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Enthusiastic Consent: What It Is and How to Obtain It

A couple that uses enthusiastic consent to enhance intimacy lying in bed together smiling.

You know what consent is, right? Actually, you may not. In a study of 145 straight male college students, researchers found that participants made a variety of missteps when it came to identifying consent—things like confusing consent with sexual desire (i.e., she’s into me so therefore it means she wants to be sexual) and assuming a woman had consented to have sex merely because she’d had sex with them before. And this was true even for men who considered themselves progressive and who wanted to respect and love women.

What studies like this tell us isn’t only that we need to better educate ourselves about consent but also that consent itself is confusing. Men aren’t just failing consent—consent is failing them, too.

The solution? Giving consent an upgrade. And here it is: enthusiastic consent.

The definition of enthusiastic consent is simple: if it’s not a “Hell yes,” it’s a no. And the idea behind it is even simpler: if a woman is clearly enthusiastic to get physical with you, there will be no grey area about whether or not she’s given consent.

Now that you know what enthusiastic consent is, you’re probably wondering how to get it. Like, practically speaking, do you ask for consent before you kiss her? What if she’s excited at first but then pulls away? And how do you ask if she’s into it while still keeping things sexy? Here’s how.

Ask in a sexy voice.
When asking if your partner likes something or if you can kiss them, don’t ask it like you’d ask your mom to borrow the Volvo. Like, “Can I kiss you please?” or “Hey, um, I was just wondering if, um, you wouldn’t mind kissing me?”

Instead, find a sexy voice role model like Isaiah Mustafa (you know, the guy from those Old Spice commercials). When the moment is right, make eye contact, lean in, and use your sexy voice to say, “You smell amazing. I really want to kiss you right now.” If your partner kisses you, then you’ve got a clear signal they’re into it. If not, use your same sexy voice to ask, “Can I kiss you?” and, of course, wait for the enthusiastic yes before you continue.

Ask for the next thing while still doing that other thing.
Let’s say your partner has excitedly told you to kiss her neck, and it’s been going well. Now you want to go further. Do you stop what you’re doing, look into her eyes, and ask for consent? You certainly can, but you can also continue kissing her neck and slowly get the words out as you take a breath between kisses: Want. Kiss. Me to. Kiss. Lick your—ahem, you get the idea.

Talk about enthusiastic consent outside the bedroom.
If you’ve been sweating bullets while reading the first two tips—like you can’t even imagine speaking in a sexy voice in front of a potential lover—fear not. There are many ways you can make yourself feel more comfortable asking if it’s OK to advance a sexual encounter.

One great way is to talk about enthusiastic consent when a sexual encounter isn’t a possibility. Discuss it with friends. In your dating profile, list it as one of your turn-ons. Mention it  during a first date well before it ever gets to the point where you’re taking each other’s clothes off. The more you talk about enthusiastic consent when sex isn’t about to happen, the more comfortable you’ll be bringing it up when it is.

Acknowledge the awkwardness.
Another way to diffuse awkwardness around asking for enthusiastic consent—or anything, really—is to simply say, “I feel awkward.” This may come as a surprise, but acknowledging when you feel awkward will often make you feel less awkward. Bottling it up or pretending it doesn’t exist, on the other hand, can make you feel more nervous, which means not only will you act weird but you won’t be fully enjoying yourself, either. And who knows, after you say it, you may even find that your partner feels just as awkward and is relieved you said it first.

Listen to your partner.
The only way to truly obtain enthusiastic consent is to listen to what your partner says and how they say it. Does she have a huge smile across her face as she says yes or does she sigh quietly while letting out a halfhearted “sure”?

Remember that your partner may be feeling awkward or nervous, so they may not speak in the queen’s perfect English. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or reflect back what you thought you heard, just to be sure. Consider this: it’s much better to ask, “Are you saying you want me to spank you?” than to actually spank them, only to find out later that what they actually wanted was for you to “thank” them.

Reaffirm their enthusiasm.
Just because your partner said, “Yes, kiss me!” in the beginning doesn’t mean you’re good to go. Enthusiastic consent must be affirmed and reaffirmed throughout the encounter. Checking in can be as simple as responding to a moan of pleasure by asking, “I assume that noise means you like what I’m doing?” If she gives you a “hell yes,” then you know you’re good.

When it comes to enthusiastic consent the important takeaway isn’t just that it helps you avoid rape—although it definitely does—but also that it leads to the best sexual encounters. If done in a sexy way, asking about what your partner wants can enhance the sex you’re having in the moment and in the future as you learn more and more about how to get, and inspire, that enthusiastic YES.

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