“Communication makes the best lube” has been one of my favorite phrases when discussing consent and negotiations around sex. But what does that actually mean in practice?
Just like lube, some types of communication are more helpful than others, and only with some education and practice can you work out what the best technique is for you. Hopefully I can give you, dear reader, some brief things to consider about sexual communication that will help you be a responsible sexer in your day-to-day life!
Step 1: Warming Up
Personal Check in
Firstly, when things start to warm up between you and someone else - whether it be a bit of chemistry between you and a stranger, or a first date, or a long term relationship - I recommend starting with a personal check in.
What am I looking for tonight? What am I looking for from this person?
Be honest with yourself so you can be honest with the interaction and the other person. Integrity is not only sexy; it allows you to avoid hurt feelings and miscommunication later on.
Visual Check in
I also keep an eye on body language. Are they leaning towards me, or away? Are we making eye contact, or not looking at each other? Are they asking questions to keep the conversation going, or are they monosyllabic?
These details can usually tell me if our communication is flowing and if they want to be there. I also make sure to position myself in such a way that the other person can walk away if they want to. Be aware of confining corners, walls, and crowds!
Safe Sex Starts with Honesty
I recommend perfecting what sex educator Reid Mihalko calls the “safer sex elevator speech”. It can take some practice to get into the habit of talking frankly and positively about safer sex, especially as STIs are taboo to discuss even within the sex positive community. I’ve been in this community for years and very few people have said they had HPV or herpes, which is statistically pretty unlikely! Still, it’s scary to talk about. People who are otherwise reasonably sensible still recoil at the mention of STIs, even relatively common ones.
I find that by starting off the discussion and being vulnerable myself, I give people permission to be honest back. This isn’t just for STIs either. For example, recently I was getting ready for a hot date, but I happened to have a tender hemorrhoid. Rather than trying to play it off, I told my sweetie and we worked around it, which was a lot more comfortable and less embarrassing than being asked about it during sex!
Prepare for Any Outcome
It’s also essential to get comfortable with rejection. We’re taught that the word “No” is something to dread, that it indicates something is wrong with us. What if instead we treated the word “no” as an indication of trust? Specifically, trust that we’d respond well to a boundary being met?
Reid recommends saying “thank you for taking care of yourself!” in response to hearing No. I think this is a really healthy way to respond for all concerned. It can change the dynamic from “rejection sucks!” to “you trust me enough to say no and know that I won’t make you feel guilty, and that’s awesome!”
Step 2: Let’s Get Intimate - With Words
Ok. Now you’re chatting, and laughing, and things seem to be going well. You’ve had the initial discussions and it appears as if physical-sexytimes-attention is a go. Where do you go from here?
Well, it doesn’t happen like it does in 50 Shades of Grey, I hate to say. The idea that chemistry can be used in place of a discussion is highly problematic and can get people hurt. On the contrary I enjoy asking a lot of questions and making a lot of statements - I’m often teased about how direct I am, and how I conduct my flirting like a business deal that I’m really turned on by. I might say something like “I find you really sexy... I’d like to kiss you up against this wall... would you like that?”
I disagree with the statement that consent is sexy. I mean, it’s mandatory, sexy or not. But, I do strongly believe that negotiation can be made a lot more fun and pervy than it is. Asking can be super sexy. “May I?” and “how do you feel about that?” whispered in an ear can be part of the foreplay!
Safer Sex Suggestions
Also helpful is to think about your safer sex needs and what you might want to do. I like to make talking about safer sex supplies part of my foreplay. “Ever tried this brand of brand of condoms?” or “black gloves are so hot when covered with lube” integrate discussion of barriers with flirtation in a way that feels really natural to me. It’s also a good time to talk about sensitivities; do be aware that some people can develop latex allergies, and that many people are sensitive to glycerin lubricant. I tend to keep non-latex options on me and some little packets of non-glycerin lube, just in case.
Talking is Sexy Sexy Foreplay
As for where to start, personally, I love storytelling. I love to ask a lover to tell me a hot fantasy to get the juices going and maybe set up a role play for us to try. It can also be a safe place to have negotiations that also work like foreplay! Think of it like phone sex or cyber sex. If something doesn’t work for you, see if you can translate their fantasy into something that you find sexy too.
“Mmmm, I have a fantasy that I blindfold you and tie you up before fucking you” could be responded to with,
“Oooh, you know what would turn me on? What if you put a blindfold on me and held my hands down?”
This kind of back and forth, call-and-response type of flirting often gets me excited to get into bed long before we start removing clothes. And you never know - I’ve had pillow talk about some of my fantasies that has led to them being pursued in reality, and that’s kind of amazing.
Step 3: Got Consent?
Of course, in discussions about consent, there’s a lot of focus on verbal consent, and verbal consent is awesome and hugely important. But there’s a lot to be said about nonverbal consent too, particularly among play partners. It doesn’t trump verbal consent at all, but it’s also a signifier that requires skill to read. Asking yourself some questions can help you pay attention to what your lover is NOT saying.
When you move toward or touch your partner, do they move into the touch or away?
Are their muscles stiff or relaxed?
Are they meeting your eyes?
Are they responsive, maybe initiating touch?
Are they wrapping their limbs around themselves, or opening up?
Are they smiling?
Understand that a blend of both verbal and nonverbal cues are helpful. If you’re not sure, or even when you are, a little check in of “How are you doing? Do you want me to continue?” can be reassuring for all involved.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I have is not to assume. Don’t assume what your partner is into, or not into, and don’t assume that you know how they like their body or genitals to be touched. People are very different and have different triggers around their body and terms used during sex, so ask about what’s hot and what’s not! A gently growled “Do you like it when I run my hand over you like.... this, or do you prefer... this?” can be incredibly erotic, and also gives your partner a chance to indicate what they prefer. I also find it works really well to communicate a desire with a boundary, so my lover learns something I like along with something I’m not interested in.
Ask Before, and After
This “not assuming” advice also holds true about post-sexual expectations.
Does your lover want or need aftercare? Will they be sleeping over, or do you prefer to sleep alone?
By having some discussion before the clothes come off, you can avoid awkwardness when you want to starfish across your bed by yourself and they want to spoon with you til the morning. By advocating for what you want, you can have enjoyable sexytimes and treat other lovers with the kind of respect that make them interested in coming back again!
I want to close this piece by saying this: As someone who’s spent a lot of time thinking about consent, I think it is necessary for responsible sexing to understand that there will come a time when you are wrong. You misread a sign. Communication wasn’t clear, and you didn’t check in. Or it was clear, and you fucked up. Reading all the guides in the world won’t prepare you much for that moment when someone says “You crossed a line,” and you have to make space for that. It’s gonna suck, and you’ll probably feel pretty bad about it. How do you take care of the other person without being defensive?
The best advice I’ve read is this piece by Sheri Meyers. She says to take accountability and apologize using the four R’s- Responsibility for your actions, Recognize your mistake, express Regret/Remorse for the behavior, and Rectify the situation by saying what you’ll do this time and do better next time. By showing up for your lover even when you mess up, whether it’s for one hot fuck or a lifetime of mutual care, you create trust that makes interaction more positive and supportive for everyone involved. And that’s fucking hot.
© Tantus, Inc. 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Kitty Stryker is a freelance writer, queer activist, sex-negative pornographer, massive pervert and feminist killjoy. As the founder and co-editor for Consent Culture, she seeks to create dialogue about what consent means while modeling the sexual costume drama she likes to see in the world.
Follow her on Twitter: @KittyStryker