Consent is a necessary step toward happy, healthy, mutually satisfying sex. It really is. Unfortunately, many people see it as a cold blanket thrown over their hot, hot action.

"May I touch you?"

"Am I allowed to kiss you?"

"Er ... what about this?"

"Can I do that?"

It seems awkward. Weird. Fumbling. And we worry that suddenly our romantic night will turn into this. What a drag! We understand that "no means no," so can’t we just make sure no one’s saying no? As long as no one's saying no, we're good, right?

No, no we can’t. And no, we're not. What we can do is have awesome, smoking hot sex that includes (and is probably improved by) communication and crystal clear consent. It's all just a matter of perspective, and it involves seeing consent as something we do to make the good stuff better, not something we have to do to get to the good stuff. Here's how to do it.

Identifying Consent

What Consent Isn't

Consent isn’t just the absence of "no". Consent isn’t a even reluctant "OK," especially when that OK is brought about by coercion. It also doesn't count if only one party is saying yes. It isn't a one-time thing that, once expressed, indicates all bets are off for the rest of the night. And consent certainly isn't the legal loopholes of "she never said no" or "he said yes and then changed his mind but still he said yes" we see so often in the media.

Ok, So What Is It Then?
Consent is a continual process. Consent is partners expressing their wants, needs, boundaries and expectations. Consent doesn’t end, it keeps evolving as partners decide together what feels good, what they're up for, what everyone’s comfortable with and where they are going next. Consent is navigating all the options available, picking the ones you both want and pursuing them in the ways most satisfying for all involved. Now, I know that doesn't sound simple, and it isn't, but discussing your desires with your partner and coming up with things you're both excited about? That's pretty darned sexy in my book.

Better Sex Through Consent

The key to consent is simple: You have to have it before you proceed. Here's how it works.

Start Talking

First things first: Couples have to talk to each other!! Somewhere along the line we got this idea that talking is not sexy. I recently read a piece called "Un-Memorizing The 'Silence Is Sexy' Date Script" that addressed this very topic beautifully. In it, the writer says,

"We’ve gotten the idea from movies and magazines that silence is sexy... Speaking out loud in full sentences would break the rhythm, ruining the mystical thrill of the spontaneous moment. And GOD FORBID you ask permission to do anything. I mean, come on, major boner killer."

But really, people. Talking isn't that horrifying, and the talking-is-bad mentality sets us up to fail. There’s no way to know what our partners want or need. There’s no way to communicate our own needs and the only time anyone is expected to say anything is to speak up with a "no," which might not happen until some boundary has already been crossed.

So, first we have to get over this idea that talking is bad. It isn’t. Actually, it can be really hot, not to mention very practical.

If you're worried about ruining the moment, let me say this: In all my years of having consensual sex, saying "I'd love to suck your cock right now. May I?" has yet to ruin anyone's evening. (Get more tips on how to talk dirty in Talk Dirty to Me: The How and Why of Hot Aural Sex.)

Listen for Yes

Asking is good, but consent also means waiting for - and abiding by - the answer you get. A lot of what we’re taught in regards to consent has people seeking out the negative. How far can one partner push until he or she is shot down? What if instead we viewed it as an ongoing search for "yes"? A scavenger hunt for new ways to please out partners? I invite you to go hunting for yesses, collect them up, get as many as you can and do it each and every time you have sex. Give your partner the opportunity to say yes to what you do want as opposed to just being on guard against what you don't. This may require some letting go of ego and accepting that what your partner needs may not fit the plan you had. But what sounds better to you, sex where no one said "no" or sex where everyone said "yes," repeatedly and enthusiastically?

Respect No

A huge part of consent involves establishing boundaries, but that isn't all there is to it. Once those lines are drawn, they have to be respected. That means no cajoling or coercing. Being in a healthy sexual relationship is about creating a space where both partners feel comfortable saying yes and no and expressing their desires. What it isn't about is getting our partners to do what we want them to do. (For more tips on how to shake up your sex life, check out 9 Simple Things to Do Right Now for Better Sex.)

Look to Learn

Remember, communication isn’t all about permission. Take the opportunity to ask your partner what they would like, what feels good for them, what they enjoy. This is a great opportunity to explore things you may not have thought of if you were simply asking for permission or approval. It also allows you to find fun things you're both excited about.

Have Fun!

Getting consent sounds like a lot of talking and questions but really it’s just about taking the guess-work out of sex. Instead of blindly trying things and hoping they work or fumbling along thinking "she’s cool with this, right?" you get to spend all of your together time focused on things that are fun for both of you. As a team, couples can make sure every encounter is safe, happy and healthy. Oh, and also hot as hell.