for you to (a) up your attention and (b) ask for consent along the way. This doesn’t mean that you need to ask for EVERY point of physical interaction. However, it’s best to give her the space to make choices.
I loved Will Smith’s education of Kevin James’ character in the movie Hitch on how to kiss his dream woman for the first time. He recommends that the helpless Albert comes 90% of the way for the first kiss and allow the woman to cross the last 10%. I agree with this concept. By doing the work and taking the risk, you are showing the woman your intent and desire but allowing her the choice to have that experience with you or not.
Consent can be discussed before you make it to the bedroom. I would recommend taking the time during the courting/getting to know you stage to find out the woman’s desire about their level of consent. It can be titillating just talking about the first kiss before it happens. I understand that you can also talk this out to death which I do not recommend, so find the balance with your prospective partners.
Him: Can we talk about something a little serious?
Her: Hmm… it depends. What’s on your mind?
Him: It feels like we’ve been getting closer over these last few months and I want to have a conscious and deliberate conversation about our sexuality. I’m not trying to rush you into HAVING it but would like to talk about things like STD’s, consent, and things you like and don’t like. Better be deliberate rather than bumble around in the dark.
Her: Well then… I do like when a man is direct. Yes, let’s talk about it.
Consent can also be extended past sex. It can be used to find out a woman’s desires such as the frequency of communication, what terms she likes, and how she wants you to act in the future. I used consent language to build the solid foundation of my relationship.
Him: I’ve got an unusual question for you.
Her: Oh really? I like unusual questions.
Him: I’m going away for a business trip in a few weeks. It’s our first one while we’re dating. I’m not sure what your desires are about communication while I’m away. Do you have any thoughts on how often do you want us to chat?
Her: That’s a nice question, I feel considered. Well, I assume that you’ll be busy with your clients. How about we do a check-in once in the morning and once before we go to bed. It will let me know you’re thinking of me.
Him: Connect via text or phone?
Her: Let’s start off with text and if it’s convenient, we can jump on the phone for a few moments.
We all have our own desires. Sometimes they match up with our intimate friends, other times they don’t, sometimes we don’t know. We live in a world where revealing our desires can be a challenging and scary situation. So, we sneak and hide, make bold, brash moves and hope for the best.
When we’re lucky, we don’t cause harm. However, more often than we realize, we do. The first step to making it safe for all is to simply acknowledge and address your desires. Own them, know them and if possible, reveal them.
Start tonight by sharing a desire with an intimate friend and see how it’s received. I suspect it goes better than you think. Then, take one small step and ask for consent around your desire and them. Invite them into your game, and maybe, just maybe, it will be better than you ever imagined.
This in an excerpt from my upcoming book: unHIDDEN: A Book for Men and those confused by them (due 11.5.2018).