As an author who has written about a wide variety of controversial topics, I thought I’d heard every insult hurled my way. But after I created the Consent Pledge, I saw an insult about this effort, in a conservative response piece, that sent me Googling away to understand what it all meant.
“[A]nyone who’d sign this pledge is more of a pajama boy eunuch drinking his cocoa than an actual man,” the woman who wrote the article stated.
“Pajama boy eunuch drinking his cocoa”?
I had to know what this meant. And Google quickly told me. It turns out that during Christmastime, 2013, Obama tweeted out a call for twenty-somethings to sign up for Obamacare. The image featured a frankly dorky-looking guy in hipster glasses, and red plaid onesie pajamas sipping cocoa at some kind of holiday gathering. “Wear pajamas. Drink hot chocolate. Talk about getting health insurance.”
The image was widely panned among conservatives and quickly became a meme among them symbolizing liberal millennial emasculation. One variation showed cocoa-guy next to a Life magazine cover featuring an American soldier and compared them: “American Symbols of Masculinity,” “G.I. Joe, 1944” and “Obama’s Pajama Boy, 2013.”
So: any man who would publicly commit to following affirmative consent during a hookup is an emasculated, unsexy loser, and a ball-less eunuch, according to this taunt. (Ironically, I happen to be a half-eunuch of sorts, having had one of mine removed for testicular cancer. Ah well, I’ve got enough ball left to handle the insult.)
I must admit, though: how to maintain erotic tension, and ride that edge between traditional masculine decisiveness and assertiveness, on the one hand, and sensitive checking about the subtle gradations of a woman’s sexual boundaries, on the other, is no easy or simple task. And we men are being asked to learn how to do this, ASAP.
The author of the article continues her critique: “Men might as well bring a relationship chart, a questionnaire, and a consent form outlining every possible move (bodily or verbal) a man will make in an erotic encounter…. [W]hat woman would possibly find this in the least bit attractive? Paradoxically, the ‘Consent Pledge’ lacks masculine thrust despite the fact that its only objective is sex.”
I don’t agree that the only objective of the Consent Pledge is sex—the objective is consent and communication, whether sex occurs or not. But, I do think the author’s fear that affirmative consent will kill eroticism, “masculine thrust,” and sexual tension is common enough—and not just among conservatives—that it deserves a deeper treatment.
The following is a continuation of my answers to many questions men have about the “Consent Pledge” I created (for men who have sex with women).
Won’t following this Consent Pledge ruin erotic and romantic tension, kill spontaneity and passion, destroy the mood, and make sex formulaic and contractual? And anyways, most women don’t want to be asked, “Can I kiss you?” “Can I touch you here?” etc. They want to be ravished passionately, just like in the movies. They want us to know what they want, and they think we’re weak, unsexy, and less of a man if we have to ask.
In an ideal world, we would all be able to read each other’s desires, intentions, and boundaries, wordlessly and intuitively, just from each other’s body-language, right upon first meeting them. We would all be able to give each other that “in sync” feeling of “reading each other’s minds.”
Lovemaking, at its most attuned, is like a form of partner-dancing: in the middle of a good dance, the leader doesn’t stop and ask the follower, “May I spin you?” In a good partner dance, the turns “just happen,” and the leader just knows when and where and how to touch and turn the partner in a way that the follower loves and is most pleasurable for all.
However, even if you already knew how to dance well, would you expect to be able to dance perfectly and gracefully the first time you danced with a new partner?
And how about if you didn’t even know how to dance well yet–if you were new to dancing, and/or your partner was new to dancing, and also you were both dancing with each other for the first time? Would you expect to be able to read your partner’s mind, and execute the most beautiful turns flawlessly and gracefully, the first time, without any verbal communication whatsoever?
That would be an insane expectation in the context of partner dance, and dancers do not generally expect that (that’s why they practice with each other so much!) Yet, it’s a very common expectation in the context of hooking up. And it’s equally insane.
True, no major Hollywood romantic or erotic movie, to my knowledge, has ever featured the question, “May I kiss you?” before the hero and heroine kiss for the first time, or the question, “May I touch your breasts?” before they rip each other’s clothes off and have sex.
But we need to understand that the kind of perfectly synchronized, mind-reading, dance-like, wordlessly and effortlessly graceful and hot lovemaking we see in romantic films on the big screen, is a destination we can get to with a particular partner, over time, with practice.
If you and your sexual partner both have the goal of getting to smooth “dancing” with each other, without having to memorize the steps, or stepping on each other’s toes, you’re almost certainly going to have to talk through it at first. And those conversations may be awkward or unsexy. (You could possibly even get there in one night, as long as you’re practicing.)
The point of these conversations is to get to know your sexual partner well enough so that you don’t have to keep having these conversations with them. So that the only time you speak during sex is when talking enhances the interaction. Because what’s OK with her and what she likes are already established, so you don’t need to keep talking about it.
But if you don’t know each other, the probability of you being right about what you’re wordlessly assuming about each other’s sexual desires, intentions, and boundaries is very small, and the cost for being wrong is very big.
What’s more dangerous? The possibility of giving up a bit of the “heat of the moment” passion with a new partner, while we stop and make sure we clearly understand what their boundaries are? Or the possibility of assaulting someone, by not knowing for sure (or not caring) what their boundaries are?
If talking about sexual boundaries and consent before having sex is truly going to bring all your eroticism, hotness, and romance to a screeching halt, never to be recovered, then the problem is simple and relatively easy to remedy: you need to get better at having consent conversations. Practice makes perfect.
Just like if you don’t know how to put on a condom–it’s going to be really awkward. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear condoms–it means you should learn how to put on a condom if you don’t want it to be awkward.
Our culture already has a clear precedent for interrupting hook-ups with unsexy but necessary conversations (and still re-sparking passion afterward.) There is basically no way to make an STI or birth-control conversation sexy. Yet many of us have STI and birth-control conversations before intercourse, and still somehow manage to keep the sex hot. Conversations about sexual boundaries are exactly the same–and just as important as conversations about STIs and birth-control.
A totally different cultural precedent we have for talking about sexual boundaries before sex is the BDSM community. In BDSM, it is extremely common–and in fact, widely treated as an iron-clad requirement–that all aspects of sexual play, including desires, preferences, and boundaries, be explicitly “negotiated” before play commences.
The word “negotiate” is probably one of the least sexy words in the English language. And yet, BDSM practitioners routinely negotiate their sexual acts, preferences, and boundaries in the “scenes” they perform, in extreme detail, before any physical contact whatsoever or even any seduction. And, though this may be controversial, I would venture to suggest that the average BDSM player is having much hotter, wilder, and more eroticized sex in their scenes–after having explicitly, verbally negotiated every sexual boundary, desire and preference in minute detail beforehand–than occurs in the average non-negotiated “spontaneous” hookup among strangers on Tinder.
It’s simple. Talking about sexual boundaries doesn’t need to take away from sexual pleasure, and in fact, often enhances sexual pleasure.
If we’re not absolutely 100% clear about someone’s sexual boundaries, based on body-language alone, or based on previous discussions and agreements, then we need to stop, ask and make sure. Or risk we risk assaulting someone. It’s really not that complicated.
Photo credit: Pixabay