Let's Talk (Intelligently) About Sex

Embracing the Notion of Enthusiastic Consent

I spend a lot of time writing about things to talk about before you have sex, how to have sex more safely, and how to negotiate the kinds of sex you want with a partner. However, I think it’s also important to talk about how people decide when and if they want to have sex with a specific person.

Most of the time, consent only gets discussed during conversations about sexual assault and rape. When an accusation of assault is on the line, whether and how the accuser consented is generally one of the first things that gets assessed.

After all, a lack of consent (or withdrawn consent) is the hallmark of coercive sex.

On the other hand, when neither party considers the sexual encounter coerced, or an assault, consent is rarely discussed — neither after the sex takes place nor before it begins. Many times, instead of actively talking about whether they want to have sex, couples just move forward until one person or another objects…or they’re done. Actually asking a prospective sexual partner if they want to have sex, clearly and bluntly, is the exception rather than the rule.

What this means is that, not infrequently, people end up having sex that they’re fine with but not exactly enthusiastic about. It wasn’t an assault. They aren’t upset about what happened, but neither are they really excited about the experience. They went along with it, and possibly even enjoyed it, but they aren’t certain if they’d seek out the same encounter again.

To me, that seems like a shame. I think sex is something that people should be excited about, and therefore I think that it would be interesting to change the paradigm where people just have sex instead of choosing to have it.

 One way to do so is to embrace the notion of enthusiastic consent.

Sex based on enthusiastic consent is sex where no one is just “going along with it.” Instead, everyone involved is actively excited to be there, at that time, with that partner, having that sexual encounter. It’s also sex that’s actively discussed, since the only way to know if both you and your partner are excited about having sex with each other is to talk about it.

There are several obvious advantages to looking for enthusiastic consent from your partner.

  • You are much less likely to worry about whether the sex you had was consensual, something that can happen when you’re negotiating your sexual encounters by playing the “push until your partner starts to object” game that is so common in American society. (This is also something that can happen when you’ve had sex under the influence of alcohol or drugs without trying to figure out if your partner was capable of giving an honest, enthusiastic “yes”.)
  • You’re less likely to have consensual sex that either you or your partner regrets the next day, because you both really wanted to be there.
  • You don’t have to spend as much time wondering why you and your partner had sex, because it’s something you discussed.
  • It’s easier to say both “no” and “yes” to sex because you’ve made a choice 1) not to have sex unless you really want to and 2) to have sex if you’re both really excited about it. That keeps sex from being either something you’re doing just because you have an opportunity and feel that you should, or being something that you’re not doing because you’re worried that you might be making a mistake.

Looking for enthusiastic consent from your partners, and only having sex when you’re enthusiastic about it yourself, may mean that you have less sex. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: quality over quantity may be good not just for your emotional health, but also your physical health.