Withdrawing consent and obligation sex

A queer couple lying on the floor next to each other, looking at each other and smiling. Photo.
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Have you ever had sex when you aren’t fully enthusiastic about fucking? I expect most of us have – it’s not that you mind having sex at that moment, but you’d probably rather listen to a podcast or go for a run or eat buttered hot cross buns in your pyjamas. I want to talk about sex that we absolutely consent to, but that we’re having more out of obligation and awkwardness than because we really want to fuck.

Content note for discussion of coerced sex, and fucking without enthusiasm.

I’ve never forced myself to have sex when I don’t want to… but I have had sex where I’ve been looking forward to the point when my partner comes, because I want the sex to be over.

I know that foreplay is heteronormative and orgasms are not the aim or end-point of sex, but I occasionally have felt like that when having sex with people who have dicks. Them coming means we’ve reached the end of a fuck session, so it becomes a ‘cheat code’ for the sex to end. There have been a few times when I realised that I was using my hand to get my partner off because I’d started to feel uncomfortable but didn’t know how to tell them that.

I’m really embarrassed to share that. It’s not that I regret having sex where I felt uncertain about whether or not I wanted to keep having sex, but I feel guilty that I didn’t tell my partner that I felt uncomfortable. Every time it happened I was having sex with someone who would have been completely ok if I’d told them that I needed to stop, it’s hard to understand why I didn’t say anything.

Why am I so comfortable advocating for my pleasure, but won’t speak up if I want the sex I’m having to stop?

I want to be clear that I’m not talking about sex where there isn’t consent – I’m using ‘obligation sex’ here to describe those times when your partner’s cock hard and you’re naked in bed next to them, and you’d feel like you were leading them on if you said ‘no’ now. If I’d wanted things to stop I’d have told them: I just became less certain that I did want to continue but felt that I needed to.

After an uninspiring date I went on a year ago, I told a friend that I only wanted to have sex with people who made me want to rip all of my clothes off and jump them right there. Sex is nice, but that’s not enough: I wanted to be with people who made me tingle with arousal and who’s mere existence made me wet with lust. While on the date I considered offering to blow them, because it was two months since I’d had dick in my mouth and it was tempting to do it just so I could have sex.

I’m glad I didn’t. I feel the same way about the woman I didn’t kiss during my first time at a sex club: I wouldn’t have minded kissing her, but I didn’t actively want to kiss her. I almost did, out of a sense of obligation, but it would have felt wrong. I might be a slut, but sex positivity doesn’t mean doing things that make me uncomfortable. Sex positivity should mean that I’m comfortable withdrawing consent mid-fuck if I want to.

That’s easier said than done. I was socialised as femme in a society that will call me a cock tease if I flirt with a guy but don’t want to sleep with him. It’s only been recently that I’ve realised that these ideas might affect the sex I have, making me more likely to feel like I need to keep going once I’ve started having sex. Which leads me to hand jobs where my aim is to get my partner off as quickly as possible because I might want everything to stop.

And if I’ve been too nervous to tell my partners that I wanted to stop, what if they’ve felt the same? The thought that people have fucked me out of a sense of obligation terrifies me. It’s important to remember that consent is the bare minimum. Yes, all sex requires consent, but it also needs so much more than that. It requires communication and enthusiasm, and it needs trust that you’re safe to withdraw your consent at any time. Enthusiasm is hot in a way that obligation sex will never be.

I definitely have said ‘no’ mid-fuck. I interrupted a carefully planned orgasm denial scene with my enboifriend because it stopped feeling right, and I’m really proud of that. It’s just that I can’t shake the idea that there have been times when I wish I’d been brave enough to tell the person I’m fucking that I wasn’t sure I was quite as enthusiastic about fucking them as I had been ten minutes ago.

You should never feel like you need to have sex with someone – but you also don’t need to feel guilty if you have had obligation sex. I’ve felt like a bad feminist and bad sex educator because there are times when I haven’t told my partner that I’d prefer a sandwich to a shag, but I don’t think I have to. We live in a world that shames us for talking about sex, which means that even when someone is inside you it might feel too vulnerable to tell them that you need to stop.

But you deserve better than obligation sex: you deserve fucks with enthusiastic consent.

Vulnerability is hard, y’all, and it would mean a lot if you could support my so I can keep blogging about why we need to talk about sex. If you liked this post, please consider leaving me a tip so I can keep bringing you my confessions about how I fuck up when it comes to having feminist sex.

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