Enthusiastic consent: think “yes means yes”
By Viv Steele, Consenting Adult
Like most people, I do all my deep thinking while lying on a table with an esthetician between my legs, violently ripping hair from my nether region. There must be something about intermittent jolts of pain that really gets those brain-juices going. And I’ll be honest; it had been a very long time since my last wax. We’re talking years. Back at square one, I had some Brazilian beginner questions for my frank and hilarious waxing girl—specifically, “How soon after my wax can I get back to getting busy?”
Turns out my question was a fairly common one. I suppose it makes sense that people who get their pubes painfully removed on the regular tend to be sexually active. My esthetician told me what she tells all her clients, which is that you usually can have sex the same day that you get waxed. If you’re sore, take an Advil, or wait a day. And then she said something that really stuck with me, so much that I’m taking a departure into autobiography territory to relay this information to you. She said, “If you’re having sex and it hurts, just stop.”
“Just stop.” That phrase hung in the air because of how many times I’ve felt like stopping but didn’t. It spoke to all the times that I got sore but kept going anyway because I’m nice, or it was easier than extracting myself from the situation, or I felt I owed it to my partner.
Enter the concept of “enthusiastic consent,” or the idea that we need to move away from a “no means no” model and towards a “yes means yes” way of thinking. Sex education website Scarleteen.com defines consent as “an active process of willingly and freely choosing to participate in sex of any kind with someone else, and a shared responsibility for everyone engaging in, or who wants to engage in, any kind of sexual interaction with someone.”
That definition strikes me as a lot more complex than “Well, they didn’t say no!” And it’s a little wordy, so let’s unpack it a bit. Consent is active. That means it’s constantly changing; consent can be removed at any time during sex. You and your partner need to foster clear communication in order to facilitate potential changes to the game. It’s important to feel comfortable putting the brakes on lovemaking, and sometimes that means developing a deeper bond with your partner before becoming sexually intimate. You should feel comfortable talking openly and freely about sex, about what is working for you and what isn’t. And if you’re experiencing pain—like a post-waxing vulva tenderness—you should feel no pressure from your partner to go through with it anyway.
It’s okay to “Just stop.” I know this and you know this, but sometimes it needs repeating. Your partner should respect your limitations and you need to respect theirs. You can say “I don’t like it when you do that,” you can say “I’m sorry, I’ve changed my mind,” and you can say all of this right in the moment. Sex blogger Julie Gillis at TheFrisky.com wonders, “When is this sex supposed to be discussed? …Why do we wait until the very last minute to get the details set?”
Gillis thinks it might be easier if we discuss sexcapades well in advance of the deed, like planning a party or a dinner out. I agree—sex positive planning is a good ideal to aspire to, but sometimes life doesn’t work out in a perfectly planned way. Until we reach that place, while sex is still sometimes a furtive fumble in the back of a car, consent needs to be an open, continuous discussion. The “yes” you say at the beginning doesn’t have to apply to every subsequent sexual act.