boundaries

Playing Well with Others: Part II - How to explore your delicious yeses and ask for what you want

Consent is quite possibly my all-time favourite subject in regards to sex and relating. Until I studied it in earnest, I didn’t realise how hot consent can be. Since then, I have continued to learn that consent is about so much more than behaving right; it is a path to glorious pleasures. In last season’s blog, I covered how we can better notice our nos and develop boundaries that liberate us. In this blog, we’ll look at how we can explore our delicious yeses and ask for what we want.

So, what is a delicious yes?

1.    For another’s benefit

A delicious yes is unequivocal. It’s hungry. It’s utterly welcoming. It’s joyful. It has no hint of putting-up-with. It involves generously and full-heartedly giving to another person. In other words, a delicious yes is:

  • Authentic
  • Enthusiastic

A full-hearted yes to giving pleasure to another person is wonderful, for us as well as them. But it’s not the only kind of delicious yes...

2. For our own benefit

There is also the delicious yes we give to ourselves, enabling us to acknowledge our own desires and to courageously ask for what we want.

So, the delicious yes has another key component:

  • courage.

This blogpost focuses on the second kind of delicious yes – the permission we give to ourselves – and explores how we and our lovers can better communicate our desires and respond to each other.

Why we don't ask for what we want

There are many reasons why we don’t always ask for what we want. Amongst the most common are: fear of rejection or being judged, feeling that we don’t really deserve pleasure, or not being sure what we want (perhaps only knowing what we don’t want).

We might instead manipulate, or hope it will magically come to us, or we might bargain, or sneak, or we might substitute for something that’s easier to ask for, or we might just give up and shut down.

But, valuing and expressing our own desires is an important part of sharing pleasure.

So, how can we learn to better recognise and communicate our desires?

Noticing what we want

Similar to what’s needed to notice our nos, we must take time and we must listen to our bodies: 

Time

When a lover makes you an offer, take a moment to notice what your answer is. Or when you want to ask for something, take time to form the words. It’s that simple. It can feel difficult to slow down when many of our lives are so hectic. Yet, slowing down is key to noticing what we really want, and can help with finding the words to communicate.

Your body

A great way to deepen that moment of noticing is not just to take time, but also to actively turn your attention to your body to see what it can tell you:

How do I most desire to be touched? Or, what part of my lover’s body do I most hunger to stroke, or move against, or lick?

Taking one slow, deep breath is a great way to create a moment and notice what’s going on in your body.

Ways to improve communication about desires

The more we can notice and communicate our nos and have them honoured, the more enthusiastic, adventurous and delicious our yeses can become. The more we can trust our lovers that they are honouring themselves, the more we can dare to ask for. We are all responsible for creating the conditions in which nos are welcome and yeses become delicious. These conditions include communication with clarity, kindness and boldness:

  • Be bold, be clear

Take a deep breath and try asking for that thing, that thing you never asked for before. Most people want to give pleasure and it’s an honour to be trusted to hear a desire. For those with partners who may sometimes struggle with hearing desires, remember that it isn’t personal. They may be expressing a limit, or they may be thrown by something new. Give time, and talk about it outside of a sexual context. There is nothing inherently shameful about desire. In fact, giving voice to our desires can help us to tackle any shame or self-consciousness we may feel, even when our requests are not met with a yes.

  • Say what you liked, rather than what you didn’t

Rather than focusing on what you didn't like, encourage more of what you did like, e.g. “I liked it when you ran your tongue over the crook of my elbow. Would you do that to the backs of my knees too?” The direct positive approach is much more motivating.

When ok is not ok
  • When okay isn’t okay

“Is this okay?” is fine to ask of the person whose seat you’ve just plonked your bags next to on the train. But “Is this okay?” is a low bar to set when it comes to sex. Relationship coach and sex educator Marcia Baczynski calls ‘okay’ a four-letter word. It might be intended as a gentle way to communicate, but really, who of us would want our touch to be just okay for the person we’re with? Open questions give more information and will elicit more than a yes/no answer, e.g. “How does this feel?” or as one of my teachers, Chester Mainard, recommended, “What would make this feel even better?”

  • Ask questions

If you’re not sure what’s being requested of you by a lover, ask for clarification. Understanding what’s being asked for enables us to notice if we have a delicious yes in response, and if so, enables us to meet it.

  • Give more attention to picking up on subtle cues

If we and our lovers can bring more attention to picking up on each other’s subtle cues, we can notice what offers we could make that might hit the spot. For example, someone who holds on to the pillow or braces themselves against the wall during sex may appreciate the offer of their arms being held down; someone who makes jokes about spanking may actually like to try it. Thoughtful offers will support choice.

