Does the idea of asking permission seem like a bit of a mood killer to you? In a post- #MeToo era, we all need to address the issue of consent in our sex lives, but how exactly should we go about that? I spoke to Dr. Betty Martin, the creator of the Wheel of Consent, and discovered that addressing the issue of consent is far from a turn-off. It is actually a way to expand our capacity for pleasure.
When Consent Is Sexy
Three Minute Game
Dr. Martin, went to a kink workshop many years ago, and learnt about something called the ‘Three Minute Game,’ invented by Harry Faddis. The game takes the form of asking and answering questions about touch with a partner, and then making agreements to ensure both person is comfortable with the touch. Then, the partners specify limits (which aren’t set in stone and can be modified at any time throughout the game).
The questions are:
1. How would you like me to touch you for three minutes?
2. How would you like to touch me for three minutes?
Once one person has asked these questions, the other person takes a turn, and so the touch part of the game takes 12 minutes, and it’s also good to have time to think about what you want and talk about it.
Simple, But Smart
This may seem like a relative simple way to add some spark into your sex life, but it’s much more than that. Think of the way that we usually ‘do’ sex. How often do you actually have conversations with the other person about what turns you on and what turns you off? As a reader of Kinkly, perhaps you are more likely to be open about your sex life, but overall in our culture exploring our wants and needs, is not something we are raised to do.
Dr. Martin explains it like this:
"‘When we are small, before we can talk and walk we are touched all the time in ways that we don’t want. We have our nappies changed, we get picked up out of oncoming traffic. And at the same time we often don’t get the kind of touch we need. So we grow up with the knowledge in our body that touch is something that happens to us whether we like it or not, it just happens. and so it’s very deep in our nervous system. and our psyche.‘’
So the game gives us the opportunity to explore how we want to touch and be touched. Dr. Martin recommends we start with non-erogenous zones because ‘’Asking for what you want and noticing what you want is a new experience for people. Learning to touch for your own enjoyment, instead of for the effect on the other person, is a very hard thing to learn for many people. It’s difficult to learn when you are turned on and aroused and genitals are involved because the habits are strong and we have a tendency to just do the same old thing we always do.’’
The second question ‘How would you like to touch me for three minutes?’ is an interesting one. Many of us have a concept that sexual pleasure comes solely from having someone do something to us. So a partner may touch a women’s clit to get her to orgasm or a partner gives a blow job for the same effect.
This is where sex can get problematic. We are doing something to give another pleasure, but have we actually asked them if that’s what they wanted? Or is it just the kind of thing we’ve got into the habit of doing through years of doing the same thing to that particular partner or previous partners?
In asking someone how they would like to touch us, they have an invitation to experience sexual pleasure through their hands, and explore our body for their own pleasure. The hands actually have as many nerve endings as the genitals, but because we usually associate them with a body part that gives pleasure, the idea of receiving pleasure through them is an untapped source of enjoyment.
By playing the three minute game we can return to a fresh way of exploring touch by really tuning into our bodies to ask ourselves what we want, as well as asking our partner. The game gives us a safe container for exploring new ways of touching in a fully consensual way
The Wheel of Consent
Dr. Martin went on to expand upon what she learnt by playing the Three Minute Game to create the Wheel of Consent which gives us a clear way to think about the different ways that we touch and are touched by others. In the wheel, consent is divided into four quadrants. Here’s a brief summary of each one.
You Are Doing
The top half of the wheel refers to you doing the touching.
Serve – We are touching our partner in a way that they have asked for, within the agreed boundaries of both people.
Take – We are touching our partner for our own pleasure, within the agreed boundaries of both people.
They are doing - The bottom half of the circle refers to your partner doing the touching
Allow – Our partner is touching us for their own pleasure, within the agreed boundaries of both people.
Accept – Our partner is touching us for our pleasure within the agreed boundaries of both people.
Breaking up different kinds of touch into four quadrants allows us to really look at our behaviour in the bedroom, and ask ourselves key questions. When someone is touching another, who is it for? Has an agreement about that kind of touch been made? If you find yourself going through the motions and faking an orgasm to please your partner, then is this something that your body wants to consent to, even if your mind thinks it’s the easiest way to handle the situation?
The wheel of consent is about listening to our body, and learning to hear its inner ‘yes,’ and ‘no’ so we can have the kind of sex we really want to be having.
In the diagram you’ll also see that there are shadows for each of the four quadrants. This is when the touch takes place without consent. For example, the shadow of serve would be touching our partner for their pleasure without any agreement being made. Maybe when a person is the ‘doer,’ their partner grabs their hand and put it somewhere it doesn’t want to be. Or the shadow of take would be when the ‘doer’ commits rape or gropes someone.
On the other side of the quadrant, the shadow of allow is when the person being done to is the victim of an assault, and the shadow of accept is when someone receives touch without agreement. This model helps to understand if we are truly having consensual sex or if we are doing or allowing something to happen to us without an agreement.
The concept of the wheel may seem a little hard to wrap your head around, which is why the practise of the three minute game is so important. Dr. Martin says,"Understanding and embodying the wheel of consent can only happen through a somatic experience."
It’s only really when you feel it in your skin, can you truly understand just how pleasurable fully consensual sex can be.
For more information about the Wheel of Consent, Betty Martin has free resources on her website.
Kate Orson is a freelance writer, and author of Tears Heal: How to listen to our children. She writes, about self-help, parenting, and more recently, sex! She is currently working on a memoir; A Cut in The Brain, about her experience of having the LEEP procedure, and her recovery from side effects that doctors didn't warn her about.