Men: your consent matters too

Image by the fabulous Stuart F Taylor

Sexual consent isn’t gendered – at least, it shouldn’t be. If you’re chatting someone up in the hope that you’ll get to have sexy fun with them later, you shouldn’t be putting pressure on them to do things they don’t want to do, no matter what your gender or theirs. So apologies to everyone who knows this already, but I just wanted to pick up my sledgehammer and really slam this point home. Men: your consent matters too.

This week I got an email from a dude who was in the process of arranging sex with a lady. He quite fancied the idea of shagging her, but the shag that she was planning in their back-and-forth messages became quite a lot more intense than the one he’d initially agreed to. He wasn’t averse to what she wanted, but he’d have preferred to start things off slowly and escalate gradually from there. She, on the other hand, wanted to leap straight into things with some intense BDSM and roleplay of the kind that even I would baulk at doing with someone I’d never even shared a pint and a packet of crisps with. In his words:

“I think I like the notion.” But “the lady in question says if I don’t go into it full heartedly it could totally ruin the night.”

[Note: I’ve got his permission to reproduce a few quotes from his email here]

Men: your consent matters

There’s a pernicious myth that men will always want sex, no matter what – and the more extreme/kinky the sex, the better! Men are dogs! Men are automatons! Men are only after one thing! It’s horseshit. Horse. Shit. But like so many pernicious sex myths, it can form the basis for uncomfortable exchanges in which one person puts pressure on someone else.

In the example in my email inbox, the guy in question explained that he thought his nerves means he may not be ‘enough of a man for the job.’ My response to this would be that your status as a ‘real man‘ is not dependent on you doing sexual things that make you uncomfortable, or anything that you’re being pressured into doing. There are as many different ways to be a man as there are men in this world. Men are people, and like all people, they have complex needs and desires which wax and wane over time.

One of the issues with this particular scenario, I think, is that the woman in question had started off with a suggestion of sex and then when he said ‘yes’, had gradually escalated from there, leading to her message that it would ‘ruin the night’ if he didn’t do things exactly as she wanted. This is a bit like asking someone for a date and only after they’ve said ‘yes’ explaining to them that the date will consist of two weeks’ wild camping in the mountains of Scotland. In December. With no tent. Men: your consent matters, and consent is specific. Just because you say ‘yes’ to one type of sex, doesn’t mean you give blanket consent for any and all other suggestions. If you’re not into it, you don’t have to do it.

Dominant men: your consent matters

Another complicating factor is that the scenario in question would have required the guy to be dominant. The woman wanted to fulfil a fantasy in which she was extremely submissive, and he would take the dominant role. Because consent is often about power, and BDSM involves power exchange, there are many people who see consent as something for the dominant to seek, and the submissive to grant. After all, the sub is usually the one getting spanked/fucked/used etcetera.

This is wrong.

An understandable mistake to make, but wrong.

The reason we use safewords sometimes in BDSM, or other agreements for how each of us is going to indicate that we want a scene to stop, is not just to protect the submissive in the event that they get spanked too hard or get cramp while in bondage: it’s also to protect the dominant. Protect them from feeling pressured into performing a more extreme role than they’re comfortable with; from accidentally crossing a boundary that they didn’t know about; even to protect them from boundaries the submissive may cross. This last one might seem weird if the dominant is the one ‘in control’, but it’s worth highlighting that the dominant is never in control of everything, and shouldn’t ever be expected to be. How about in situations where a sub may use language which makes the dominant uncomfortable, or make demands that they don’t want to carry out? Consent isn’t just something that travels up the power-chain: it needs to be a two-way thing.

I have done quite a few interviews about BDSM and more ‘extreme’ power play during which journalists have asked me about my consent – how can I be sure I really want to consent to this? Aren’t I nervous about trusting my partner to know when to stop? But rarely (and possibly never) have I been asked how I ensure that my partner – the dominant one in this exchange – is consenting too.

Sex is not a ‘gift’ from one person to another

When I – a woman in a straight relationship – talk about the importance of consent in sex, I don’t just mean that it’s something a guy should ask for and a woman should give. As I explained above, this skewed view comes at least partly from the idea that sex is something men want and women begrudgingly give them. Likewise in BDSM – those who don’t practice it often see ‘submission’ as a gift that I’d give to a dominant rather than an enjoyable experience that we are both equally keen on.

