Being Bad at Consent Makes You Bad at Sex

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You’ve found the person you want to get down to business with. They’re totally into you, this is so exciting. Things progress quickly… holy smokes, you’re going to have sex! Yay! 

You ask if they want to have sex. They smile big — “Hell yeah!”, they say. Oh, how exciting!

You’re having sex, but you feel very rigid in the hips. You wish you’d done the stretches you saw on that TV commercial that one time. You’re both excited to be having sex, but maybe you’re doing a bad job? This is scary and now you’re thinking too hard and oh my goodness it’s only been 30 seconds and--

OOPS, that might have ended earlier than you’d hoped... but that’s not the end of the world, right? You look them in the eyes, and you are pretty sure they’re disappointed as they try and give you an appeasing smile. Oh god, anything but that look!

“Was that good for you?” you ask anxiously. 

“Uh… I mean it wasn’t awful? I’m definitely glad it finally happened, but we have some work to do?” they reply as tactfully as they can.

Your nightmare realized. You did bad at sex. They probably don’t like you anymore! Everything is falling apart. Nothing will ever be okay again! Help!

--

Being ‘bad’ at sex is something that scares a lot of people. It might feel shameful or embarrassing to have not produced feelings of immense pleasure for your partner(s). 

Being thought of, or in a true nightmarish situation, *talked about* as having put forward a sub-standard sexual performance, can evoke pretty intense feelings of inferiority. 

Therefore, a lot of folks will tell you that they're pretty determined to make sure the person or people they are having sex with are going to feel quite exquisitely about any sexual experience with them. Effort and care are put into making sexual partners feel pleasure to the highest degree, but perhaps we are ignoring the most integral part of that equation.

Have you ever stopped to think about what might take away from someone’s enjoyment, or what might affect a partner's feelings towards you as a sexual partner, at an exponentially higher rate than, say, not expertly performing that definitely normal move involving all of the legs in all of the directions you saw in that porno that one time? 

Being bad at consent, of course!

If you’re bad at consent, I hate to break it to you — you’re terrible at sex. And you’ve got a lot of work to do. 

Consent is the biggest piece of the puzzle of being good at sex, and has two main components that need to be looked after: First, you need to try and be good at consent, and second, you have to actively decide to prioritize it.

It is not enough to be good at consent if you are also ignoring its importance and decide to forego it. There are many people in our world who commit sexual assault intentionally, demonstrating that they do not care about the safety, dignity, or autonomy of other human beings. This article intends to speak to those of us who do care about those things.

So, why does being bad at consent make you bad at sex? Well, when someone doesn’t feel at ease, doesn’t feel comfortable, or potentially even feels very unsafe within a sexual encounter, that can mean a lot of different things end up going on internally. 

They might feel powerless; they might feel empty or alone; they might feel angry; they might be looking for a way out of the situation, or the room, or the world; they might be shutting down, disconnecting entirely from their bodies, and simply looking to survive until the threat is over; they might spend days, years, and potentially their entire lives fighting the trauma that tries to force its ugliness into their lives, around every corner they move, in every face they see. 

The science of trauma isn’t theoretical at this point. We know what can happen to one’s brain and body when a trauma is occurring, and we are coming to know the terrible, long-term repercussions that follow.

When someone is in the midst of a sexual experience that they do not want, did not consent to, and/or have identified as a threat to their mind and body, they will often shut down.

To be clear: if you are engaging in any sort of sexual activity with someone without 100% certainty that they want it to be happening in the manner that it is happening, you are committing sexual assault. And when someone commits sexual assault, there is a victim or survivor whose experiences from that point forward will be forever changed. 

They won’t experience feelings of pleasure or happiness, but will be left with feelings of shame and pain that last long after the experience is over. 

Being good at consent is the single most important thing anyone who is looking to be good at sex should strive for. Being someone who cares to, and who successfully gains and nurtures the trust of another person (or people) within intimate sexual interactions, is someone who partners are going to want to explore with, grow with, and feel out-of-this-world pleasure alongside. 

What does being good at consent look like, then? 

Well, it goes deeper than you might think. It’s much more intricate than asking a question and getting an affirmative response (though that’s not a bad place to start). 

Rather than an item to be crossed off a checklist, it can be helpful to think of consent as a new language that needs to be learned and re-learned within every new sexual relationship.

Just think about how you typically communicate in whatever language you typically speak! You might use phrases or words slightly differently than the person next to you. You might rely more on hand gestures, shoulder shrugs, and body language than someone else because that’s how you most comfortably communicate. There might be people in your life you struggle to use words with at all because they intimidate you, or you don’t want to disappoint them, or you feel some kind of duty towards. 

The tricky, but exciting part, is that you’ll be building this brand new language with each partner you interact with, and thus have an opportunity to learn new words and become a better communicator. Every dynamic within every relationship will differ from the last, so you’ll have the opportunity to build from the ground up every time and establish a language and connection that is uniquely yours and your partner's. 

What you said and did with someone in the past might be virtually unrecognizable within the language of consent you have with someone you’re currently with. It’s endlessly important that we recognize that the thresholds and customs that we build up within one relationship are not entirely transferable. Someone’s past experiences or internal feelings of (dis)comfort and safety will likely impact what they are hoping to offer you, and what they’ll look for in return from you. 

Seems kind of complicated, right? In a way, I suppose it can seem that way, but it’s also the simplest thing in the world when we look at how to practically approach it. The philosophy of learning the language of consent is unbelievably easy to understand and follow.

If you are looking to establish clear and ongoing consent because the feelings of comfort, pleasure, and safety are **important to you**, rather than because you don’t want to face consequences (and thus will be more prone to miss signs, cut corners, or use a past model of a consent and assume that all is well and good), you won’t really ever be led astray.

If you want to establish consent because you care about your partner enjoying the experience as much as you do, you’ll be just fine, because you’ll inherently be more perceptive. 

If you want to be good at consent because you understand it’s part of being good at sex, and you care about being good at sex, the rest will fall into place as you learn how to communicate clearly with each partner you interact with.

What does being good at consent entail? Paying attention, really.

It means asking someone if they’d like it if you took off their clothes, hearing them say yes, but noticing a slight recoil as you lean in, and instead telling them that you actually are feeling pretty tired and that perhaps you can just cuddle instead, accompanied by a warm smile on your face. It’s seeing the appreciation and trust emanating from your partner who feels relieved, and filling up on how good that feels. 

It means being earnest in having conversations with your partner(s) about what they like, what they don’t, and what, if any, boundaries or expectations they’d like to set. 

It means understanding that you hold a great power in your hands every time you enter into an intimate moment with other human beings. You hold the power to facilitate another person becoming the masters of their bodies, as they extract autonomy and power from sexual interactions.

You also hold the power to disconnect them from that same body forever.

Because while the nightmare at the outset of this article might scare you, the potential to hurt and traumatize another human being by failing to establish trust through consent should scare you much, much more.

It’s a tremendous power and responsibility that demands incredible care and our ongoing attention. 

Being good at sex is so much more than how you use your parts. More important than any new manoeuvre or position is establishing a connection, built on a foundation of attentive communication, between you and whomever you choose to be intimate with. Through that connection, if you take time to properly build it and care for it on an ongoing basis, you’ll find the electricity and sparks that you’re looking for.

And you’ll be bomb-ass at sex.