I’m fucking sick of nerds.*
And by nerds, I mean unimaginative literalists.
I was at a party, searching for a topic to fill the lull in conversation. I remembered that I’d pledged for a cute consent panties kickstarter and I brought that up with the intention to offer a pair to my friend, if they were interested, since in my pledge bracket I’d be receiving 5 extra pairs of boxers and briefs emblazoned with phrases like, “Only yes means yes.”
My friend’s reaction floored me. I thought they’d be receptive. This is a friend who wears brightly colored wigs, just asked if I’d like to see their merkin, and regularly walks about parties with floggers and paddles. I figured they might be into consent. I’d barely said, “Speaking of Youtopia, I got these ‘Let’s Talk First’ panties from a kickstarter and…” I was interrupted.
There are basically two ways to be a feminist at a party. One is to stand up for your beliefs and counter any bullshit the best you can, whether through reasoned quips or belligerent screaming, as is necessary. The other is to realize you are outnumbered, down another drink, and to instead store up your dismay and upset for an angry blog rant.
My friend has a much louder voice than me, and sometimes I am a coward, so I opted for plan B. I listened to this friend say, “Oh god, the consent thing is just annoying. I mean how nerdy is it to ask, ‘Can we have sex,’ or ‘Can I kiss you?’ I mean why can’t people just use body language like adults.”
Right, because no one in the history of ever has suffered from relying on just body language.
Now that I’m not frozen by shock, slouching on a bar stool with a headache trying to gracefully hint to this nearby guy with a cookie monster onesie that I’m pretty gay, yo, stop asking me “what do girls like about men” while ever slowly inching closer to me, please? … I just want to emphatically say, asking for consent does not have to be nerdy.
Asking for consent can be highly erotic! I have lived this; my dearest moments contain that asking, and not because I churned out “can I kiss you?” like a robot trying to follow robot laws, but because I have internalized consent; I have made it part of who I am.
This is not about literally asking, this is about wanting to hear the answer. This is about not accepting anything less than eager, dripping-wet consent, or, if that isn’t there, at least having a talk about if we’re still all cool to try this. In real life, sex is often a bit awkward and sometimes we push through it because we still really want to get laid tonight, even if the moment isn’t perfect. What we shouldn’t do is push through a maybe because, if we take a second to ask, we know we won’t be getting laid tonight.
But fucking nerds just hear the frustrated bleating, “ask first?” and they think that literally means ask first. As if asking “can I have sex with you?” is magic phrase that shields you from qualifying as a rapist… No. There are moments when you will use your precious body language, and in these moments you have to admit to yourself when her back isn’t arching and her skin is dry and her eyes windows to another world outside of herself and her smile holds a little pain.
That’s the moment when you stop, when you use your words, when you check in sweetly, “babe, are you ok?” That is the moment you graciously tuck away your desires and spend the night holding her, knowing there will be a better time.
Or, that is the moment when her attention falls against you like a tidal wave, and that you asked breaks her walls, and she decides then, yes, she wants this, she wants you, the one who asked. That is the moment your care for her makes her brave against her fears.
These scripts are missing from our movies, our TV shows, the popular media engine. People cannot imagine consent language being sexy, because they have not seen it modeled over and over again the same way they have seen men wordlessly seize women in impassioned kisses over and over again. This mute tension, not knowing if your desires are symmetrical, fearing what speaking will do to the myth you have created… I concede this is worth living once. I’m not saying we need to strike that out of our vocabularies entirely.
We do, however, desperately need to eroticize consent. “Rebecca, I’d like to kiss you,” doesn’t do it for ya? Well, fine, use your bloody imagination. Create your own stories. I’ll share two, and guess what guys, in both of these I felt like I was in a goddamned movie:
Erotic Consent Story #1
I sat in a tree with a friend and gave myself the same mental nudge I do before jumping off the high dive. “You have to know that I find you tortuously attractive,” I said. Deep eye contact.
“Tortuously attractive, huh?”
We returned to our previous conversation a moment, about socialism and money as debt, and again I found a pause. “Stick of gum?” I offered, very intentionally referring to Wet Hot American Summer, which we had watched together the week before. I’d been intensely aware of our body positioning on the couch, wondering for a moment to kiss, but not finding it, and going home uncertain, still just friends.
I added, “I’d really like to kiss you, but I have this terrible cough and I’d hate to get you sick before you travel.”
“That’s a bullshit reason.” This was almost the yes I wanted. I felt my grin more than it showed on my face.
“Well, it’s up to you,” I sat back, “I’m serious about not wanting to get you sick.”
“Wait, am I reading into this too much??”
Emboldened by my friend’s flustered reaction, I responded with a warm low voice, leaning in, “What I mean is, if you say bullshit, I will kiss y–”
We almost fell out of that tree.
Erotic Consent Story #2
I finally had come to the house of someone you will recognize from the comic below ;) and we’d spent the night playing videogames and watching Howl’s Moving Castle. “Help!” I’d texted my friend, “We’re actually playing videogames.”
As we were both too shy to make the first move (or so I’d thought, turns out she just likes tormenting people!) I’d squirmed the whole night in borrowed jammies next to her on silk sheets. We actually slept together without sleeping together. As an ex-Christian I am especially familiar with the ‘thrill’ of delayed gratification. I’d once gone 7 months without orgasm. I relieved all 7 of them in that single night.
As soon as I heard her stirring in the morning, excitement pounded in my chest and in my arms as I kissed her. I remember her delicately small ear more than anything, colors washed from my memory in the dimness in her room, and how her earring twinkled. I whispered into her ear, between kisses, “Can we… have… sex now?” Her yes was full of laughter and everything I wanted to hear in the world.
*Actual nerds — like enthusiastically into science or books or something dear to them from pop culture, those kinds of nerds — are great, of course.