Right now I seem to be sharing a lot about how I’m fucking up and trying to do better. While I’m sure no one views me as an all-knowing sexpert, I do often share the highlights of my life rather than the moments that leave me weeping in fetal position. But I’m a flawed human who messes up, and I often mess up around continual consent.
Content note: discussion of consent and unsolicited dick picks. If ‘continual consent’ already exists as a term and I’m using it in an entirely different way, I do apologise.
I frequently piss my friends off by asking the question “can I ask you a question?” and yes, I understand why that is annoying. It’s important to me, though, to check in for consent before I ask someone for their time, attention or advice. Especially when I’m asking for help or feedback from someone who’s job is in sex education and I’m asking for emotional labour, I want to ask rather than assuming that I am entitled to their time.
As someone with limited spoons due to my mental illness, and also an afab person* who is raised with societal expectations of always being polite, I find it hard to say no. I’ve often found myself looking at a reply to my tweet about depression/feminism/queerness that asks me to explain/elaborate/help them understand and wanting to cry. I want to reply, to help them, to educate them, but I don’t have the energy to talk to someone who is expecting me to explain something that is google-able.
*An afab person is someone who was assigned female at birth, regardless of their actual gender identity.
That’s what I’m doing when I ask my friends if I can ask a question: I’m asking if they have the spoons – the time, the energy – to talk to me. Some people don’t understand this quirk, because they would only look at my message when they have the spoons to reply to me, or are comfortable in looking at it and not replying until they’re able to. I struggle to do that, so want to make sure others aren’t put in the same position of feeling pressured to give me their time/attention/emotional labour.
So even if you’ve told me that I don’t need to ask you if I can ask you a question, I’ll probably check in for your continual consent to endear you with my frequently ridiculous questions.
Let’s define continual consent, shall we? In this context I’m using it to mean consent that has been given in a way that suggests it is ongoing, but to which there might be exceptions. For example, I consent – enthusiastically – to having sex with the cute human I’m kissing, but not always to them touching my cunt. I have a somewhat up-and-down relationship with my vagina right now, and sometimes don’t even like partners touching my clit. I usually love it when they do, but I can’t take sudden touches and sometimes I can’t deal with it at all.
The most wonderful thing partners can do is checking in before they touch my cunt, because they know it’s something I’m not always sure about until we’re in the moment. They’ll do it more than once in the same bout of fucking, to check I’m still ok with cunt-touching (or slapping/spanking/kicking…). As you can see, it beyond my maybe-unnecessary check ins before I ask questions. I’m especially aware of it when I’m talking about sex or sex-adjacent things where consent is important. Take dick pics, for example.
I’m incredibly lucky: I have had significantly less unsolicited dick pics than you might think for a woman who talks openly about her sex life on the internet. Not none, but certainly fewer than I was braced for. I have however, received dick pics that come in a solicited context but are unexpected. From someone I’ve fucked before, maybe, or someone who has sent me similar photos in the past. I don’t view these as breaches of consent but they have – on one or two occasions – made me uncomfortable.
There is no one who is always up for a dick pic, even if it’s a dick they drool over almost daily. There are times when they – when I – would prefer you to check in first. Maybe I’m having a bad mental health day, or I’m in a meeting, or I’m feeling stressed and rushed and replying to a photo of your tits will be another thing on my already too long to do list.
It’s not only that getting my consent is hot – though surely you want to make me excited for and anticipate a photo of your junk – it means that you’re respecting that I might not always be down for sexy photos.
It’s not just me. In the same way that I don’t always want a lewd photo from you, even if you’ve had my consent to send one before – you might not always be up for three hundred extremely explicit words about what I want to do to you with a flogger and a butt plug. You might have had some bad news, or have been up all night with 10-month-old child, or you might have a migraine. If you’re not in the mood for sexting, even my skilfully written filth might be jarring.
So even to folks I flirt with every day, even to folks who I’m in relationships with, I think it’s important to check in for continual consent. Sometimes I’m great at this to the point where I annoy people, like I do when I ask folks if I can ask them a question. Sometimes I’m… not.
I was working on some bonus smut on Tuesday, and I checked in with two of my partners before sending them a couple of paragraphs of filth. I wanted to share my excitement with the piece with them, and I got some enthusiastic responses. But when I was finishing it off on Wednesday, I didn’t do the same thing. I sent another few lines explicit dialogue to my partners, but without checking in first. Realising that I hadn’t checked for consent, I sent a quick follow up message, asking if I should have asked first. My partner’s response? “Asking is definitely best practice.”
Even if someone tells me that they’re ‘always’ down for me to flirt, send them filth, or send them explicit photos, there will be days when they don’t want my attempts at being sexy in their DMs or WhatsApps. There will be days when they’re stressed or sad or wanting to do anything except sext with me. There’ll be times when that ‘always’ isn’t true, and it’s important to check for continual consent. I check in because I’m afraid that I’m going to trample over your boundaries without realising it.
So please don’t dismiss me when I check in to make sure you’re ok with my lewdness.
Quinn Rhodes (he/him) is a queer, trans, disabled sex writer with vaginismus. He’s a slut and a sex nerd who writes about his adventures in trying to fuck without fucking up. Quinn can usually be found wearing stomp-on-the-patriarchy boots while falling in love every time he fucks.