This myth – and it absolutely is a myth – is one of the main reasons why I started this blog. As a woman on the dating scene, it was so fucking boring to have to weave through this obstacle course of assumptions before I got to have sex – to reassure guys I fancied that the sex was of equal value to me as it was to them. Telling them: ‘Look, we don’t need to wait for a third date in order to fuck. Fucking is fun. Fucking is why I’m here.’

I follow a Twitter account which occasionally retweets messages from men who are angry about feminism. It’s usually a good way to recalibrate my Twitter bubble, lest I end up labouring under the delusion that everyone in the world is like the friendly, nerdy, sex-positive folks that I follow. Recently they shared a tweet from a man who wanted to explain to women why we shouldn’t have sex too easily:

“I think it has to do with the fact that if you give it out willy nilly you clearly do not respect yourself. So why should we?”

This rests firmly on the assumption that sex is an imbalanced transaction: sex is something that a guy values more than I do. If this assumption were true, then yeah sure it would absolutely make sense for me to withhold my shag until he’d offered me something I actually wanted. If he wanted to arrange a trade – my gold necklace for his empty crisp packet – I would definitely be wise to hold out for something of higher value.

But sex is not a crisp packet to me, it’s a gold necklace. It’s what I want from a guy, if we’re having fun and enjoying each other’s company and I fancy the actual pants off him. I’m swapping my gold necklace for yours, and hopefully we’ll both walk home delighted.

I think the myth that sex is this imbalance is partly at the heart of the issue of men and consent. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to write this post. I think it’s important to point out where our assumptions about gender harm all of us, and although the examples I see and understand on a daily basis are usually ones which harm me, as a woman, there are plenty which cause serious trouble for men too. A woman could easily pile pressure on a guy to do sexual things because she mistakenly believes that what she’s offering is something no straight guy could refuse. In turn, that guy feels pressured to say ‘yes’ to sex because society has told him that he should always want it. It’s valuable to him in a way that it isn’t to her. She’s offering him a gold necklace, FFS, and he wouldn’t be much of a man if he turned it down, right? But actually, in the scenario described by the dude in my inbox, this woman wasn’t offering him a gold necklace, or even a crisp packet: just an experience that made him feel nervous and unsure, and which he was pretty certain he wouldn’t have enjoyed.

Men: your consent matters too. Women: don’t do this shit. There are good reasons why our consent-based discussion is often very gendered: men tend to have more power in many situations, and so historically more power abuses tend to happen that way round. But that doesn’t mean that we have no power whatsoever, or that we’re immune from abusing it. If a guy wants to fuck you, and you want to fuck him, make sure that the fuck you’re planning on having is based on what you have both said you want, rather than what you assume the other person should want based on your prior assumptions. Ask what the other person likes, listen to their answers, communicate and discuss and look forward to it together. Plan a fuck that’ll be gold-necklace fun for both of you.



  • Golden Hare says:

    Yes! This!

  • Zebra Rose says:

    Deprogramming each other from the damaging tropes about sex and gender roles that we’ve been raised amongst, is important work, thankyou GOTN for being so fucking awesome at explaining it and for role-modelling sex positivity like an absolute boss

    • Girl on the net says:

      Thank you! I’m really glad you liked the post and your comment is very nice. I am now ever so slightly worried that I have set myself up as some sort of boss when it comes to this stuff though – I was contemplating chucking in a few examples of areas where I have fucked up in this way in the past (especially when I was younger, and hadn’t read/heard so much cool stuff about consent from people in the sex-pos and sex-crit communities), so I might have to take a deep breath and write that post because although I feel like I am much better at this *now*, it feels dishonest if I’m coming across like I have always been this way.

  • ValeryNorth says:

    A thought occurred to me reading this:

    Even if sex is generally a packet of crisps rather than a gold necklace, that’s only because that’s what it is to “me” and if “I” happen to quite fancy a packet of crisps right now, and someone else happens to fancy my gold necklace that I don’t really have another use for because I’m not into that bling thing, then I’m not “losing” anything by making a fair exchange for what I fancy right now.

    Which is to say – a demisexual or asexual type for whom sex is not really much of a big deal, can still have great sex that fulfils a need or desire that may not be a _strong_ desire or may be a desire that is not directly sexual in nature, while also giving great sex to someone who really really enjoys sex as a thing in itself.

    Not meant as a criticism of the point being made, of course. The point of consent mattering on all sides and not making assumptions about consent for any reason is very important.

    I guess it’s more approaching criticising the assumptions talked about from a different angle?

