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In this interview with sex educator, Jacq Jones we speak to her about positive, affirmative sexual consent. Find more from Jacq at her site Sugartheshop.com

Hi Jacq. Growing up, we are not really told what positive consent is. So, what is it?

When I start talking about it, I usually talk about the difference between sex and rape is simply the presence of consent. In the USA there was a movement where we talked about “consent is sexy” and it’s great, I think it was a movement we needed to get through to get to the place where without consent it is a crime, it’s a felony.

We need to be focused on engaging with each other that are positive and sexy, and not criminal. Some people talk about affirmative consent being when you ask every time you want to touch someone or when you move into a different kind of thing, you ask for permission.

The feedback I get from that from the people that we work with is what they hear is that they are supposed to be like, “Can I touch your breast?” “Can I touch your clitoris?” “Can I give you a blow job?” That doesn’t sound fun, right?

What it could be like is, “Baby, I really want to lick your nipple right now it would make me really happy. How does that feel to you?” Something like that feels really different. It’s more like dirty talk that some sort of clunky, legal negotiation.

One of the ways where it’s important to make that work is both people being sober or at least sober-ish, in order to be able to have that conversation. The other thing is that if you are having those kinds of conversations and really engaging with people is that you are going to have better sex.

This is because you’ll be able to ask for what you want, if someone’s like, “hey baby, I really want to lick your nipple right now” you can be like, “oh, I am so glad you want to but really could you instead just lick my neck.”

What about first time sex with someone new? You might not have the courage to say, “hey, I really want to lick your nipple” or even, “hey baby”. How do you recommend people to communicate at a point where something might be starting to happen but hasn’t yet?

I know what I should say is that you should ask someone before you kiss them but I don’t think you can ALWAYS do that. I think that can sometimes be clunky. You do need to listen to their body (if you don’t ask). If someone dodges you, then don’t proceed trying to kiss again (without at least a conversation about it).

However, if clothes start to come off or there is touching that moves towards clothes coming off; that is absolutely a time where you can say, “I really want to take your shirt off” and I don’t care if you don’t know that person’s name that can be appropriate and feel really hot.

So you don’t feel it is necessary to ask a question after this. I.e. “I really want to take your shirt off. How do you feel about that?”

No. It doesn’t have to be. Just say, “I really want to take your shirt off” and wait for a response. That’s the key part, is waiting for the response. Part of affirmative consent is about the presence of the “yes” rather than the absence of “no”.

So, if you say to someone “I really want to take your shirt off” and then you rip their shirt off then without the person interacting with you then that won’t work. If you say to someone, “I really want to take your shirt off” and the person you asks takes their own shirt off. Sure, in an ideal world we would always get a verbal yes but things get a little bit messy when we are having sex with people.

And in terms of boundaries (perhaps usually female) – if a person doesn’t want something to happen, how would you recommend people put those boundaries up?

I would challenge putting a gender on that. Sometimes we perceive someone who is masculine to have fewer boundaries around the sex or sexuality than those we perceive as feminine, and I don’t think that’s always true.

It’s really important to acknowledge that there are people of any gender get in situations are being pushed in a way that is not acceptable.

One of the things that I encourage people to do if they are in a situation where someone is asking them for something that they don’t want to do is to give that person the gift a “no”. Assuming that the other person in the room with them is not a predator. Which, most people aren’t. Most people aren’t criminals. They don’t want you to do something, that you don’t want to do.

It might be that they really want to receive a sensation and they honestly don’t care who gives them that sensation right in that moment but tomorrow they would care if they knew that you did something that you didn’t want to do.

Telling that person “no” is actually just as much as a gift as telling them a “yes.” Even if they don’t receive it like that in the moment.

Imagine you are somebody that cares about humans.

You are somebody who doesn’t want to be a rapist.

If you are in a situation where you are ignoring somebody’s signals and that person is unable to give you the gift of a “no” – you might end up realising later that you did something really terrible to another human being and then you have to live with that.

So if it’s possible to give the gift of a no then that’s a really powerful and positive thing that you are giving to somebody.

Now, granted, there are situations where people are in a room with a predator and they can say no as much as they want and it’s not going to matter and that’s not the situations that I am talking about right now.

