The first week of my freshman year of college, Vassar brought in a speaker to discuss consent. The lecture was mandatory and I went with my student fellow group, which consisted of all the other equally awkward and nervous freshman who lived on my floor.
If you went to college, try to remember your first few weeks there. Don’t let your rose-colored lenses fool you. It was terrifying. The first week of college you’re trying to meet new people, with a smile stapled to your face. You’re figuring out how you want to present yourself and what type of person you want to be for the next four years of your life. You ask the same boring questions of every person you meet: Where you from? Which other schools were you thinking of going to? Which dorm are you living in?
The first few weeks of college is a hot mess, during which we’re all attempting to prove ourselves. Prove that we’re cool. Prove that we’re smart. Prove that we deserve to be at [insert your college here]. And prove that we deserve your friendship.
So when my student fellow (Vassar’s version of an RA) told us we were going to a really cool talk on consent, we all rolled our eyes.
What boring crap is this going to be?
The speaker was Mike Domitzr, and I didn’t envy the position he was in. He had to talk to roughly 670 seventeen and eighteen year-olds, many of whom were away from home for the first time in their lives, about consent.
All things considered, his talk, titled Can I Kiss You, was phenomenal. While I couldn’t tell you the specifics seven years later, I do remember that I thought he did a remarkable job making a talk on consent entertaining, at points even humorous, without losing the seriousness and gravitas of the topic at hand.
After the talk, there was a mandatory discussion with my fellow group. There, we were supposed to discuss the lecture and our thoughts on asking the infamous question, Can I kiss you?
It took a few minutes, but once we finally loosened up, we all started spewing our strong opinions, like Vassar students are one to do.
Some of the women said that they want the man to have the courage to go for it, and that confidence or “balls” is sexy. Conversely, a few woman, said that they wouldn’t mind, but it wouldn’t be necessary. A couple of the women in the group said it would be kind of weird, but “I guess, OK.” The consensus among the group, was that it’s pretty clear when you’re in the situation, and it’s easy to read body language cues. One courageous guy, told an embarrassing story about what happened when he asked the question in high school. Much to his surprise, the woman scoffed, said she would have kissed him if he just went for it, but now that he asked, she doesn’t want to anymore.
The student fellow did her best to validate everyone’s opinions and give counterpoints the best she could. But then again, she was only one year older, and not quite prepared to handle a bunch of opinionated freshmen.
After that group discussion, I didn’t ever ask, can I kiss you. It didn’t seem like it was something that women wanted to hear. Best case scenario, the woman was indifferent to me asking; at worst, I would be rejected because of it, when I wouldn’t have been rejected had I not asked. So it seemed pointless, even detrimental to ask.
Six years later, approximately a year ago, I started asking, “Can I kiss you.” I couldn’t tell you exactly what changed, but I do know what cemented it in my brain. I started going to kink/polyamorous/queer events, and at these events, consent is taken seriously. It’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind. While not perfect, consent and the expectations surrounding it are much better in the queer, kink community than any other community I’ve been a part of. Now, I ask every single time I’m kissing someone new, regardless of his/her/they’s gender. And always, I ask if they’d like me to get a condom, before reaching for one.
While I can’t pinpoint exactly what changed before my exposure to the kink community, I can say that I have more female and male friends that have confided in me about their sexual assault than I have fingers and toes. Myself included. The countless stories of friends, four years of Vassar, and dozens of women’s studies, gender studies, and sociology articles/books have made me see the necessity in asking explicitly in a clear and direct manner.
I can’t help but think back to that conversation I had with my student fellow group. All the aversive responses women gave for being asked such a simple question. Luckily, I’m friends with many of them today, and can safely say, that if a man asked them to kiss them now, they would not be turned off by it. Seven additional years of unwanted sexual advances, glances, and objectification can have that effect on people.
The irony of course, and what I’ve discovered through experience, is that it’s sexy as fuck to ask someone “Can I kiss you?”. Here’s why:
First, it shows confidence.
Receiving a verbal, flat-out no, is the strongest form of rejection. Sure, it’s not pleasant to have a cheek turn away from you, but hearing that actual words no, is more soul-crushing. If a man or woman had the courage to ask, they’re going out on a limb. They’re putting themselves out there in a vulnerable position. If that’s not confidence, I don’t know what is.
Second, it shows respect.
It shows that you think of the other person as an autonomous person, and by giving them the ability to chose, you are giving them a voice. You are no longer objectifying them. You are valuing their thoughts and desires.
Third, it makes the other person feel comfortable.
Making out, or anything more sexual is not enjoyable when you don’t feel comfortable and taken cared for. If he/she/they is not feeling safe, whatever you’re doing will not be pleasurable for either you or him/her/them.
I would also like to point out some of the flaws in the reasons for why one shouldn’t explicitly ask.
First flawed reason: I don’t need to ask. I can tell by body language.
Um… I’m calling, bullshit. There is no one with 100% accuracy who can tell the difference between someone who is incredibly friendly and flirty. Body language is a key component. Don’t get me wrong, but it’s like the sketch of a picture. Verbal language is the color. You need both body language and verbal consent to get the full picture.
Second flawed reason: It ruins the momentum.
Really? It ruins the momentum? I’m not buying it. You haven’t done anything yet. Finding and putting on a condom, that’s something that ruins the momentum because you’re already in the middle of something. It’s annoying as hell, but you always do it. With this though, you haven’t started anything yet, so how can it ruin momentum? You were dancing? Great? Ask, and if he/she/they says yes, then make out while you start dancing again. If the momentum can be lost THAT easily, then there was nothing really there, and you shouldn’t be doing anything to begin with.
Third flawed reason: I want the guy to have the courage to go for it.
Already explained. It requires more courage to ask that to just “go for it.”
I want to end with one story of me asking that led to a flat out rejection. I was in a bar. I ordered a drink next to a woman and we spoke for about an hour. She was flirty, touching my leg, laughing. I thought I was killing it. I asked her if I can kiss her, and she erupted into laughter.
“No! God no!” She said. I started laughing because I was embarrassed, but also because it was funny how much I misread the situation.
Through my awkward laughs, I managed to get out, “Thank God I asked.”
She continued laughing. “Yeah, sorry. I don’t want to, but…” then she trailed off to what we were talking about prior. We spoke for another hour and then I hugged her before she left. My friends came over and asked what happened. “She seemed so into you,” they said. I said, “Yeah, I thought so too. But apparently, she wasn’t. Great talking to her though.”
I look back on this and smile. I got rejected. I got laughed it. But it’s kind of humorous how much she didn’t want to kiss me. How badly I misread the situation.
That said, I’m still alive. I’m stronger for it, and I’m happy I asked. Life happens. You will get rejected, but that’s a good thing. That means it was the right decision to ask in the first place.
So ask. Always ask. You’ll grow as a person because of it, and your partner will like you even more for confidently displaying how much you respect them.
Photo credit: Getty Images