On Consent


I’ve written before about being in an open relationship when you’re accidentally monogamous. That was a few months ago. Now my dance card is so full I’ve deleted my dating profiles. It’s a luxury problem, I know.

The reintroduction to the dating world has reminded me of a number of things. First dates are always awkward, connecting with someone online doesn’t always translate into a connection in real life, people are generally really weird and consent is sexy.

One of these things is not like the other.

As #MeToo has spread, as Yes Means Yes has taken hold, there’s been a pushback along the lines of “Oh but asking if every little thing is okay ruins the mood.” Society somehow has this notion that sexual interactions should all flow smoothly. That everyone knows what each other wants and exactly how to give it to them.

This is 100% not true.

As we develop a better understanding of what consent is, places have begun changing their definitions of what is non-consensual behavior. Sweden has moved to a so-called active consent model. Schools in the US are teaching active consent as part of their sex ed curriculum.

But there is at least one place where active consent has long been the standard. The kink community. (Disclaimer here that it’s not all perfect in the kink world, etc. etc.)

Negotiating play, as it’s called, requires a lot of active consent. Specific words are designated to relay consent information. Limits are set for what people will not do. Or even will do, but find intense. Prospective partners speak matter of factly with each other about their needs, their desires, their likes, their dislikes.

I have been with my partner for well over a year now, so while we had all of these conversations, they were a while ago. Now that I’m back into the full swing of dating, I’m being bombarded with them. “How do you feel about this? How much after care do you need? Do you want to spend the night? Do you want tea after play?”

“I don’t know,” I said to my boyfriend one night while messaging with someone I’d met on FetLife  “Do I drink tea after play?”

“You pretty much drink tea all the time, so yes?”

Self-evaluations of tea consumption aside, this all becomes a very practical form of foreplay. We can discuss all of the sexy things we want to do to and with each other, while doing our best to ensure our encounters are enjoyable and consensual.

At my first play date, we, of course, did more than drink tea. Each step of the way, he checked in, asking me. “Is this too hard? Is this too far?” My boyfriend does this as well. “What color is it?” he asks. This isn’t for every single caress, as the active consent hates allege, but for each new phase, each new activity and sometimes just checking in to see if everything is still okay.

In the moment, it doesn’t feel stilted and awkward. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s a really arousing reminder that this person is a good partner who doesn’t want to cross any boundaries and doesn’t want to push me into something I don’t want to do.

And even if the checking in was stilted and awkward, being stilted and awkward is much, much better than having your boundaries violated.


Neamhspleachas is a thirty-something American, currently living in the Netherlands. She works as a journalist and writer. If she’s not working, you can probably find her drinking a craft beer somewhere. Possibly somewhere far away from home. You can find her putting her multiple degrees to good use by blogging about relationships, economics, politics, and boobs that are and are not hers at neamhspleachas.com.

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