When I want you to stop, I will stop you.
Once, at a party, a female friend of mine who’d had just a touch too much party wine, was grabbing at my ass and playfully trying to spank me while we chatted in the kitchen amongst some other partygoers. It was silly and inoffensive to me, but she pulled back, suddenly aware of what she was doing, and said to me
“Oh. That isn’t ok, is it? I should have asked you before I started doing that?”
Without thinking, I replied back to her
“it’s fine. When I want you to stop, I will simply stop you.”
And she was silent.
I think about that interaction still, and how, in a few short and thoughtless sentences, we demonstrated the profound difference in our roles.
As a man who has sex with other men, the power differential experienced in intimate situations is almost never grand enough to deserve any out loud acknowledgement. We are both men and if we are both present, consent is taken for granted. As with my friend at the party, if I want someone to stop, I will simply stop them. In turn, I will do what I like and enjoy, until I am stopped.
But that is not the way consent ought ever to play out. And that is a lesson that men are never sincerely required to learn. The impact of that failure to learn ripples out in so many uncountable ways, from intimate to social to political. It is buried in the way we text or DM people and the way laws and rules of the land are drafted.
Consent touches things beyond touch.
Without reducing this to meaningless social justice talk or millennial brand™ nonsense, the reality is that everyone is entitled to choice, especially when it comes to intimate or physical touch. This seems like a given on its face, but is complicated by the conditioning people experience to “be nice” or “go with the flow.” And is compounded by the roles which we chose for ourselves, and which are chosen for us based on our gender, race, or age.
Which would be one thing, if it worked in two equal directions. But I haven’t ever done something I didn’t want to do sexually, just to “be nice.” My physical strength and confident attitude have allowed me to firmly say “nope,” or – in extreme cases – remove myself physically form a situation whenever I felt I wasn’t enjoying what was happening.
This is not what everyone experiences. Even though it should be.
I strive to practice and employ verbal and nonverbal consent and reconfirmation of that consent at reasonable intervals. This takes a lot of different forms, and relies heavily on the chemistry and roles my partner and I engage in. But at the core, no means “no,” and nothing else.
The practice of staying connected and checking in verbally to ensure that connection, is not a disruptive one, and not something that should be a bonus or an afterthought. Everyone is deserving of safety and security, regardless of their role or the circumstance. Communication—honest communication—is how we achieve that together.
As men, we don’t get taught that in a real way at any point. If you are someone who worries about having their wishes respected, and their boundaries kept firm, I encourage you to find someone with whom you can connect and feel safe to say what you need.