‘Yes’ is a powerful word. It gives someone permission to do things. Some people choose to say yes to certain people – you can fuck me, but he can’t. She can suck me off, but I’m not so sure about her. Some people give their consent for specific acts – you can shag me, but you can’t put it in my ass. You can cane me, but not so hard it draws blood. Restrain me, but with soft ropes not gaffer tape.
Etc, etc, etc ad infinitum – humans are infinitely different and weird and filthy. A man who chokes me with my consent is a stunning, cunt-wetting sex-god. A man who chokes me without my consent is a criminal.
But I hate the idea that I have to give that consent explicitly, and I hate that often I’m told to be more cautious than I am. I hate the idea that ‘no means no’.
If boys always took my ‘no’s to mean exactly that, I’d have spent most of my life crywanking myself to completion after disappointing vanilla sex, imagining how good it could be if he’d just, you know, spit in my fucking mouth or hit me in the face or something.
A blanket ‘no means no’ rule doesn’t hold up to scrutiny – it’s an easy and useful default in an unfamiliar situation, and can prevent people from being forced into doing things they don’t want to do. But when relationships develop and communication muddies the waters, ‘no’ can mean anything from ‘I just can’t be bothered’ to ‘persuade me’ to ‘I’ll get wet if you make me do it.’
The massive ‘but’
I don’t speak for everyone. Obviously. My own views on consent within the relationships I enter into is probably pretty extreme, and if I only gave you my word on what ‘no’ means I could potentially cause a lot of damage.
So I want to show you a selection of other views on the matter. All the women I asked about this gave excellent, thoughtful and interesting responses. Not one of them had a simple answer.
Mags – If I give you a real ‘no’, you’ll know
The first time I had buttsex, my boyfriend didn’t ask, he didn’t even tell me he was going to do it – he just did it. Part of me was outraged that he didn’t ask, but a bigger part of me loved that he didn’t.
Overall, I don’t say no (and mean it) often…I sometimes play at “no”, but there is always a massive fucking “yes” in my eyes and I guess I’m lucky that I have always had partners who can read me.
A genuine “no” is accompanied by body language that also says “no” loud and clear – taking myself out of arms reach, covering my body, leaving the room – but it’s nearly always no from the outset, I can count on one hand, and still have digits spare, the times a yes has become a no.
Girl A - Consent is agreed beforehand
For me, the word “no” is very rarely used in the bedroom. Once you’ve made it that far, there’s not very much I’m not willing to at least try. Previous to this we’ve probably discussed my hard limits.
If I’ve invited you back to mine, or am coming back to yours, we’ve spoken about what unspeakable things we’d like to do to each other. But I don’t outright ask/get asked “would you like to have sex?”, and then wait for an affirmative.
Something like having sex with me when I’m asleep? With some of my boys I wouldn’t mind, but I would rather we’d discussed it beforehand.
Amanda C – None of us can read minds
My idea of consent and responsibility for consent resides in this larger idea: you can’t read anyone’s mind, and nobody can read yours. You have a responsibility to yourself to clearly express what you want and how you feel to other people. This doesn’t mean being a totally unfiltered open book, but understanding that although there might be a lucky chance that someone else totally groks to your signals, you’re responsible for stating what you mean, what you want, how you feel.
I think that a lot of people react to grey areas by attempting to make a list of dos and don’ts, which is just impossible because you can’t make a list for everything, and what, are people going to carry a little laminated card with them? Like some kind of flowchart for banging?
You can’t assume the “whys” of other folks, be it in sex, dress, behavior, etc. This doesn’t mean that everyone is being deceitful, and showing one thing but feeling another. It just means that you can’t read their mind, and they can’t read yours.
Girl B - It depends on how well I know you
It very much depends on who I’m with. With one guy we have talked about everything we both like and don’t, so yes for him means that anything we’ve talked about goes. Part of that package is me saying “no”, because I love to play that game. I love pretending to say no and having him do it anyway. But I trust him and he knows the score.
If I was with someone new, yes would mean…well anything I’m comfortable with. If I haven’t already discussed it and something happens that I don’t like, then no definitely means no. If he doesn’t know me well I don’t think he has the right to interpret that “no” as anything other than serious.
As a woman who has said no and meant it, and been ignored, this is a tricky area. I was in a relationship years ago. One night, I didn’t want sex (at all, I was drunk and spinning and made it very clear), but he pinned me down, covered my mouth, forced himself on me and anally raped me. Now in a different situation with a guy I trusted and had talked about that with, it may have been a huge fucking turn-on. In this case, I was scared, unable to breathe, angry, violated. His view was that I was his girlfriend and he could do what he liked. Wrong.
Yes, no, maybe, please
I don’t know how to end this, but I don’t know the answer to the original question either. What is consent, and how can you make sure you have it?
You can ask for it outright, but that takes away the potential for fun sex that pushes boundaries and makes people uncomfortable and makes me come like it’s the end of the world.
Or you can guess that you have it, but then you risk damaging someone you’re aiming to delight.
But I think it’s OK to not have a blanket rule, so I’m happy to chuck ‘no means no’ away for the time being. If you’re following a set of hard-and-fast rules on consent then you’re likely to trip up regularly – either by pushing things far too far or not far enough – because everyone’s different.
No doesn’t mean no for everyone. Sometimes it means ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ or ‘persuade me’ or ‘not right now.’ To fully understand exactly what it means you have to listen really carefully.
Postscript: This was written in response to some reactions to my previous post on buttsex, in which a guy did sexy things to me after I’d begged him not to. Many thanks to @hellsbell_ for raising the issue.
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