The conversation about consent is a long one in our society. Though the idea of yes or no seems simple enough in theory, we live in a culture of mixed-messages. Where we say one thing, and our world around us reflects something different. A lot of those messages we get are backed in ideas of non-consent, coercion, or rape mythologies. Expectations for women and men often vary when they shouldn’t.
I want to talk about this moment, a moment that occurs in relationships between two or more people.That moment where you show interest in doing something but one of you shows more immediate interest than the other/s. Where does one draw the line between encouraging their partner to try something new and pressuring them into doing it? How can you tell if you are being pressured and how can you prevent yourself from applying that pressure?
Things to Avoid
“Let’s just stay a bit longer!”
Environment can have a big impact on how someone is feeling emotionally. When you put yourself into new or uncomfortable environments it’s important that you have a plan for when you’re ready to go. This could apply to things like house parties, going out clubbing, or even engaging in a threesome or other type of group sex. Being somewhere you don’t feel comfortable and being in an uncomfortable situation can exacerbate any negative feelings you have about what is going on. If your partner makes a move to leave, avoid encouraging them to stay.
It’s good to have a phrase or word you can exchange that makes it clear you’re done. This could be considered a safe word. It’s good to keep an eye out for very clear signs that your partner is done. Maybe they say they’re ready to go. Maybe they say they are tired and want to call it a night. Maybe they say straight out that they are uncomfortable and would like to call it quits for the time being.
Asking them to stay longer might seem like encouragement to continue the fun night, but it might set up your partner to say yes to things they might not really want to do.
“I thought you wanted to try this?”
If your partner has already decided they don’t want to do whatever thing you’re doing, telling them they wanted it might make them question how they really feel. Once your partner had decided they don’t want to do something it’s not a good idea to “convince them” that they want to do it. This type of badgering can be incredibly coercive.
Even if that person did show interest in whatever that thing was, pressing it won’t make for an enjoyable experience. It’s particularly important that you don’t use language like this when you’re already in bed, naked, fooling around. If you want to discuss some new type of play with your partner that they seem hesitant to try, discuss it when you are fully clothed.
Instead of pressing them to “make good” on past interests, ask them how they feel about a certain experience now. What about it concerns them? Is there anything that you could do once you did have that experience that might make it better for them? Do you have a safe word and would having a safe word be better?
It’s important to keep track of tone in these conversations. Don’t act as though the conversation is a bartering chip and if you give your partner everything they ask for that you can then go into the bedroom and try it. Let your partner feel out the new situation. Let them know that you’re up for it if they are, when they’re ready, if they’re ready. No pressure.
“Let’s just try it up to [some point] and then we’ll stop!”
This is a common tactic to get your partner to just try it a little to prove to them that it’s not as bad as they think it is. If your partner is feeling pressured or feels like they want to impress you or do good they might give in just a little bit to a situation they already aren’t interested in. Don’t put your partner in positions like this. If your partner says they aren’t interested right now or appears hesitant, do something else. It becomes significantly more difficult to stop once you’ve started (particularly if one already has a hard time saying no) and this can encourage your partner to push their boundaries further than they would have otherwise.
This type of statement is the egging on. The “you can do it!” Even if your partner does find that the situation is enjoyable for them, it’s not a healthy way to engage in a new sexual behavior. It’s possible that they might have sour feelings about how the experience happened afterwards. It’s much better to go into new sexual scenarios with 100% consent and intent from both/all parties involved.
Other things to watch for:
– Your partner looks or seems unhappy to be in that situation
– Your partner is emotionally or verbally distant or acting unusual
– Your partner says they would like to leave or stop or makes any mention of being tired, feeling sick, ready to sleep, being unaroused.
– Your partner has made it clear that that act is not something that they want to do.
– You find yourself saying pressuring statements (like the above)
Of course, the above do not necessarily mean that your partner is non-consenting. The above do not necessarily mean your partner doesn’t want to do those things. It’s also important to note that people who suggest trying something may not understand the impact their language has on their partner. Being sensitive about sex and sexuality and pleasing ones partner can play a huge role in these things. Men and women may be more susceptible to trying things if they were taught that sex is about performance (generally men) or pleasing (generally women.) That’s why it’s important to be cognizant of how we interact with one another and remind ourselves frequently that our words and actions have a lot of power.
So how do you feel it out?
How do you enter new sexual boundaries without pressuring your partner when you feel you are more ready, prepared, excited, and aroused than they are? Some of these tips may or may not help.
1. Discuss new sexual experiences when you are fully clothed and unaroused. It is easy to get on board with new fantasies when you are naked and aroused. Those fantasies don’t necessarily carry out back into daylight.
2. Develop a clean line of communication and respect that communication. Talk about the experience openly without guidance. “Talk to me about ____. What are your thoughts about it? If we were to do ____ what would be your ideal scenario?”
3. If your partner says that they are interested in trying it but don’t know anything about that particular sexual experience, seek out information together. Take a class on it, read a book about it, watch educational porn, or browse the web together. Think of it as something you are going to do together for the first time, not something that you want your partner to experience or do for/with you.
4. Understand that not all people want to try all experiences and that you need to respect those hard cut boundaries. If your partner expresses little interest or no interest and doesn’t follow up or want to engage in conversation about it, don’t press it. A lack of interest does not always mean they just need more information, more time, or more convincing. Give your partner credit and respect that they know what they like and what they don’t like. If there is a certain experience that you discuss together and your partner has no interest in exploring that with you, gauge how important that experience is. Is this a deal breaker? Sometimes not being able to have an experience IS a deal breaker. If that’s the case, you need to find someone better suited for you, or learn to find similar enjoyment in other experiences.
5. Lastly, remember that it’s okay for you or your partner to explore a new sexual experience and then decide it’s not right for you. Doing it a little bit, getting started doing it, or only doing it once, doesn’t sign you on for a lifetime of that experience. It’s good to be open minded and explore but it’s also good to do things that you enjoy and are comfortable with. Everyone sets those boundaries for themselves and couples (or one-time-partners) need to explore those boundaries and communicate those boundaries together openly, honestly, and safely.