Conversations on the Edge: Checking In
Consent is a vital part of creating and maintaining healthy relationships based on trust, equality, and mutual satisfaction. Whether in the context of a one-time sexual encounter, friends with benefits, or committed relationship, asking for and giving consent is not always easy. This month we are addressing the importance of checking in with your partner before, during, and after a sexual experience.
According to one UofL student who preferred to remain anonymous, “I prefer my partner to ask if what he’s doing is okay, and if I am okay.” Nic, a junior, went even further. “When it comes to consent, <checking in> is always the first thing you do. Personally, I feel like checking in makes everything more comfortable, and makes everything set out on the table. Is this something you really want to do? And body language is also big; if you can tell someone is a little uncomfortable, just make sure that they’re fine. Checking in can make that situation a lot less strenuous.”
This brings up the importance of being in tune with the other person. If you’ve been drinking or taking other substances, you may be less aware of your partner’s signals, both verbal and non-verbal. Also, if the lights are out, how can you read your partner’s body language?
Nic goes on to say, “During sex sometimes people are okay at first, and then it starts to happen, and then they’re like, ‘Ok, this was a mistake. Maybe we shouldn’t do this.’ Checking in afterwards is really important to make sure the person and you are on the same page…that yeah, this happened because we both wanted it to; there was no forcing, no uncomfortableness. It was something we did together.”
Sometimes, especially if you’re not used to talking with your partner in this way, it helps to brainstorm words and phrases that you would feel comfortable saying to make checking in flow easier.
Here are some questions you can ask to check in with your partner:
- Are you into/liking this?
- How are you feeling?
- Would you like it if I _____?
- How can I tell if you’re not enjoying yourself?
- Does this feel good?
- Do you want me to continue?
Remember that the answers to these questions may not be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Hopefully, asking inspires real dialogue between you and your partner. Keep in mind silence or an ‘I don’t know’ should NOT be interpreted as a ‘yes’.
Checking in often before, during, and after your sexual adventures is a crucial component of the mutually pleasurable and consensual fun that awaits you!
Conversations on the Edge: Sober Versus Non-Sober Sex & Consent
This month’s topic, how consent plays out between two people where one or both have been drinking or using substances, is a very complicated subject, blurring the line between consent and non-consent. Let’s unpack this. We know that some people like having sex after getting a little buzzed. According to one UofL student who preferred to remain anonymous, “Both [sober and non-sober sex] can be fun.” However, we do know it becomes much harder to convey consent, and determine whether your partner has consented. We also know that our communication becomes less clear, and our ability to pick up on verbal and nonverbal cues slows the more we imbibe.
Another UofL student who preferred to remain anonymous writes, “Regardless of your state of mind, your standards and morals shouldn’t change.” While this is true, one’s cognitive abilities and self-awareness do become impaired while under the influence. Additionally, for some who drink, they may become more aggressive and goal-focused, the opposite of consent-seeking behavior. A good rule of thumb is to check in with yourself and your partner to make sure you’re both still into what’s going on and the direction you’re heading. Silence does not equal consent.
What about when you encounter a situation where the person of interest isn’t into sex with you when they’re sober, but when they’ve been drinking, they seem to change their tune? This is tough, and there’s no clear guidelines on this. To be safe, wait for them to sober up before pursuing anything sexual with them to be sure it’s what they really want.
Regularly I field the question, “What if we’re both drunk, does that mean neither of us can consent?” According to Cornell University, the legal responsibility tends to fall on the person who was initiating sex, even if they’ve been drinking. This can be dicey because sometimes both people in the situation contest there were things they didn’t feel they consented to, and those truths can co-exist. However, it’s important to highlight that drinking should not act as a free pass excusing one’s behavior, and especially never as an excuse to commit sexual assault.
