Consent Mapping: Navigating Your Own Consent

August 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

The first place I ever read about the yes, no, and maybe of consent was in Staci Haines book Healing Sex.  I loved her talking about maybe, what it felt like and how to negotiate it.  I think a lot of us experience a variety of convoluted and mixed feelings regarding sex, for nothing is simple in a society that pressures you from every direction and essentially batters your authentic, happy sexual self from the beginning on…

Anyways, I thought I’d write out something of the way I engage with my own consent.  I broke it into Yes, No, Maybe, If, and Triggered or Interference.  I tried to give either common and specific or personal and specific examples of each.  Hope this helps someone!

Yes:  You know you want something.  You are able to express first desire and then enjoyment.  Enthusiasm is the general, trustworthy indicator of genuine consent.  There is no permanent or irrevocable yes. 

  • I want to have a sexual relationship with someone, and I express this as tactfully as I can so they can understand it.
  • You make a sound, expression, or assertion of pleasure during sex to give your lover the green light to keep going.
  • You move your body a certain way to get your partner to touch you how you want.
  • You have a dialogue of what will and won’t happen, chose a safe word, and continue into an experience where your partner will continue on past what would normally read as non-consent.

No:  You do not want something.  You are able to articulate this.  If someone pushes the boundary, you trust yourself to assert to the degree you have to in order to have your boundary respected. 

  • This is when you feel emo or tired or just not into sex, and your partner puts the moves on you, and you give a non-defensive, non-apologetic clear indication you do not want to be seduced, at present.  Then hopefully you guys are skilled enough to figure out something to do that doesn’t disappoint you both.
  • When you’re in a sexual encounter and you redirect someone and despite taking the cue, they keep coming back to try again to get you to consent, and you escalate your no enough to get them to stop and also reassess your trust in them.
  • Someone starts to corner or coerce you, gets pushy or threatening, and you get out, get loud, get help, get intimidating, make it clear there will be serious consequences and you will do what you need to do to be respected.
  • It is possible to be unskilled enough to say no.  This is where most of us start out.  We worry too much about other people’s feelings and unwanted consequences, we want to preserve the attachment so we either do not indicate or when pressured do not re-assert our honest non-consent.
  • It is possible to be unable to say no due to circumstances, like when you are a child or the risk of bodily harm is beyond what you can contend with.

Maybe:  You are uncertain and so unable to give an enthusiastic yes but do know that you can give a no without apology and be prepared to assert.  This is where most things start out when trying them for the first time.  Maybe is not being caught in relational pressure to do something and struggling with wishing to want that thing as a solution to “the problem” of your non-consent, that’s being coerced. 

  • I feel attracted to someone, but I don’t know them well enough yet to know whether I would want to have sex with them as they are in real life, not just in my mind.  But I don’t have any indications that they would not respect my saying no or backing out at any time, so I get some more information.
  • I know I enjoy fantasizing about something, and I am not sure whether I will enjoy it in real life.  I start out either on my own or clarify this with a partner I can trust and move forward with some checking in for both to ensure that consent is happening.
  • I don’t have strong feelings of yes or no about something.  I feel I would try it out with a partner who was interested and would respect my consent.

If:  This is when certain circumstance determine whether you consent to something.  

  • For most of us, safer sex practices probably stand out.  I consent to sex if barriers and trustworthy birth control are used.
  • I’ve been with someone who wanted nipple play but only after becoming highly turned on and always just before orgasm.  That’s a clear, consistent if.
  • A lot of young people would like to have sex, but they are in environments where the risk is too great.  They don’t have access to birth control or barriers, or their parents would become abusive.  That’s a situation where societal coercion turns consent to non-consent.  Partners who override this lack of consent are still abusing their partners, despite the presence of desire.
  • I am have a highly vanilla sexuality on my own, and so I would not bring certain kink elements into sex with a partner just like me.  But when I have a kinky partner, there are things like role playing and storytelling that I consent to because I can enjoy them in a context where my partner is very excited.

Consent is not doing something because someone else likes it.  You can enjoy something only in the context of witnessing someone else’s enjoyment.  My best friend loves bad media, and I love watching it with her.  And my lover enjoys if I tell her a sexy story when I’m on top, and I enjoy it because it makes her more responsive.  But if I can’t enjoy it for myself and do it anyway “for” another person, that’s not consent.

Situations where the presence of drugs or alcohol determine an if should be highly suspect.  Those things might enable or interfere with consent.  If something helps you overcome an inhibition you don’t want, it is perhaps an assist at overcoming something you might try to gain the skills to consent to without it.  If something helps you overcome an inhibition you do want, it is destructive.

Triggered / Interference:  Past trauma disrupts your experience of the present and interferes with your awareness of or articulation of consent. 

  • Someone flirts with me, and I feel too spooked by a past filled with sex negativity and abusive authority figures to know whether I’m interested or not or to communicate yes or no.  Either they read mixed messages and respect me with some distance, or they read mixed messages and move in, which is an indicator I should get away from them.  Someone looking for consent and getting mixed messages will be wary.  Someone looking to coerce you will take mixed messages as openings and move forward and is not trustworthy.
  • I am having sex with my partner but keep checking out.  They’re getting confused about consent and checking in with me.  I can’t give an enthusiastic yes, so I have to decide whether I want to stop or try to move into or away from a trigger and give my partner some information.  Regardless of what I’m experiencing, I need to respect their right to stop.
  • When I first got with Valerie, she asked me if I wanted to go take a shower.  I really wanted to, but I was too overwhelmed with fear and paranoia about roommates, which had actually to do with my family of origin, and communicated a rather panicked no.  She seemed surprised and made it clear that there was no pressure.  I clarified that I wanted to but felt spooked, and she said, okay and she would ask me again sometime.  The next time I wasn’t spooked, I said yes, we did, and it was great.

When triggered, it can be not only hard to express consent but also hard to say no or assert if coerced.  This is one reason I think learning the skills to track respect for consent or coercion in relationships before having sex with someone is so important.

Triggers can get you where you can’t make choices and need your partner to safeguard your consent.  But if you have skills choices like switching what’s happening to something that’s easier for you, tracking a trigger by focusing on where you feel pain or dissonance in your body and letting those feelings take over, or moving away from a trigger and getting back into your experience by finding where things are still feeling good in your body and bringing your attention there can all be good ones.


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