How to ask for and give consent when dating
Why is it so difficult for us to ask what your partner would want? Olga Nechaeva, our columnist, writer, and founder of the Femosophy platform, reflects on why we find it so difficult to share our desires with the person we want to be close to, and how it ultimately benefits a healthy relationship.
Is asking about desires not sexy?
Kevin is 49 years old, silver-haired, with a fitted coat and soft leather gloves, his own venture capital fund, and his own lake. We've been walking around Windsor for about an hour, and I'm still not sure if I want this to go any further. We make it to the parking lot and look at each other. We'll either kiss and then go on a second date, or politely thank each other, get in our cars, and delete each other's numbers. There are two options, but they both feel scripted.
Is he going to ask? And if he doesn't want to ask but I do, am I going to embarrass him by asking? Why is he silent? And here we are, standing half a meter apart, trying to figure out if we want each other.
Where is that lovely cinematic world where two strangers find themselves in a romantic moment, without expecting it? What happens if we start asking questions every step of the way? is it not sexy? And, in this complex new world, where do we draw the line between personal space and the raw spontaneity of sexual attraction?
Some could complain about the consent culture that has made everything so complicated. But I'm not sure that getting a kiss from someone you didn't like at all is much better than that "complex" conversation.
"Can I hug you?" and "Can I kiss you?" — these are somewhat acceptable, but what's the next? "Would you mind if I squeeze your breasts?", "Would you mind if I take off your bra?", "Can I put my hand in your pants?" — it's awkward to ask, and often as awkward to respond. Seems childish, unnatural, and exposed. How can you get excited when being questioned? Isn't love life supposed to be like in the movies, where we understand everything nonverbally, and naturally?
Keep our active consent guide handy in any situation: when online dating, in a bar, and when having sex
Asking for fantasies in a relationship is easier — or is it?
When you've been together for a while, it's relatively easy to ask for a blow job. These types of questions or suggestions are easier to ask in a long-term relationship. Firstly, the relationship won't be in jeopardy, and you can try again another day. And most couples already have enough trust to safely assume that the significant other will not flee after hearing about the "golden shower". In a long-term relationship, we gradually get to know each other: say, I learn that my partner hates being tickled and prefers that I not shave my pubic hair. He knows that I don’t really cunnilingus and that my nipples should not be pinched. We gradually discover all of these "do's" and "don’ts" simply because we communicate.
Relationships develop when you can say: "I dream of dragging you by your hair all over the flat, ripping your panties off, and taking you from behind," and get responses like, "Mmm, I can’t wait” or "Just give me a head-ups when it’s time", or "I’d rather not, that’s not my thing". And if you can't talk about something about your partner, you should probably not do it.
Telepathy doesn't work — get over it
And this is part of the larger issue: we don't have time for anything. We have fast sex, fast food, and fast dating. But, according to the research, our bodies don’t work the same: sex is better when there’s more trust. In a relationship where there is no talking and asking, the chances of getting even bad sex are extremely high.
"What kind of moron asks that?" — men object. Women assure us, "I don't want to be asked". We want a telepathic-level understanding of how to handle each other's bodies, as well as miraculous matching of rhythm, style, speed, and whatnot.
Why are we afraid to ask and how do we learn?
Let’s figure out what is the main concern here — is it hearing "no"? Is it because you have so little faith that your partner wants you that you'd rather risk it all, than talk? Is the loss of spontaneity we’re worried about?
In her TED talk, psychotherapist Esther Perel says, "The myth of spontaneity finding us while we fold laundry is completely false." Perfect sex is planned sex. Intentional. Conscious. It's all about focus and presence." Alternatively, as my father used to say, "any improvisation must be well prepared." Consent and spontaneity are not mutually exclusive. There are a million ways to flirt, play, and be spontaneous, just as there are a million ways to make your questions the most arousing part of foreplay. But not with Kevin. Not this time.