  • Follow the pleasure

Follow where the pleasure leads – it’s a dance that deliciously demands our attention. Sometimes a no becomes a yes. Sometimes a yes has caveats – communicate clearly when things change and what your limits are. A yes with caveats is not less enthusiastic, and a no that becomes a yes is no less authentic (but do be aware if alcohol or recreational drugs are involved as this can impair judgement.)

  • Explore the erotic within

We may have our own personal work to do in order to accept ourselves fully as erotic beings. Building sexual self-esteem involves learning that we needn’t be reliant on the validation of others to find pride and joy in our own unique erotic expression. Mindful masturbation is an effective way to cultivate erotic self-awareness and self-acceptance, and this can have a positive effect on our sexual relationships with others.

Exercise: Practice asking for what you want 

A fun exercise I learned from consent mastermind, Betty Martin, is a game where two people sit back-to-back and practice saying what they want. None of it is acted upon – or at least not in the context of the game – and what emerges can be fascinating. It simply involves taking turns to make statements that begin with “I want to…” or “I want you to…” For example:

Person A: “I want to make eye contact with you while I think about all the things I want to do to you.”

Person B: “I want you to kiss my thighs.”

Person A: “I want you to suck my toes.”

Person B: “I want to pour oil on your body and slide all over you.”

Person A: “I want to go down on you but just use my hot breath until you beg me to put my mouth on you.”

Person B: “I want…I want you to…go down on me but just use your hot breath…until I beg you to put your mouth on me.”

Being back-to-back helps with saying things that might be harder to say face-to-face. It can quickly escalate in to the ridiculous, or as the example above shows, into sexy baiting, and surprise discoveries of compatible desires.

Explore your delicious yeses by taking time to notice what you want and communicating clearly. Follow the pleasure and see where it takes you…

For support in learning how to ask for what you want, or to find out more about somatic sex education, check out the rest of my website, and do get in touch if you would like to discuss sessions.

Playing Well with Others: Part I – How to notice your ‘nos’ and have boundaries that liberate

Consent is quite possibly my all-time favourite subject in regards to sex and relating. Until I studied it in earnest with consent trainer Betty Martin, I didn’t realise how hot consent can be. Since then, I have continued to learn that consent is about much more than behaving right; it is a path to glorious pleasures. Having benefitted so much myself from a better understanding of consent, it is now a core part of my teaching. I am delighted to share some of it with you here.

Exploring the realm of the delicious yes (which I will cover in part II of this topic, in my summer blogpost) requires the foundation of clarity about our limits. Continue on, dear reader, for practical tips on getting ok with no.

Getting ok with no (your own and other people's)

Ever had a conversation that’s gone something like this?

It seems to me that this kind of experience, which many of us will recognise, has two main components to it:

  1. We don’t give ourselves a moment to actually notice what we want
  2. If we've said yes, we don't think it's really ok to change our answer

Noticing your no

The ‘automatic yes’ is so common that we seem to have an epidemic of fuzzy consent. It’s as though we think we should know the answer immediately, or that taking time to notice our real answer is somehow rude. The ‘automatic yes’ is how we end up in situations like the one above, over and over.

So, how can we notice what we want?  

The short answer is: time. The longer-but-still-quite-short answer is: time + your body.

Time

When someone asks something of you (e.g. “Will you help me move house?”) or makes you an offer (e.g. “This item has a special deal – you can have 3 for the price of 2.”), take a moment to notice what your answer is. It’s that simple. Once the automatic yes has dropped away, the real answer will become clear. It may still be a yes, but it will be a real yes rather than an automatic yes. If it’s a no, you just saved yourself from agreeing to something you’ll feel unhappy about later. We’ll look at how to say no in the next section.

Your body

A great way to deepen that moment of noticing is not just to take time, but also to actively turn your attention to your body to see what it can tell you. If you notice that your back is sore, that may help you decide whether you can help that friend move house. If you notice that you’re feeling a tightness in your chest, you might recognise that you feel pressured by that salesperson and actually, you don’t want three of this item regardless of the special deal. Tuning in to your body is especially helpful when someone asks you for, or offers, touch.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I happy to give touch right now? (and notice the answer)
  • What kind of touch can I happily give? (and notice)
  • For how long? (and notice)

Or,

  • Do I want to receive touch? (and notice the answer)
  • Where do I want touch? (and notice)
  • What’s the quality of touch that I want? (and notice)

The combination of taking time and tuning in to the body is powerful indeed, in noticing what we can give or receive with a full heart.

When things change

Another aspect of noticing is noticing that things change. I often hear people describe having said yes to something and then changing their mind – but feeling like they have to go through with what they’ve agreed to. There may be some aspects of life where you change your mind, and to back out would really inconvenience someone. But this does not apply to sex. You can say yes (or no) and then change your mind, even if you’ve already begun. In fact, it’s utterly important that you communicate what’s happening, so that you remain aligned with your body.

