Consent can feel like a sticky topic. At 36 years old, I can tell you that the full concept of consent wasn't even on my radar until just a few years ago. And when I hear the word consent, I can't help but think of all the talk about safe sex in the late 80s and early 90s.
Sure, I was pretty sheltered about sex as a kid, so I didn't actually know what those commercials and PSAs were talking about. But I did gather that plenty of people felt that condoms were lame and not romantic.
Today, alot of folks look at consent in the same way.
Like sure, it's safer for all parties... but is it really any fun?
Plenty of dudes are saying it's not. And some women have chimed in to complain about consent too.
A young male reader once wrote to me and requested advice regarding undoing some of the sexual lessons from his repressive religious background. That request was easy enough and I dealt with it in this story:
But then the same reader made a further remark that I think deserves more discussion:
I am a supporter of #MeToo and am thankful it’s bringing out all the terrible things happening to women.
I have to admit, I’m also really confused. I’m recently single and have been going on some dates lately. I want to be the best advocate for consent that I can, so even yesterday after a date, I said “Are you up for a kiss?” and the girl basically made fun of me for asking. I felt like an idiot, but this is my best expression of consent in that situation.
So... I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think this is a serious and valid concern for men to have after #MeToo. And on behalf of my fellow ladies, I can't help but be ashamed that any woman would mock a man for doing his best to request and honor her consent.
But surely, that response was a one-off, right?
Maybe not so much. It wasn't too long ago that I was working and streaming the show Younger on Hulu. About halfway into the fifth season, I dropped my jaw because a man asks Hillary Duff’s character if he may kiss her… and she laughs at him.
Duff"s character goes on to tease him about being such an incredible speech writer but having zero game when it comes to romance. She certainly likes the guy and indeed chooses to sleep with him, but it's absurd that the teasing even happens at all.
The scene is nothing but a blip that’s over in a minute, but it left me so damn angry.
See, earlier in the same season, there was a juicy plot point when the main publishing house made a tough choice to drop their cash cow author due to his numerous sexually inappropriate remarks made to women. Times have changed and he’s now a liability. Pretty modern, right?
It would have been a much stronger decision if it wasn’t such a fucking double-standard. One man gets in trouble for making unwanted lewd comments, and another gets laughed because he asked before making a pass.
How is that acceptable?
Consent is not a mood killer.
So I did a little Googling and found more men and women complaining that a man who asks to kiss you is literally killing the mood.
You have got to be kidding me.
Do you know what I think really kills the mood?
Feeling pressured to kiss a man you don’t want to kiss.
Oh, yeah. And how about mixed signals?
Men caring about consent? That's a good thing.
While I recognize that #NotAllWomen are going to laugh in the face of a man who genuinely asks for their consent, this is apparently a problem we need to address.
It isn’t okay to expect men to read your mind and magically know what you want. There are so many reasons to be on the side of consent, that I can’t believe this even needs to be said. But it certainly isn’t equal or fair to come down hard on some men who don’t ask for consent, and then belittle others who do.
If we women cannot grow up and encourage men to respect consent, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. How can we share our #MeToo stories or tell sexual offenders that #TimesUp, if we send out such a dangerous mixed message about consent?
When a woman laughs at a man who's eager to get consent right, it only fuels the fire for incels and men's rights activists who don't support a woman's right to consent. It waters down the purpose of the #MeToo movement because it suggests that only certain men need to ask for consent. Like, the men you don’t feel attracted to.
But to be fair, men cannot know how you feel about them unless you tell them. And if someone is interested in you, don’t they generally have the right to ask?
(Okay, some exclusions may apply. Like teachers and students or certain workplace scenarios.)
We need to talk.
Let’s say you’re going out with someone new. Do you kiss on the first date? Have sex? Aren’t sure? Most people on a date with someone new will be testing the waters and aren’t entirely sure where they stand with the other person. They’re simply seeing how it goes. Others will know right away if they want to get physical and exactly how far.
Wherever your personal opinion lies, it’s problematic to rely upon signals and cues alone. We have generations of men who’ve been recently flabbergasted by the idea that they need clear consent. It never occurred to them that drunk girls aren’t fair game or that women might feel pressured about accepting their advances.
So why don’t we help men who want to do better instead of berating them? If a man asks for your consent for a kiss, try saying thank you. Try saying yes or no. It doesn’t even have to be a mood killer. If you want him to kiss you without asking — take some damn initiative and say so.
I maintain the opinion that asking for consent is sexy, because I know how awful and terrifying it can be to experience unwanted advances and sexual expectations. Or to feel like you can’t say no because a man has assumed his desires match yours.
Consent is sexy.
Don’t think consent can be sexy? Then maybe you lack imagination. We’ve all grown up with the media telling us what’s sexy and what romance looks like. Very few of us even grew up with the concept of sexual consent.
Now is the time to rewrite romance. Personally? I find it terribly sexy when a man asks for my consent. I didn't always feel that way, but as I grew up it made sense.
When we know better, we can do better. But that goes for men and women alike. Let's quit giving men a hard time for asking for consent and instead give them an opportunity to get this right.