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hey, yeah I can see that working if it works for you! You’re right that sex will have different values for different people (and at different times too!). I’m reluctant to stretch the example too far for this particular post because it’s a bit of a simple one and I just wanted to express the point that sex is not something that men want and women reluctantly give, but of course in different scenarios things can be more complex than that, and it’s not about gender but about mood/desire/preference etc. The key thing I want to challenge is the idea that sex, to men, is a ‘gold necklace’ and to women it’s an empty crisp packet.

  • kjsisco says:

    I’m so glad you posted this. Us men are always taking the brunt of assumptions with sex and many other things. Thank you for presenting a balanced case.

  • j says:

    I’ve run into this a few times with some hookups. I’m a bigger dude(weight lifting) and I’ve had a few girls ask me to choke them rather hard. I’ve usually obliged to not ruin the “mood” but choking someone during sex really makes me uncomfortable. I worry that I’ll hurt them(one girl this summer kept telling me to do it harder and harder and then complained about bruises the next day) and for me it feels kinda rapey(I know we all got different tastes, not bashing choke enthusiasts). I appreciate the article, it’s rare that you see consent discussed from this angle.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Wow, that sounds horrible I’m really sorry. I hope that this can help you give a ‘no’ in the future to this stuff, and other stuff you don’t want to do. I am gutted that people are making these kinds of assumptions about you, and troubled in this case especially because what they’re asking you to do is really dangerous – choking is one of those things that I enjoy occasionally, but have had to discuss in a LOT of depth with my partner so we can work out a way to do it which doesn’t make him uncomfortable or feel like he might accidentally hurt me (and obviously too in a way that minimises risk for me). It’s not something I would ever encourage anyone to do unless they have read up on the dangers of it and understood how to do it in a safer (saf*er*, never fully ‘safe’) way. I’m sorry that you have had these experiences, and I hope that in future people listen to you and don’t put pressure on you to do things that make you so uncomfortable.

  • ausmalbilder says:

    I really want bdsm but i fear so much…how can I overcome this fear?

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hey, so first thing is you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to! And second thing is that BDSM is a really broad spectrum, and it can cover so much different stuff – you don’t have to try BDSM by leaping straight into stuff that frightens you! If you want to dip your toe in the water, I’d say write a list of the sort of things you’re interested in doing, and talk that through with a partner – ask them what they might fancy trying too, and come up with a way to try things that feels non-pressured and non-threatening. Have a safeword if you like, check in regularly, and if things are more frightening than they are fun: stop! Just like if you’re horny you don’t have to immediately go to having fully naked penetration in all the positions under the sun, you can start with a bit of kissing/touching and take it from there depending on how you feel. Same with BDSM: you don’t have to do *everything* all at once, start by doing a little of the things you want to do, and take it from there depending on how you feel.

  • Frustrated BDSM beginner says:

    Hey GOTN,

    Kind of similar to your last poster; interested in your take. Probably went about it the wrong way; but bought various ‘toys’ for me and the wife over the past few years. Been married 5 years and got young kids. Most recent purchases were a beginners bondage set and a face strap on. Not pushed it; but the set has been used once and been in wardrobe since. Strapon not at all. Previous purchases have been clit stimulator; fleshlight; magic wand; blindfolds; cock rings. All rarely used :(. Also got a bit of a panty fetish. Problem is my wife is very vanilla; my kinks have prob developed over the years since we’ve been married (prob from watching too much porn!?). Sex life is pretty much dried up; which I know is common when kids are introduced to the mix. It was a little better pre-kids but only a little. She’s unhappy with the weight gained post kids, so doesn’t feel sexy at all. So do I give up exploring these kinks? How do I get her interested, and loving herself again? Scared I might start looking elsewhere to explore these? Which could maybe help our relationship; both inside and out the bedroom?? Might be clutching there?!

    • Girl on the net says:

      Hi Frustrated BDSM Beginner (FBB: I like it =). Apologies for the delayed reply to your question, I wanted to give it some proper time and mull it over. The first thing I want to say is that you’re absolutely right that you aren’t alone in this – lots of the things in your comment echo other conversations I’ve had with people about various kinky struggles, and I know it can be a really tricky one to address. The first thing I’m going to recommend is the most important one, because the advice I’m going to give/questions I’m going to ask below come from someone who is not qualified to deal with things in detail, and I’ll never be able to know all the details of what might be influencing your sex life with your wife so… important bit first: have you ever spoken to her about the possibility of couples’ counselling? I know that for many people the idea of couples’ counselling is quite nervewracking, but I think it can be an incredibly helpful way to discuss complicated issues with guidance from someone who knows the right questions to ask. I’ve done relationship counselling with my current partner and we both found it incredibly helpful: There are counsellors who are kink-friendly and who specialise in sex-related stuff, so they may be able to give you a lot more help than me.

