I'm A Sex Coach & These Are The 4 Things I Always Teach Men About Consent
There's been a lot of awareness-raising done lately around women's sexual empowerment, but not as much has been done for men. And based on my experience coaching men on their sex lives and teaching courses around pleasure and consent, efforts to sexually liberate men are very much needed.
Men come to me with questions about how to initiate sex and ask for consent, how to be sexually free and expressive without being perceived as threatening, and how to recover from their own sexual trauma. Based on their stories and concerns, it's clear that our sex education system and wider culture fail men as much as women.
Men are taught from a young age that it's their job to make sex happen, that they'll miss out on opportunities if they aren't aggressive enough, and that how many people they've slept with determines their worth. And yet they're also taught that if they're openly interested in sex, this makes them dirty, gross, or creepy.
I've seen these toxic messages hurt men's self-esteem and their ability to form relationships. But I've also seen men learn how to safely embody their true sexual selves—and, in the process, see the light and good that were in their sexuality from the get-go.
To help men unlearn the damaging narratives they learn around their sexuality and replace them with healthier ideas, here are some things I like to teach men about consent—although they really apply to all of us:
Your consent matters, too.
Sex education, when it covers consent at all, often focuses on teaching men how to respect women's boundaries and teaching women how to state and protect their own boundaries. There's a major problem with this—and it's not just the way it victim-blames women.
When men are only taught how to ask for consent from someone else, this misses the fact that their consent matters, too.
If you're a man who's been sexually assaulted—or experienced something that you're not sure was completely consensual—this does not make you less of a man. On the contrary, it means you've had an experience that's common among men. A 2005 study1 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that one in six men had faced sexual abuse by the age of 18. In another survey, around one in 10 men said they'd experienced unwanted sexual contact during college. I'd venture to say that even more did but didn't recognize it as such.
So, let's be clear: The same things that are told to women also apply to men. You are never asking for sexual assault. You deserve to be taken seriously. If you say yes and then change your mind, you have the right to ask your partner to stop. Your partner needs to be honest with you about safer sex so that you can make an informed decision. It's not OK for a partner to guilt you into sex.
Consent can be felt in your body.
So often, men (and people of all genders, really) feel like they have to intellectualize consent. What I mean by this is they feel like they have to give a reason why they don't want to do something. Or to justify why they do want something.
Reasoning your way through consent can sound something like this:
- "Of course I want sex; I'm a guy. Guys always want sex."
- "I might not get another opportunity if I don't say 'yes' now."
- "I can't think of a reason not to, so I guess I should."
Someone may actually be feeling iffy about an encounter but enter into it anyway because, in their minds, the idea makes logical sense.
To figure out whether you truly consent—rather than just feeling like you should consent—I recommend tuning into your body and emotions. How are you feeling? Are you feeling excited by the prospect of engaging sexually with this person? Are you feeling uncomfortable? Scared? Confused? You might feel many things at once, and it's a great idea to talk about these feelings with your partner.
If you're not feeling completely comfortable with the encounter, it's better to say no or suggest a different activity, then perhaps revisit the possibility again down the line. If there's a connection with this person, there will probably still be one next week!
And remember, you don't have to justify your boundaries to your partner or yourself. The feeling of a "no" in your body is enough to say no.
Asking for consent can be sexy.
All right, so now for the fun part.
Men often ask me how to ask for consent without ruining the mood or interrupting the flow. And there are plenty of ways to do that.
First, I recommend talking about your sexual desires and preferences before you reach the bedroom. This will make things go much more smoothly once things turn sexual. "How do you like to be kissed?" is a great question to ask a partner before things get physical, or right as they do. This gives them the opportunity to let you know what they enjoy, and you can gauge their interest based on how comfortable they are with the question.
A simple "can I kiss you?" by the way, isn't at all unsexy. You can also initiate a kiss but rather than touching your lips to theirs, go halfway and see if they meet you.
Any straightforward question will work, really:
- "Do you want my hand on your leg?" ("Do you want my ___ in/on your ____" is generally a good formula.)
- "I'd like to stroke your hair; would you enjoy that?"
If the other person's into it, describing what you'd like to do will be arousing for them, not awkward. And if they're not aroused by it, you have your answer—and that was probably their answer before you asked.
When you start getting sexual with someone, another approach you can use is to make a game of asking for consent: "Do you want me to ___? Oh yeah? Beg for it." "I'll only do it if you ask nicely. So if you really want it, tell me 'yes please.'" (Check out mbg's full dirty talk guide.)
While you're hooking up, a simple "You good?" or "Anything I can do to make it better?" will help ensure your partner's consent is ongoing.
Don't worry too much about how smooth your lines are. If someone's into you and wants to sleep with you, they're unlikely to turn you down just because you care about their consent.
Consent is not enough.
Even though I teach about consent, I believe we should have a higher standard for our sexual encounters.
Oxford Languages' definition of consent is "permission for something to happen or agreement to do something." Kind of weak, no? It doesn't exactly sound like the state of someone who's burning with passion and longing.
How about desire: "a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen"? That, to me, is what we should expect from our sexual encounters.
In other words, make sure you're doing what you desire, not what you're just OK with. And make sure your partner is clearly desiring the same.
In healthy sexual encounters, both people actively want to engage in whatever's taking place. When one person is desiring it and the other's simply agreeing to it, there's an imbalance.
Everyone deserves sexual partners who are concerned not just with getting what they want themselves but listening to their partner's desires, wishes, likes, and dislikes.
That goes for any partner you'll ever have, and it goes for you.
Suzannah Weiss is a certified sexologist, sex educator, sex and love coach, and trained birth doula. She has degrees in cognitive neuroscience, modern culture and media, and gender and sexuality studies from Brown University and certifications from Everyone Deserves Sex Ed and the American College of Sexologists. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York magazine, and elsewhere, as well as on television shows like The Today Show and The View and in anthologies including Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and The Big Book of Orgasms.