If we slip in to tolerating touch, we lose connection with ourselves and with others. Before I learned about consent, I often tolerated touch when I had changed my mind or if I was in discomfort, because I was thinking about the other person, or it just seemed easier, or I didn’t want to ‘make a fuss.’ Now, I know that I was inadvertently training my body to close down – and along that road lies a narrowing of pleasure potential, not a blossoming. We owe it to ourselves and our lovers to notice our nos and give authentic answers to requests and offers. Our lovers also owe it to us and to themselves to respect and value those authentic answers.

How to communicate a no

Saying no is more than just ok; a genuine no is a gift of truthfulness and trust. A no is a yes to something else! A no can be a pathfinder to pleasure because the honouring of our nos deepens our capacity to discover our utterly delicious yeses. 

Most of us recognise that hearing a no can sometimes be difficult. So, how do we communicate in a way that makes it easier to receive our nos?

  1. Understand that you have a right: Knowing in your bones that you have a fundamental right to say no can help with communicating it clearly, without guilt or apology or lengthy explanation.
  2. Consider that a no is a gift: Would you want someone to tolerate your touch or go through the motions when touching you? In saying no, we move away from tolerating and towards pleasure and connection.
  3. Be kind: Saying no kindly is about manner rather than a form of words.
  4. Notice it, ventilate it, say it: As soon as you notice you have a no, if you feel comfortable, say it. But if you have some discomfort about communicating it, give yourself a moment to let it be. The popular Buddhist teacher and author, Pema Chödrön, describes allowing difficult feelings and ‘ventilating’ them. So, if you find having a no difficult, just let it ‘breathe’ for a moment, to bring a little peace to it before you communicate it.

Noticing other people's nos

We’re against a cultural backdrop of scant (or completely absent) teaching of consent in schools, and there is widespread teaching of persuasion skills in business. In the media, we see reported defensive and dictatorial responses to consent problems, such as the new policies on some US college campuses. We also see both the promotion and fierce criticism of the ‘Pick Up Artist’ movement, which teaches men how to convince women to have sex with them, with arguably dubious consent. The cultural mirror seems to be one of extremes – we disregard choice and violate consent as standard, or we disempower ourselves, taking responsibility for other people’s nos and refusing to believe their yeses for fear of being a perpetrator. 

So, how can we notice other people’s nos?

Clear answer:

  • They tell us no

Less clear answer:

  • They seem to avoid giving an answer
  • They say yes but seem distracted or disconnected
  • They say yes but then avoid the interaction or cancel repeatedly
  • They say things like, “I don’t mind” or “Do what you want” or “It’s ok”

All of these may be caused by something other than an unsaid no or luke-warm consent, but it’s best to check in. There is a balance to be found between taking someone’s yes at face value, and relentlessly digging for a hidden no. Somewhere in the middle is observant consideration, where we are aware of the complexity of consent, but where we trust the person giving consent to take responsibility for their own limits. 

It takes practice, and we all get it wrong sometimes. It’s important to be forgiving – of ourselves and others - for genuine misunderstandings. 

How to receive a no

Many of us have sometimes experienced difficult feelings when receiving a no. We may feel rejected, or feel some shame for even having asked. But we know that being cool with a no is very important. 

So, what can help us to receive a no well?

  • Consider making requests in a way that shows the importance we place on consent. In doing so, we can make it easier for the person to communicate a no if they have one, and this can make it easier to receive that no. For example, Seattle sex coach and fellow Certified Sexological Bodyworker Charlie Glickman suggests adding a simple ‘If statement’ to our desires, e.g. “If you’re available, I’d love to go out for dinner with you” or “If you’re in the mood, I’d love to kiss you.”
  • Don’t take it personally if you get a no. Instead, think about how the person has honoured themselves – and honour that.
  • Some people find saying ‘thank you’ helpful in response to a no. In fact, with practice I have noticed that saying thank you in response to a no can bring a warm ease for everyone involved, through that verbal honouring of the person expressing their limits.
  • Suggest exploring what else you might like to do together

If you give an automatic yes when you have a no, or fumble over your communication (or hearing) of a no, don’t be discouraged – it gets easier with practice.

As a somatic sex educator my purpose for this blog is to educate and share tips that can aid greater erotic connection. But, the reality is that when it comes to noticing and communicating our limits, it’s about so much more than sex – it’s about the broader business of living and negotiating our way in the world. Consent is about honouring our boundaries and giving with a full heart, whether in sexual expression or at work or with our family and friends – and expressing our limits well in one area of our lives can make it easier to do so more broadly.

For support in deepening consent awareness, or to find out more about somatic sex education, check out the rest of my website, and do get in touch if you would like to discuss sessions.