Ryan Buckman, a junior who leads the campus conversation on sobriety and drinking with the BRICC Coalition, shared his take on the topic. “I’m in a fraternity, and it’s become glorified in that culture to be intoxicated at a party and bring a girl home. I’ve had hungover friends, both male and female, who’ve come to me and said, ‘Man, that was a mistake’.” This experience is pretty typical, and it begs the question, just because this is the norm, what’s the value in conforming to it? What would happen if the goal of having fun and hooking up revolved around sparking an authentic connection with another person, enjoying yourself in a responsible way so that there’s little to no chance you’re going to regret your actions. What if hooking up involved getting permission, checking in, and gauging desire so everyone was having fun and participating equally? How much more fun would you have?
Here’s a helpful checklist for yourself and your partner to make sure everyone is capable of consenting, and there’s no worried head-scratching the morning after:
- If I’m planning to hook up, am I still sober enough to make a decision that it’s in line with my values?
- Can the person I’m hooking up with communicate clearly?
- Are they sober enough to be fully aware of what’s going on?
If you answer no or are not sure to any of the following questions, the prudent and fair thing to do is slow down or stop depending on the context. Be smart, be kind, and consider circling back when both you and your partner are in a good head space to make sexual decisions that reflect what you both want.
We want to hear from you! If you want to contribute to next month’s topic, “Checking In with Yourself & Your Partner”, email firstname.lastname@example.org or drop your thoughts in the Conversations on the Edge container located in the Student Affairs office in the SACW30_.
By Sara Choate —
I invite you to join our on-going conversation on the topic of consent. The word consent peppers much of our national dialogue these days. But what does it actually mean to you?
Let’s begin this month’s conversation by defining the concept as it relates to our daily lives. Unless you are a hermit, chances are good you are regularly seeking and giving consent with the people who are in your life. You invite a friend to a party. Your parent asks you about the outcome of your recent doctor’s visit. A new classmate asks to borrow your notes. In each of these scenarios, consent plays a part in your decision-making. If your friend doesn’t want to go, they may say no to your offer. You may feel uncomfortable sharing private lab results with your Mom. And, you may or may not want to share notes with your peer based on how much you like them. In the moments where we choose—yes, no, or maybe—we are engaging in the on-going dance of seeking and giving consent.
In the sexual and/or romantic realm, we also make lots of choices. Some are conscious and deliberate, while others may be more subconscious or spontaneous. It’s important to get in the habit of checking in with yourself in these situations. Respecting everyone’s limits while negotiating individual desires can be tricky. These questions will help you check in:
Are both you and your partner enthusiastic about what’s happening? If this is a new encounter with someone you don’t know very well or have just met, make sure there are clear signs that they’re into you and vice versa. Enthusiastic consent begins with mutual interest in each other. It’s also a good idea to make sure you’re in a balanced headspace, and that your partner is too. If either of you are feeling reckless, take a step back, and hold off on pursuing anything sexual.
Are you both clear about what you want out of this interaction? In our society, we are not encouraged to communicate openly about our desires or boundaries. And yet, we’re expected to know what another is thinking based only on non-verbal cues. Until we evolve to be mind readers, we have to use our words to convey our needs. Stating your desires and boundaries in a way that your partner can hear is crucial to getting what you want, and keeping your partner informed about what you’d like to explore.
Is consent freely given? If one partner is coercing another or guilting them into a sexual act, then the balance of power is out of whack. This can occur under certain circumstances like in couples where there is a significant age, income, or physical size difference. True equality in a relationship is the fundamental building block of consent. Keep in mind, legally in the state of Kentucky, you cannot consent if you’re not sober. This is a complicated issue, so we’ll unpack the topic of sober versus non-sober sex in our September conversation!
Finally, and this is important, you can change your mind at any time even if you’ve expressed interest previously, and your partner has to be okay with it. Period. If they push back on this, consider it a red flag for a potentially unhealthy and unsafe relationship.
We want to hear from you! If you’d like to contribute to next month’s conversation, please share your point of view on the topic of sober versus non-sober sex by emailing email@example.com.