Saying “hell yes”

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“I’m used to just fucking.” I had just told this person I was starting to date about how consent should work in kink, a discussion of all the things you want beforehand, and he wasn’t having it. “The hottest things happen when you just go for it.”

Consent education has become the norm on college campuses, and now it’s even in some middle and high schools. Recently, there has been an emphasis on “yes means yes” versus “no means no,” meaning that the presence of a “yes” should be required rather than the absence of “no.” Education now has been about the enthusiastic “yes,” described simply as giving a “Hell ya!” before engaging in sexual activity. While the progress we’ve made is laudable, there’s still something important left out of an enthusiastic “yes” — what exactly is someone saying “yes” to?

The typical example scenario given for this kind of consent is usually something along the lines of this: Two people are at a party, one proposes eating out the other, the person responds with a “fuck yes,” then they’re on their way to having a wild night. While educators sometimes give reminders that one should be consenting during the entire length of sexy times, nothing further is typically mentioned. What protection will be used? Do you have any triggers? What do you need after? All are important questions, all rarely brought up in the standard consent discussion.

Having spent most of my sexually active life in the kink scene, I make sure to ask all the questions when it comes to consent. Consent is imperative in the kink community because it separates abuse from pleasure. Without consent, hitting your partner is domestic abuse. With clearly communicated consent, it can be a whole lot of fun.

Before I am willing to even just fuck someone, I need to have a long conversation with them about what each of us want. Where do they like to be touched? Are there any part of themselves they’re shy about? What drives them wild? Do they like pain? If so, what does their tolerance look like? What are their safe words? Can I leave marks? What do they need for aftercare?

A list of questions like this can seem overwhelming and, frankly, unsexy. But I know plenty of people who will spend more time discussing where they should get boba than how they like to be fucked, and that’s a problem. The partner who was apprehensive about the consent discussion was the first I had tried to have this conversation with before just fucking, where previously I had only done it for kink. When asking these questions for kink, it is almost like an interrogation. How hard will I hit you? Will you be bound? Will you call me “daddy”? All of this builds anticipation beforehand and adds, rather than detracts, from the scene.

But this first time I tried it for vanilla sex? It was hella awkward. I remember sitting across from him, feeling like I couldn’t get the words out about what I wanted. In a kink dungeon, it was so easy. Here, sitting on the grass in the sun near Sproul Hall, was hard. “See?” he said. “You’re awkward. This is awkward.”

I gave up on the list of questions in my head and changed the subject, too embarrassed to continue. We talked about politics, homework and this guy who annoyed him by taking up too much space on the bus. Later that week when we were hanging out, our conversation turned to sex, naturally. He told me he was curious about leaving bruises during sex, and I told him how I like to receive them. Over the next fortnight, our sexual preferences were peppered into our ordinary conversations. Unconsciously, we had made it through the list.

When we finally had the chance to fuck for the first time shortly after this, it was glorious. He stripped me in the way I said got me going, touched me on my parts that made me shiver and nibbled and grabbed me in the way that drove me insane. At one point, when the bruises he inflicted on my sides brought tears to my eyes, he knew that meant to keep going. He knew what little taps on his shoulder meant to go lighter, what squeezes meant to go harder, what my eyes looked like when I was in complete ecstasy.

Afterward, in his arms, as he knew I liked to be held after being hurt, I was told that this was the best and least awkward first sexual encounter he’d ever had. “Maybe your whole consent thing isn’t so bad after all.”

Talking about sex can be weird. This foreignness can increase with partners of an older age because, unfortunately, the conversation about consent is relatively new. But sex without knowing what the other person actually wants is a whole lot more awkward. Sex should be a conversation, not something that someone says “yes” to without knowing all that’s included.

Kylie Sammons writes the Tuesday column on Sex. Contact her at [email protected].

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