How Not to Get Me-Too-ed (And Get What You Want)
Five practical tips from our exciting friend Marcia
Credit: This worksheet would not exist without the work of Marcia Baczynski. I met Marcia at an event where she left a profound impression. I then took her Asking for What You Want online workshop, and read her book, Creating Consent Culture.
Consent is to create collaboration. It is painful navigating when knowing that others are not prioritizing not hurting you. It is also painful navigating without knowing if you will unwittingly hurt someone. But navigation is inevitable. Unless you become a hermit you will interact with other people, and so it is worthwhile to minimize both of these kinds of pains so that you can walk with a light heart. I have compiled a few tips I would like to share with my community to both keep people out of social trouble and to protect the people being interacted with from possibly serious unnecessary harm.
TIP #1: STOP BEFORE THEY HAVE TO SAY STOP
By the time somebody manages to yelp out a STOP, you have already made them uncomfortable, if only for a millisecond, by what you were doing right before they said it. This means that if you are really prioritizing a person’s comfort, versus your own plausible deniability, you want to pay attention to nonverbal cues and stop before they have to say it. You should also not assume that a person would say DON’T when you are approaching the point when they would say STOP. People say DON’T or STOP at very different distances from where their actual boundaries are. Some people say STOP before you have crossed their boundary, when you are about to, but many do not say STOP until after you have crossed their boundary. If a person is in a position where they cannot say stop before something happens to them (they cannot see, their reaction time is very slow from drugs), do not do the thing. In the best world, people would take classes about how to express their boundaries and how to communicate with people who have not trained in learning others’ cues. But because we live in a mixed, multicultural society, it is best to assume that people may not know how to assert their boundaries, or have different ways of doing it that may not be easily intelligible. One safe assumption is that most people tend to be less verbal during sex, and not more verbal, and so you can assume less communication from your partner, not more.
TIP #2: ASSUME THE OTHER PERSON ALSO WANTS TO BE SEXY
Nonverbal cues are generally seen as sexier, right? Just as a person may try to be sexier by leaning on nonverbal cues when “asking,” a person is likely to use nonverbal cues when “saying no.” Just as a person may not want to seem too “forward” by explicitly asking, a person may not want to seem too “mean” or “harsh” when saying they are not comfortable. You want to pay attention to the proprietary social norms a person may be trying to follow when interacting with you. Often people limit their expression by either the impression they want to leave on you, or rules they are trying to follow.
TIP #3: ASK “IS THIS GOOD” INSTEAD OF “IS THIS OKAY”
The point of consent is to create a good, joint experience. “Is this okay?” is generally better than not asking anything, but it is a question that gives you very limited information. The question can be interpreted in many ways: “Can you tolerate this?” “Am I okay if I do this?” A “yes” response can mean many things. It can mean that your partner is not so uncomfortable as to say no, but is not particularly enjoying what is happening. Your partner may be shy, even when asked to verbalize their feelings.
More specific questions will give you the information that you need. “Should I slow down?” “Are you comfortable?” “Would it be fun for you, if…” The question “Is this good?” is a better default question, because then a “yes,” or a hesitation helps you know what else to ask or how to proceed.
Because people tend to become less verbal during sex, it is useful to have a few tools in your backpocket. You can make a fist with your thumb out sideways, and rotate it down, and rotate it up, asking your partner to stop you when their feeling is described (somewhere between a thumbs up and a thumbs down). You can ask them how they feel from 1 to 10. These tools help you understand how your partner is feeling and how to proceed, when your partner is having difficulty accessing or communicating their own emotions.
TIP #4: WATCH FOR A FREEZE RESPONSE
When people are scared, they get into a fight, flight, or freeze panic mode. The freeze mode is the most common response that people get into when they are scared in sexual encounters. The answer to the question, “why didn’t he or she fight,” is not because they weren’t scared enough to enter a panic response, but because the panic response that is most common during sex is the “freeze” panic response. Their way of “fighting” was by freezing. These responses happen at the physiological level, and take conscientious training for a person to override. It is safe to assume that a person may freeze during sex when they are scared, and that they have never gone through “freezing override” training that would allow them to easily do something different.
If a person is not moving much, and is nonverbal, you should not assume that everything is okay. You should not assume that a woman is “frigid” or is “just laying there,” and you should not assume that a man would be “assertive” enough to say when he is nervous or afraid.
TIP #5: GET MORE BY ASKING FOR MORE
Nonverbal flirtation and sex scenes look really hot in movies; that’s why people assume this is how it’s done in real life. But life is not an endless drama; people are willing to have more fun and take more risks when they feel comfortable. Relying on nonverbal communication limits you to the very narrow range of culturally sanctioned activities defined by you getting away with it without her talking or doing much: kissing, touching under the skirt, missionary sex. Scoring here may seem like a win, but if you care about playing the intensity-game and getting the most fun possible, trying for as much as you can get without talking may lose you not just friendship and reputation, but a wicked sexytime.
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