Feminism 201: Consent Skills, Generating Options
June 3, 2011 § Leave a comment
Deciding what’s going to happen in a sexual situation can be tricky. In my experience, deciding what’s going to happen during an evening hangout with a friend can be tricky, since making decisions can just be hard. How many of us sit staring at menus for ten minutes? Imagine you go to a restaurant and there is no menu, the server just asks, “What do you want?” Too many options and not enough information to decide. That’s kind of what partner sex is like.
One excellent trick I’ve learned with my friend and lover Valerie in dividing up the decision-making process is that whoever does not want to make the decision helps the other person by generating options. This way it’s not just one person being passive and one person being active, but both people engaging in different roles in the decision making.
In an everyday situation, it would go something like this:
Person A: “What should we do?”
Person B: “I don’t know. What do you think?’
Person A: “I don’t know.
From here you are at risk of the cyclical “What do YOU want to do” routine.
Person B: “You don’t have preferences?”
Person A: “Not really. Can you generate options?”
Person B: “Well, we could go outside. We could go for a walk downtown or along the pond. We can get food while we’re out, either pick something up or get groceries. Or we can stay in. I can come there and we can order food. Or you can come here. Or we can cook if you have stuff.”
So now Person A doesn’t feel like they’re totally in charge and deciding for someone else, and they don’t have the pressure of choosing along with the pressure of being creative. Often, everyone knows one of probably six usual options will be what they choose, they just don’t want to seem boring. Once you’ve got the usual suspects or some new ideas on the table, it’s easier to decide.
Person A: “Going outside would be good. I think cooking, too.”
Person B: “Do you have anything already? I have some potatoes, bread, and some avocadoes.”
Person A: “I have carrots, that’s basically it.”
Person B: “We could make chili. Or curry. Or soup. Or try burritos like we said that one time.”
Person A: “Ooh, burritos!”
Person B” “Ok, cool.”
My belief is that all people really want when they spend time together is to create a pleasant and/or constructive and tolerable experience for each other and feel connected with one another. Everything is an excuse to make a connection. Getting to the experience, however, can be a more or less painless process.
Most of us are shy to some degree in bed, and some of us are worried about treading on our partner’s consent. So having one person decide and another person generate options can be a way you can ask for something you want from a place of comfort that you aren’t leading your partner into something they aren’t consenting to and excited about. Sometimes the sex “just happens” and sometimes, it doesn’t. Sometimes people both try to read each other, and everything stalls. Or you just aren’t sure which direction to take things in. So having a bit of a framework of how to go about in a mutual way is helpful.
In bed, it might go something like *this*:
Person A: “What do you want to happen?”
Sometimes it’s as easy as Person B saying, “I want ____,” and Person A being into it, too. Sometimes not.
Person B: “I don’t know… I like what’s happening so far.”
Person A: “Well, we can keep doing this for a while, and then move to something else.”
Person B: “That sounds good.”
Person A: “What should it be?” If Person B seems to stall or get spooked by being put on the spot… “Do you want me to give you some options?”
In my experience, this is less of an awkward and more of an exciting experience in bed.
Person B: “Yeah, sure.”
Person A: “I could touch you. Or I could go down on you. Or we could fuck. Or some combination of the three in whichever order you want. Or we could switch to you being on top.”
Person B chooses whichever option, and when there is some indication that both people are ready…
Person A: “How should we be? Is there a position you want to try first?” If Person B doesn’t have an immediate answer, Person A can give options again… “We could stay like this. Or you could move over me. Or I could be behind you…”
And so on and so on.
*I was trying to keep this applicable to different combinations of genders. What’s obviously missing is a discussion of safer sex practices including barriers and birth control and the use of toys. I think it’s always wise to talk about sex with someone before having sex with them, and to try and get a feel for their safer sex practices and expectations and how they match up with your own before you’re on the verge of the act. If someone is really uncomfortable talking about safer sex, that’s probably not a great sign.*
This might seem like a lot of talking, since talking during sex can be really spooking. The BDSM community has a lot to teach us all about the need for becoming comfortable with verbal negotiations of sex. My indicator to myself is that if I can’t talk to someone about it, then I probably am not ready to do it yet. Practice helps; reading a lot about sex in different types of language, talking with both lovers and friends explicitly about sex when you aren’t having it, writing out some sex scenes, learning to say things out loud during solo sex, and learning to talk to your partners comfortably during sex can all be remarkably challenging given the cultural stigma against talking about sex ever and saying anything during sex that’s not “hot,” or more precisely I think, commonly said in mainstream pornography.