When I had just turned 20, I entered into a one night stand with a male acquaintance. It was a spur of the moment night out - each of us has wanted to go out dancing and the other was the only other friend available. We didn't intend for anything to happen when the night started, but as we got close in the crowded bar, our friendly banter turned to chemistry, the couple of beers we had had acting as a catalyst. As the night drew to a close, we bought food and returned to my flat where we tiredly lolled on the sofa, laughing and swapping life stories. I told him about how my last relationship had ended when I was sexually assaulted by a friend, and he genuinely listened. By now, we'd sobered up considerably, but I let him sleep in my bed instead of paying for an expensive taxi home. Warm, friendly, content bodies turned to lust, and as we both simultaneously leaned in to kiss each other, checking on the look in one another’s eyes, he asked me something nobody had ever asked me before.
"Do I have your consent?"
I paused, and then grinned at him madly. "Yes!" I laughed as our kisses turned to something more.
In the morning, he left. We spoke briefly over text a few times, but I never saw him again. I felt liberated as I got back into bed and went back to sleep after letting him out. So this it what it feels like, to have great sex with someone who isn't your long term partner, when you've had a drink or two? In other words. So this is what it feels like to have a healthy one night stand. To be valued as a person as well as a release of pleasure. To not feel shame and regret. To not be taken advantage of. To not be raped.
This is an experience that I fear far too few women have. What many see as a drunken one night stand, is in fact assault, but due to society's acceptance of feelings of shame and regret after these encounters, it all gets swept under the mat as nothing but a drunken mistake. But it's not the girls who are making the mistakes. We should be able to drink and have a good time without falling prey to men who want instant gratification. If it doesn't feel right after, then the odds are it wasn't right to start with. Your feelings of shame and regret may in fact be pain and confusion after having something devastating be forced upon you.
In the events described above, I was sober enough to give a very clear yes to consent, and to remember it the next day, and still over a year later. This is how I know the difference between consenting to a one night stand, and the times that I have been sexually assaulted or raped whilst being far too drunk to consent. On those occasions, I was distressed, confused, and struggling to remember the events of the previous night and how they led to where they did.
I describe these events, because of the victim blaming I have experienced after revealing that all of my sexual abuse has occurred when I had been drinking, and to show that (as much as it saddens me to have to defend myself against this) I am not just crying rape after a regretful one night stand. Healthy, consensual one night stands are possible, remembered fondly as a time you had casual sex and were perfectly liberated. It is possible to regret one night stands too, but what is crucial, is to realise when the fun has stopped and you've seen something dangerous.
So I want to end this post with some tips of "sexy" or less mechanical ways to ask for or give consent, whether you are with a partner or sliding into a completely new encounter. These can be incorporated into pre-play pillow talk, or even dirty talk whilst you're in the throes of passion. Just because the sex has started, doesn't mean you have to stop checking. Notice body language too, how their body reacts to yours, how yours reacts to theirs. Our bodies have their own extensive language, and it's one we're born fluent in.
Ask + reassure 1. "Do you want me to..." 2. "Is it ok if I..." 3. "Is that good?" 4. "Just tell me if you want me to stop/slow down" 5. "Should I...?" 6. "I'm going to... do you like that?" 7. “It's ok if you want to...”
Give/deny + reassure 1. "Yes/no/stop" 2. "I love that" 3. "Don't stop" 4. "Please could you..." 5. "It really turns me on when you..." 6. "That feels so good" 7. “Slow down/go faster”
Some more examples of checking ongoing consent would be to:
1. Periodically slow down and/or take a break, getting a sense of your partner’s eagerness to carry on, and at what pace. Not only is this super romantic, it can also add a whole other dimension to your sensations.
2. Unless you have entered into a previous agreement with safe words, always check before changing positions or moving from oral to penetrative sex, for example.
3. Use eye contact. It's not awkward - it's romantic, it's sexy, and it's one of the best ways to engage with your partner when seeking reassurance of ongoing consent.
And most of all, remember; Asking for consent doesn't ruin the mood - rape does.
This blog post was written after being inspired during my first couple of weeks working for Project Consent as part of their social media staff, specifically responsible for the upkeep of their Facebook page. Here are two graphics I have made for them, which are particularly apt. Please check out their amazing work on Instagram, tumblr, twitter, their website, and Facebook.