Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Ask For Enthusiastic Consent?


I have a consent problem. My girlfriend has started getting really annoyed with me asking for consent - especially when it comes to kissing. I’ve told her that I’ve been told that it’s sexual assault to kiss without verbal consent but she says it’s a BIG turn off to be asked.

She says she wants it to be spontaneous/natural and she says we should trust each other enough to just say “no”. She applies this to oral sex as well - she says she’d prefer if I just went for it and trust her to say no if she doesn’t want it. I don’t know what to do - feminists tell me it has to be verbal every time for every single act including removing clothing, but my girlfriend wants to be spontaneous and natural. I can tell this is becoming a big issue for her - what should I do?!?!

Confused About Consent

DEAR CONFUSED ABOUT CONSENT: I think either you’ve misunderstood things or you’ve been listening to people who’ve told you what feminists want without actually listening to what people have actually SAID about enthusiastic consent. Enthusiastic consent isn’t about asking every step of the way, it’s about confirming that your partner wants to do things that you want to do too.

Now to be fair: asking at each stage is one way to ensure you’re getting an unambiguous yes. However, there are a number of ways to ask for or give consent that don’t involve asking yes/no questions, especially when you have an established relationship with them. Someone responding enthusiastically when you move in to kiss them, for example, is showing that yes, they want to kiss you — especially by giving them time to give you the wave-off, or you move in and give them the chance to move the rest of the way and initiate the kiss themselves. If they give you the cheek, hold up a hand, don’t move in to close the distance, or otherwise don’t give an unambiguous signal to keep going, they’re demonstrating pretty clearly that no, they don’t want to kiss you. Alternately, asking for consent can be part of dirty talk – a “I want to do X to you so badly,” “Do you want Y, baby?”  “I need Z, right now”. You can check in as you’re making out – a breathy “do you like that?” can be incredibly sexy. You can also slow things down, particularly during foreplay. Think, for example, of slowly kissing your way down your girlfriend’s neck and torso. Not only does this give her time to give a “yes” or “no” – which may well be grabbing you by the ears and pulling you forward – but the anticipation can heighten the excitement.

But more to the point: your girlfriend’s given you a certain amount of implied consent to kiss her or to escalate things during make-outs and sex. She’s told you, specifically, how SHE prefers you escalates things. Not every woman is going to feel this way, obviously, but your girlfriend has let you know, in no uncertain terms that this is how she wants you to proceed.

To be sure: she can change her mind about what she does and doesn’t consent to at any time. She can tell you that ok, she WOULD prefer you check in verbally before initiating anything. But right now, she’s told you straight up that she prefers that you just kiss her instead of asking. So, y’know. Kiss her already.

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m in college and have no idea how to dating or hooking up or anything related, but I think I’m going to be able to hook up with someone soon and an awkward thought popped up into my head: do I shave? Especially…you know…down there.

This probably sounds like a stupid question with a no-brainer answer, but I legitimately don’t know and definitely can’t ask the people around me, so I figured I’d try here. Thanks!

Untrimmed Hedges

DEAR UNTRIMMED HEDGES: Body grooming and pubic hair maintenance tends to be a matter of fashion more than anything else; trends about who’s supposed to have how much hair where have varied immensely over the millennia. Roman women used to pluck their pubic hair out completely. Egyptian men used to go almost completely hairless. Burt Reynolds posed naked on a bear-skin rug that was almost as furry as he was and started a trend of hairy-chested masculinity. Right now, the trends in men’s body hair tends to follow gay porn; once gay male pornstars started having freshly waxed chests and boyzilians, straight dudes started to follow.

But as with all trends, the pendulum swings both ways, and there’ll always be people with strong opinions about body hair that don’t follow what the movie stars and celebrities do. So the answer is – for the most part – roll with what you feel most comfortable with. If you want to shave your legs, knock yourself out; lots of athletes do so before matches. If you wanna get the waxing trifecta at the estheticians, go for it. If you’re happy and hirsute, get down with your fuzzy self. If you want to do something in between, then consider a trim, rather than removal and be artful about it. Cutting everything to one length looks weird. Leave your chest hair a bit longer than the hair on your lower-torso, and if you’re going to depilate your abs (the better to show them off, my dear), then make sure you keep the treasure-trail from your navel on down.

It’s worth noting that preferences about body hair, how much and where, will also vary from person to person. Some folks like their partners to be smoother than a baby’s butt. Some folks like their partners to be all kinds of fuzzy. So there will always be a balancing act between what you prefer and the things that your potential partners are into. My rule of thumb is: go with whatever makes you feel the sexiest, then decide if you want to adjust things when you’re in a relationship with someone. Maybe you’ll like it because they like it, maybe you’ll decide you prefer your previous grooming routine… but that’s a “shave that bridge when we come to it” situation.

All that being said, while most people will appreciate some careful maintenance of their pubic hair, women in general aren’t crazy about completely bald junk. Not only does it carry images of prepubescence, but ingrown hairs are a motherf—ker — especially there, and crotch stubble ain’t fun when you’re bumping uglies. So I’d suggest trimming things and keeping it nice and neat without going so short it becomes scratchy and irritating. And be sure to use a trimmer made specifically for body hair, not just your face; the hair on your torso’s a different texture and thickness and trying to use your beard trimmer is going to end up with a lot of uncomfortable snags and pulls.

Good luck.

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