(Throughout this blog post, I am writing from the point of a heterosexual ciswoman who has only had sexual relationships with heterosexual cismen. This is in no way meant to demean the reality of physical and sexual violence between other sexes and genders. I am writing from the perspective I know and have experienced personally.)
Like the majority of people in our nation, I have experienced both physical and sexual abuse. Abuse is an unfortunate reality of our world, one that is slow to change. However, if one looks at how relationships have changed over many centuries, we are making progress. It’s no longer legal for a husband to beat his wife with a stick no larger than his thumb in the US or England. However, the improvements in what is acceptable in our relationships has not happened fast enough to spare many of us a great deal of pain in this life.
Our media, especially social media, is beginning to put a great deal of attention on problems of our rape culture: We teach women that they should not encourage rape rather than teaching men that they should not commit rape. When accusing an alleged perpetrator of rape, most women have to prove that they were not “asking for it” by being drunk or dressing in a manner that might tantalize a horny man. The idea that a woman has a right to her body and that a man does not automatically have a right to her body whether or not she has explicitly said no is foreign in many of our courts. While the refrain “no means no” is being widely taught, too many men on one popular dating site still erroneously believe that this phrase is only applicable, “Mostly. Occasionally it’s a yes in disguise.”
Facing this reality, most of those who have dealt with assault and abuse during their lives end up having trust issues. They know that it’s all too possible that their next partner might be equally disrespectful of their bodies. I fall into that group: I am usually very slow to trust those who might have the power to hurt my body. I’ve been abused too many times to pretend that possibility is not always out there.
When I began a relationship with one of my sexual partners, he knew I had a history of sexual and physical abuse. I was very clear to him that we needed to take things slower than he might prefer, and I specified to him what that meant in detail for me. I gave him exact examples of what I needed him to do and not do in order for me to feel safe. He was accepting of those requirements and appreciated the advice on how to make things more comfortable for me.
At one point during our first sexual encounter, I began having breathing problems which I had never experienced during sex before. When I finally managed to scream “stop,” he immediately responded by stopping and inquiring with great concern what was wrong even though it wasn’t a time when most people would want to stop the activities at hand. In that moment, my protective walls began falling as I knew he would always listen to me when I needed him to. (It turned out that I had developed a latex allergy since my previous partner… not a fun way to figure that out!)
My partner not only respected those boundaries, but he raised the bar even higher than I dreamed possible. At a certain point in the evening, he proposed a particular activity that he wanted to engage in. I responded to him, “Yes, I want to do that, too.” He stopped, looked me in the eyes, and said, “No. I need you to say it all completely.” He wanted me to tell him explicitly, “Yes, I want to do activity XYZ, too” so that he knew he had full consent from me. My partner wanted no confusion in the communication between us.
Until that moment, I never realized how sexy consent could be. Perhaps it was because I had never before been treated with that level of respect in regards to my body. Maybe it was because he was making me vocalize what I wanted him to do to me. Regardless, it was an unbelievably powerful move on his part. If you are partnering with someone who has been abused and has trust issues: Don’t be afraid of asking your partner to give you explicit verbal consent. While it might sound like it would put a boring damper on the evening or slow down events, for a person who has been abused, giving that consent can help them develop trust and respect for you that you won’t gain in other ways.
As a result of this man requiring me to give him explicit consent, either verbally or in writing, for anything that we did, my trust in him grew at an astronomical rate. I knew he wouldn’t ever do something I hadn’t agreed to. I always felt safe that he would stop if I changed my mind for any reason at all. I didn’t realize how quickly I could learn to trust someone when I knew that he respected my boundaries and my body. By the time I had been with this man for seven weeks, he had earned far more trust from me than my partner of more than a decade had ever attained. My new partner had made consent into something that was unbelievably healing. He reaped the benefits of earning my trust, too. That small bit of effort on his part changed things between us in an incredibly positive way.
Consent is so sexy, y’all. I highly recommend it.
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