Welcome to The Weekend Sexperiment! Each Friday, I alternate between The Weekend Sexperiment and Reader’s Request Fridays. In TWS posts, I offer a simple sex therapy homework assignment to try out over the weekend. Some experiments are geared towards couples, but others are suitable for single folks. As always, please feel free to contact me if you have a certain topic you’d like to see covered. If you’re interested in counseling, call (415) 658-5738 or visit my Appointments page to schedule a consultation.
Please note that the focus this week is on heterosexual relationships. While these patterns also apply to other types of relationships, I want to highlight some aspects that primarily emerge from the male/female dynamic.
This week, we turn the focus to intimate communication. Watch any popular TV show or movie, and you’re bound to see sex scenes that involve virtually no communication. The characters seem to automatically know what their partners want, no permission is ever requested (or seemingly needed), and feedback is never given. Everything flows perfectly without a single sentence.
Sure, these types of interactions do sometimes happen. It’s possible to be so in sync with another person that you don’t use words. Many times it can even be sexy to convey everything through eye contact or touch. But these types of interactions are extremely rare, and it’s just not realistic to expect that every sexual encounter will unfold in that way.
Holding onto this fantasy as our ideal causes way more damage than most of us are even aware of.
The reality is that good sex requires good communication.
You need communication to express what you like; if you expect your partner to know exactly what you want, every single time, you’re going to be disappointed. You need communication to maintain a connection; most of us have probably had the experience of very quiet and terribly awkward sex. You need communication to help you stay in the moment. Perhaps most importantly, you need communication to give permission. And this is precisely where I want to focus this week’s sexperiment.
Consent is where we get most caught up in our unfortunate ideals and scripts about how heterosexual sex is “supposed” to go. The way we are socialized in this society, men are taught that they’re supposed to be the sexual aggressors, and women are supposed to be the submissive recipients of men’s advances. Men are just supposed to continue pushing forward, rounding the bases until the woman finally resists.
Bear in mind that women aren’t usually taught safe or sexy ways to say “no”. We’re taught to believe that openly talking about consent is a buzzkill, and that it’s better as a man to simply keep pushing further with the hopes that the woman will feel too awkward about saying no to stop him.
One of the problems with the way we talk about consent in our society is that we tend to frame it solely in terms of the “no”. We talk about the antithesis to consent – refusal. There are countless posters and PSAs dedicated to the motto “no means no”. Emphasizing respect of the word “no” is obviously extremely important, but what happened to the “yes”? In standard scripts, the woman “consents” to sexual activity simply by not resisting.
Why do we teach that the lack of a “no” is essentially the same as a “yes”?
What I find most perplexing is that saying “yes” can actually be wonderfully sexy. Imagine someone staring deeply into your eyes, their desire for you practically palpable, your own body screaming for touch. Imagine them asking, “can I do [fill in the blank] to you?” Imagine how good saying “yes, yes, YES!” could feel in that moment.
I think it’s about time for us to recognize that asking for and giving consent can be hot. Asking for consent doesn’t need to be a mood-buster, and getting comfortable with saying “yes” can be just as important as knowing how to say “no”.
This weekend, try finding ways to incorporate asking your partner for permission when it comes to sex. You may have been together for years, you may have done certain sex acts thousands of times, you may be really good at reading all their nonverbal cues – it doesn’t matter.
For at least one entire sexual encounter, try asking permission for each new step you take. If you feel shy or nervous about this, start with something easy, like asking if you can give your partner a hug or a kiss. You could practice saying a few different phrases on your own, so you can get a sense of which words feel more natural to you. You can even laugh about how awkward it feels at first. Then try working your way up to asking for things that feel more difficult.
If you notice yourself feeling uncomfortable during any part of this exercise, try to sit with that discomfort for a minute. What feels hard? Are you not used to using words? Do you find yourself buying into the script that hot sex isn’t supposed to include talking? Are you realizing that you’ve never learned how to talk about sex?
If this exercise feels more comfortable for you, try playing around with different phrases or words to ask for permission.. Examples include, “Is this OK?”, “Can I do this to you?”, “Can I touch you here?”, “Do you want me to ___ ?”, or something even more explicit.
When you’re being asked permission by your partner, notice the differences between saying “yes” and saying “no” for you (remember that even though this is an exercise, you still get to say “no” to something you don’t want). You can also try different ways of responding, like, “yes”, “I want that”, “please”, “not right now”, “I want you to do this instead”, or “no”. Notice what it’s like to open up the lines of communication in just this one aspect.
While this exercise may seem stressful, awkward, or even silly at first, what I hope eventually emerges is that communication, and especially asking for permission, can be a turn-on. We’re really shooting ourselves in the feet with this silence-only based model of sex because it ends up creating anxiety when we don’t know if what we’re doing is actually what our partner wants or enjoys.
I hope you are able to have an interaction with your partner where you know without a doubt that they want everything you’re doing to and with them. Now that’s sexy.