Wake up guys: Consent is a turn-on.
In their book What Women Want, Tucker Max and Dr. Geoffrey Miller ask their male readers to imagine themselves as a young, inexperienced gay man at a bar on a Friday night. I have paraphrased their brilliant analogy below.
You had a long week and you are ready for some fun and excitement—perhaps even to hook up.
The bar is full of attractive men, each one as tall as an NBA player, as large as an NFL linebacker, and as sexually aggressive as a stalker. As you walk in, they turn and size you up. You can see their sexual desire flowing through them behind their eyes.
Surrounded by your friends, you head to the bar and get a drink. Within minutes, your new large friends are moving in to hit on you, buy you drinks, and touch you. They do not ask for consent. You start to feel deeply claustrophobic, bordering on panic. When you ask for space, they laugh and tease you about it. Rather than stop, they move in closer.
These men could, at any moment, use their physicality to have sex with you—with or without your agreement. They can say anything they want and touch you wherever they want. At worst, they might get thrown out of the bar, then go down the street and start again. Odds are, however, they are regulars in the bar and the management will chalk it up to “boys being boys.”
You are encircled by these men. How does it feel?
Welcome to every single day of being a woman.
I witnessed the results of this dynamic firsthand at a workshop with author and thought-leader Allison Armstrong attended by approximately 250 women and 150 men. She started off by asking the men whether they had felt threatened in the last year. About 30 of us raised our hands. Then asked who had felt threatened in the last two months, which left about 10 men with their hands raised. She kept lowering the time frame until she got to the last 48 hours, when no man’s hand was raised.
Then she moved to the women, skipping all the previous timeframes and simply asking who had felt threatened within the last 48 hours. About 200 of them raised their hands.
I was floored. While I knew the world was a safer place for me, I had never fully confronted the reality of how frequently women feel threatened in their daily lives.
Like us, women desire to be able to move around freely without fear of physical or emotional intimidation or attack. Men need to learn how to notice, feel, and then express at the proper frequency. It is on men to learn new techniques to ensure this. We need to learn the impact of our tendency to speak loudly, touch inappropriately, and invade women’s personal space without permission.
I’ve made a conscious practice of creating security for the women in my life. In all situations, from a workshop to meeting someone new, I ask for overt consent before touching someone or even stepping close to them. If I know I wil be late for dinner, I send my wife Morgan a text saying I’m 20 minutes behind schedule. Even in our sex life, I will often ask permission if I feel like my movement may surprise Morgan. I want to ensure she feels safe in every moment with me.
Consent Is Sexy
The ethos I learned growing up in the 70s and 80s was that a boy should try to get as far with a girl as she would let him go. If she said no, he should pause for a moment and then try again. It was a game of offense and defense.
It wasn’t until 1993 that all 50 states criminalized marital rape. We come from a long history of men not asking for consent. Now that we’re finally talking about it, I’ve heard all genders complain that consent can ruin the mood. I’ve found the opposite to be true. By slowing down and upping your level of attention, you can give her room to offer consent and increase eroticism all at once.
One great example of this is from the movie Hitch, in which Will Smith gives a man advice on how to kiss his dream woman for the first time. He counsels him to come 90 percent of the way in for the first kiss and then to allow the woman to cross the last 10 percent.Try it for yourself and you’ll see that it often works. By taking the risk, you are showing the woman your intent and desire. By stopping just short of the kiss itself, you are showing her that you’re safe.
If you think consent discussions are a buzzkill, let me give you an example of how you can approach the issue with a new partner before ever getting to the bedroom.
Him: Can we talk about something a little serious?
Her: It depends. What’s on your mind?
Him: It feels like we’ve been getting closer over these last few weeks and I want to have a conscious conversation about sex. I’m not trying to rush you into anything, but I would like to talk about things like STDs, consent, and what you like and don’t like. Better to be deliberate than to bumble around in the dark.
Her: Wow. I like how direct you are. Yes, let’s talk about it.
Notice that in this converstaion, the man comes off as both direct/active and sensitive/safe. Obtaining consent doesn’t imply passivity or wimpiness. Just the opposite. It shows a man comfortable with boundaries, emotions, and communication.
Once you’re sexually engaging, you can keep both momentum and consent going by asking specific yes-or-no questions such as:
Would you like a lighter touch?
Would you like me to move higher?
Would you like a faster touch?
She doesn’t have to spend too much time thinking or worrying about your ego to answer these kinds of questions. They show you want this to be a good experience for her, that you can take feedback and adapt, and that she is allowed to change her mind. When a woman knows you can handle all that, her sexual response will tend to increase. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself.
Robert Kandell is a relationship coach, business consultant, and host of the Tuff Love podcast. This is excerpted from his book Unhidden: A Book for Men and Those Confused By Them.