      OK, so that part over, let’s go to your specific questions.

      The first thing that jumps out at me from your comment is the reference to sex toys – you seem to have a lot! I’m sorry they’re not seeing much use at the mo. My first question would be: who chose them and how? It sounds like you may have chosen them yourself, but I’d suggest if you’re looking for something that might tempt your wife, you may want to ask her if there’s anything that she would like. Try to remove all possible pressure from the scenario, so she doesn’t feel like she *has* to choose something. In a situation where someone is kinky and trying to persuade their partner to try their kinks, often the focus is very heavily on their kink, but have you had any frank convos with your wife about her needs/desires and what she might like to do? Those kind of open conversations, where you focus on asking her and listening carefully to her needs are usually a good way to begin, rather than coming at things from the other angle and saying ‘here’s what *I* like’ to begin with.

      “She’s unhappy with the weight gained post kids, so doesn’t feel sexy at all.” This is sad, and I’m sorry she doesn’t feel sexy. A question for you: can you make a list of things that you *know* make her feel sexy? What actions could you take/gestures could you make/things could you say to try and boost her confidence and make her feel good about herself? You don’t have to tell me here, but have a think on what you could do to help her feel sexier. If you’re up for doing this quiz together: that might be useful. A lot of people think it’s very cheesy (and it is!) but my partner and I found it helpful to be able to put our finger on why he doesn’t feel loved/valued just from us having deep and meaningful chats, and I don’t feel loved/valued just from being hugged – we have different ways of expressing our love, and need different things in order to feel loved/lovable/sexy etc.

      Final point, deep breath, cos this might be a hard one to hear/think about. I think the ones above are all fun/interesting things for you to do/explore with your wife that will (hopefully) be easy and nice exercises to do but this one may be a little trickier: “Sex life is pretty much dried up; which I know is common when kids are introduced to the mix. It was a little better pre-kids but only a little.” My question here is: how much work does your wife do now that you have kids? How many hours does she spend looking after them? Cooking/cleaning/breastfeeding/changing nappies/keeping an ear out for crying etc etc etc. I do not want to make any assumptions about your home life, but it is fairly common that women tend to take on a lot of work after babies are born, and are often responsible for the majority of the childcare. This work can be exhausting and draining, and I know many women who also say that being seen constantly in the role of ‘mother’ can make them feel less sexy/sexual than they felt before kids were born.

      So, like I say, this bit of advice is harder but it may be well worth it: consider all the things your wife does to help maintain the family. Think about how much time she spends on certain tasks, whether there are particular things that the kids (or relatives/colleagues etc) expect her to do, and ask yourself if you were doing all that stuff whether you’d have as much time for thinking about all the sexy dreams you want to fulfil. Or if you want to practice, try doing as much of it as possible yourself for a couple of weeks – pick up a bunch of tasks that your wife would normally be doing, and see how you feel about it. I am not saying ‘if you do all the housework, you’ll get more sex’, but studies have shown that in couples where housework/childcare is more evenly balanced tend to have more satisfying sex lives: And this really rings true for me – I have far more time to fantasise and get horny if I’m not having to constantly juggle washing/housework/admin, and I am also more likely to want to try out new kinky things if I’m not already knackered from doing all that other stuff during the day.

      “Scared I might start looking elsewhere to explore these? Which could maybe help our relationship; both inside and out the bedroom??” So to your final questions, I’d say I think you’re leaping to some quite extreme things very early on in the process. I hope that the tips above can help you out – especially the couples’ counselling thing, it genuinely could be a lot of use to you both! – but I think if counselling isn’t an option, if I were in your shoes my priorities would be

      a) making sure I’m contributing what a partner needs (compliments, love, affection, fair share of domestic labour, emotional support, whatever they need) then
      b) starting some interesting convos about sexual desires, and listening out for any cool things they might be telling me they want to try and then
      c) having a frank conversation where I say ‘I’m feeling very horny and I’d really like to try some of this stuff but I get the impression you aren’t keen – can we have a non-pressured, open talk about why?’

      (in that order) If you’re monogamous at the moment (which I assume you are) then ‘I will find these needs elsewhere’ is an extreme and potentially deeply damaging thing to go to straight away, especially if your wife is possibly suffering from self-esteem worried after having kids, so it should not really be something you reach for until you genuinely feel you have exhausted all the other options. Hope this answer has given you some useful other options to try!

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