“Ugh, that question sounds weird”

The other day I wanted to get intimate with another person again after a long time and started to think more about the topic of consent in this context. By intimacy here I mean hugging, holding hands, cuddling, kissing, sexual acts and sex. To me, the concept of "yes means yes" promised a certain security that no boundaries would be violated. That sounds simple at first. I just ask before anything new is done. Relatively quickly, I found myself confronted with my internalized patterns of action and thoughts about intimacy. This includes who takes on which roles and tasks and how to (mis)communicate. These "scripts" were conveyed to me through films, porn, advertising, etc. They showed me a supposedly desirable behavior. From this point of view, this kind of intimacy was easy, tested and boundary violating. By asking explicit questions, I aimed at breaking free from these scripts.

During intimate moments, two questions are very present for me: Do I want to initiate this touch? and: Does my partner want to be touched like this?
I used to initiate intimate touches with the idea that it was the "right moment" and that it would go down well. However, I was always a bit insecure because I was afraid of misjudging "signs". All in all, even with this insecurity, I acted, and thought, according to my internalized scripts, and thus also violated boundaries. Much too late I asked myself and my partner what really felt good. This has cost me a lot of overcoming and a lot of things continue to pass my lips with difficulty, but it has also enabled me to break with the scripts for the first time.
If I am asked if I want to be touched in a certain way, sometimes a mental whirlwind starts. "Does this feel good to me?" "Do I really want this right now?" "Do I feel comfortable enough with the person to do that?" Since no decision means no, I sometimes find this totally difficult and overwhelming. It helps me to address such uncertainties up front and communicate that sometimes it takes me a little longer to get an answer.

However, there are also situations where I am very sure I don't want something and communication turns out to be the bigger hurdle than my decision making. How do I say that I don't want to do something (now/again) without hurting my partner? Do I kill the whole "mood" with my "no"? In my experience, it sucks when I wanted to say no but didn't dare and then my boundaries were violated. That's why I try to ask about it in intimate moments and talk about it both before and after. 

By the way, I think this weird "mood" goes hand in hand with scripts to uphold sexist power structures by making it easier to violate boundaries. After all, it breaks down especially quickly when people deviate from the scripts and ask for consent, for example. If this "mood" then evaporates once in a while with a question or a "no", I find that okay by now. Instead, I try to turn it around and make my mood more dependent on the feeling of mutual agreement. After all, instead of destroying the mood, questions and agreements are then precisely its basis.

However, in intimate moments I currently continue to struggle with asking. It sometimes feels so much easier to make a move without asking. I try to keep in mind how difficult it can be for my partner to say "no", especially with certain experiences and perspectives. I find it surprisingly more comfortable with a prior conversation about the concept of "yes means yes". It is important to me that mutual needs, uncertainties and difficulties are communicated.

❓Questions for reflection

  • How do you know what intimacy is okay for you in a moment?
  • What makes it difficult for you to ask, "Can I do ...?" in intimate moments?
  • How do you communicate when you don't like something (but don't want to say it)?
  • Where does the perceived certainty that it's okay to do certain physical things in intimate moments without agreement come from?
  • Does a nod also mean a yes for you? Does your partner see it the same way?