Let me start this post by saying that I am fairly comfortable talking about sex / my sexuality.
Let me next add the caution if you’re not / you’d prefer not to think of me as a sexual being for whatever reason (e.g. we’re related, or for some reason you want to hold onto an image of me as innocent of such matters) you might want to skip this post.
Okay, now that we’ve got those important notes out of the way, let’s get on with this.
So here’s what’s going to happen.
First, I’m going to tell you a bit of a sexy story. Then I’m going to share some thoughts on how the way consent played out in this particular situation helped to make it so damn awesome. At the end, I’ll direct you to one of the best pieces on sex, consent and other related topics that I’ve read lately – the source of which might push some of your limits. Sorry about that. I honestly think it’s a hella good read, though, so I’m not really that hesitant to share it. I do encourage you not to click on it, however, if you’re not into having your limits pushed. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves with that, though. You have some time to think about it. For now, let’s just start with the story.
It’s Saturday night in Washington, DC. Four women, all a couple of drinks into our evening, are about to head into a bar. We’ve just come from a posh dinner in Georgetown to the slightly less posh neighbourhood of Morgan Adams in search of some live music and an even livelier crowd. As we step through the darkly lit entranceway of the cheekily named Madam’s Organ, the deep, bluesy voice of the lead singer of that night’s headliner greets us with an energetic force that lets us know we’ve chosen wisely our next stop of the evening.
Two of the four women make their way to the bar to buy more drinks. The other two head to the dance floor. One to grab a seat by the wall (sore feet), the second to find a spot where she can start to get down.
That last woman? She’s me. And I am in my element.
The music emanating from the stage is bluesy-rock-soul-funk perfection, and once I start shakin’ my booty to it I barely stop save for to catch my breath during the brief pauses between songs. In fact, I am so into the music and the energy of the crowd that I barely hear the voice in my ear at first, and have to ask twice what he’s saying before I catch on. My friend, the sitting one, has the guy talking to me a bit worried. How can someone possibly choose to sit during such good music, he wants to know? Are we not concerned we should do more to get her into the fun? I tell him about the sore feet and a round of intros between our two groups ensues. We explain our vacationing plus one local foursome, and learn that he and his brother are from Maine originally but that his bro moved to DC recently for a government gig. The guy who started talking to me is up visiting him for the weekend. They come to this bar every time he visits because the music is so good.
We chat and dance our way to the set break, at which point I am hot, sweaty, happy, and desperately thirsty. I throw some money into the bands’ collection bucket before heading to the bar for a drink. Then there’s that voice again. Offering to buy me one. When I say all I really want is a giant glass of water, that’s exactly what I get. No pressure to have something alcoholic, just a water with a smile.
Our two groups merge. We explore the various levels of the bar together. We learn that DC bro met our Canadian Prime Minister when he was down for a recent state visit, and that Mr. Water With a Smile bro joined the Marines after doing a degree in history but isn’t sure if he’s in it for the long term just yet.
When I step up to the bar that we’re chatting beside for a beer, Mr. Water With a Smile’s there to buy it for me, but is equally offering to buy drinks (or acquire waters) for the others in our group as well. There is the occasional hand on the small of my back as we talk and move throughout the bar, but it is met with my occasional hand on his arm. We are clearly both just very physical people. It is warm and welcoming, but not overly flirtatious. There is no sense of an agenda other than having fun and connecting with new people.
Later, when the band starts their second set and we are all again dancing, there is a hand on my hip. But it stays there only long enough for me to decide if I like it. To choose whether to move forward and communicate a preference for distance, or backwards, and invite touch. I move back. Soon there are two hands, firm, but not pressuring. Consensually caressing. Then bodies dancing closely together. Lips brushing softly against one side of my neck. Pausing for my head tilt to invite them to the other side before shifting . The choice to turn around, for eyes to meet, is mine. The introduction of our lips, his. Words are spoken. Sly smiles shared. We twist lowly and slowly, hands holding onto bodies, waiting for the next invitation before exploring new territory. He is the one who introduces his thigh between my legs, but I am the one who relaxes into it with the confidence and consent of a woman who is experiencing only the good kind of pressure.
Later, when our groups part ways, there are no false promises or pretences around what happened or why. There are two consenting adults who gave and received what each was comfortable with, checking in regularly with words, pauses, and signs of enthusiastic reciprocation, before proceeding to ensure no one’s limits were being crossed.
I am not someone who often meets men in bars. Partly because when I do go out for a few drinks and to dance with friends, I’m generally focused on the friends I’m out with. Mostly, however, because I find the typical script of drinking a bit too much (and pressuring others to do the same) in order to gather up the liquid courage to convince the person we’re interested in of the reasons we should dance / fool around / leave together to be both fairly unappealing, and, more concerningly, a fairly bad recipe for a consent train wreak.
There’s (finally!) been a lot written about consent lately. The province I’m from is (finally!) adding it to our updated sex ed curriculum, and my favourite feminist wave (so far), the 4th, has been doing a fantastic job of late populating the internets with memes comparing it to things as random and yet somehow appropriate as a cup of tea (as in, your guest either wants a cup of tea when you offer it to him / her, or s/he doesn’t; there’s not really all that much room for confusion).
I love that this dialogue is taking place. I love that we are finally making the choice as a society to teach our children – of all genders! – about the role of consent in sex and sexuality. Mostly because, sadly and maddeningly, sexual assault is a very real, and far, far too common thing. That this attempt at rewriting the dominant discourse on consent – how we ask for it, THAT we ask for it – will be an important lever in reducing the number of people experiencing and perpetrating this crime gives me much hope.
So too does the flip side of the coin, though. I firmly believe that in the absence of a consent culture, a whole lot of people are missing out on a whole lot of awesome sexual experiences that are not possible without the ability to have a very open and respectful dialogue about our desires.
Knowing what you want, how to ask for it, and how to give permission to someone interested in exchanging it with you, is an incredibly important, empowering, and sexy as hell skill. I deeply hope that this new dialogue helps more people to learn about, and tap into it. For me it’s the difference between an awesome night of dancing with friends whilst avoiding the random unwelcome hands that too often grab and graze us during such evenings, and having the opportunity to choose to engage in a sexy dance session with a man who shared an appreciation for taking it only as far as each of us clearly and consensually wanted to.
What experiences might it unlock for you?
To close, here’s the link I promised to share with anyone interested in reading more about this (and related) matters.
I do have one more note given consent is the subject of this post.
I want to be up front about the fact that I didn’t get Mr. Water With A Smile’s consent to tell this story. I’m confident that with my small readership this will never be read by him / his community, and that even if it were to be that there’s not enough identifying information in this post to allow him to be recognized. So I have given myself permission to tell this story without asking for his consent. If anyone wants to take issue with that, I’d be interested in having that dialogue. This subject is really important to me, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Okay, now we’re done.
I really hope this post didn’t cross any of your limits, and that you stopped reading if at any point it started to. It’s just so much more enjoyable for everyone that way.