What you recommend number of “non-verbal yeses” before going further?

Absolutely, and if you are the slightest bit unsure about whether or not someone is into what is going on then it’s really appropriate to stop and be like, “hey, I am not sure if this is what you want to do. Do you want to proceed?” That’s where you are absolutely need to get a verbal yes.

If there is any indication of the person you are with not being into it… for example… if someone is not giving you eye contact, or if someone’s not responding then that is 100% on, you need to be like, “did I do something wrong? Are you okay?”

Many people carry sexual trauma with them and it’s not uncommon response for people to disassociate and check out (i.e. don’t take it personally).

So it’s really important to remember that. Especially if the someone you are with, is someone you don’t know well.

If someone starts to check out, you need to back off.

Another people I encourage to practice saying “no” and receiving “no”, we’ll often do an exercise. This exercise is not my idea, I got it from the cuddle party folks and they may have got it from someone as well.

You sit with another person and the other person offers you things, not sexual things but things that everybody wants. For example, “would you like ice cream?” “would you like a puppy?” “would you like to see your favorite musician perform?”

Every time they ask you, you say no. It’s super helpful to practice because one of the things you learn as the person saying no is that the person in front of you doesn’t break from you saying no to them.

One of the things that the person receiving the no’s is that you can offer something amazing and maybe they don’t want it right now, and that’s fine. It doesn’t have anything to do with you. I could make the best chocolate cheesecake in the world and 8 out of 10 might not want to eat it.

Yes. I remember doing this in a workshop and we also switched and said an affirmative “yes” to certain things as well as the “no”. I was with this pretty crazy woman and she was asking me weird stuff for the “yes” part of the role play. She was asking me things like, “will you be a dog and let me put a collar on you?” “will you bark like a dog for me?” “will you piss on the tree like a dog?” She had a bit of an obsession with turning me into a dog.

[Laughing] Hey, it’s a thing people like to do!

Yeah. Perhaps it’s pretty common. Definitely I recommend people practising saying “yes” and “no”. My following question is, what should positive, affirmative sex look like at a bare minimum? For me it has to be eye contact, presence, breathing together, it should feel good in your heart and soul.

I think that sex positive sex should be something that is in line with your values.

Sex that you can feel good about the next day.

Sex that is safer in terms of your physical risk and that’s risk aware.

Do whatever it is you need to do to protect yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually in order to be engaged in the sex and sexuality.

The other thing is that important is that:

a) You don’t have to want sex all the time.

b) It doesn’t have to be the same type of sex every time you have sex. It doesn’t have to be awesome.

Sometimes you try something new and it sucks. And you can be like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” And that’s a win. Right? You tried something, you communicated you didn’t like it, and you stopped. You learned something.

Sex positive sex isn’t about having amazing sex all of the time. It’s about having sex that is risk aware, that is communication based, that is pleasure focused, and where you are able to communicate about what you want and need (and learn something from it).

All very, very good points. Thank you for this great information!

Like this article? You may also like our article on why saying no to sex is the fastest way to self love

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  • Perry L

    So the first step in all of this is finding someone who shares your values. That’s what I took out of this. That makes perfect sense and something I never really took into consideration before. i just saw me and a woman wanting sex…….where our values/moral compass was I didn’t much care about and figured she cared even less. Maybe I was wrong?

  • RMills

    This is the type of information that should be taught in every school in the country so that every girl and every boy has a clear understanding of what positive sexual consent is. My wife is a strong, intelligent, assertive woman and even she experienced date rape in college. She said she felt pressured into having sex even though she didn’t want to and eventually “gave in” because she was tired of saying no and felt utterly defeated. We need to teach our young men that coercion is just as bad as force.

    • yes, we agree so much about this – thank you for posting

    • PoisonIvy

      What a wonderful comment. I feel for your wife, as a woman I completely understand. I have also been in situations where I wasn’t comfortable, but I was also uncomfortable to speak up. I think girls are taught at an early age to be “nice” and “agreeable”. Somewhere along the way, we stop listening to that inner voice that tried to protect us. We are afraid to not be seen as “nice” and “agreeable” anymore. That is dangerous.

  • Physical is never just physical, it is always emotional as well.