Consent is not the name of a goth band from the 90s or a Lifetime TV movie. It’s how someone gives you passage into their personal space. It may seem like a new concept, but it’s how we negotiate sex after becoming fully aware of rape culture. Rape culture has allowed for problematic behaviors, including rape, because of outdated ideas about gender and sexuality. There was a time when sexual harassment was normal in the workplace. There was a time when parents didn’t believe their children about being molested. In the wake of the #MeToo Movement, there is a collective conversation about consent. But there can still be misconceptions. Like, how does it affect men who sleep with men?
Rape and consent can seem hazy among men. A man overpowering a woman is pretty clear. A man can, arguably, defend himself against another man. But rape and sexual assault are not just violent altercations. Men get drugged. Men get taken advantage of when they’re intoxicated. And when someone does not respect when you say no that’s a problem. Male rape is common and can go unreported. No one deserves to have sex when they don’t want to. And no one needs more trauma in our community.
It’s hard to believe so much of consent has to do with empathy. You wouldn’t want someone to manhandle you at a bar or try to have sex with you while you’re drunk so why do it? And yet, there’s a certain selective blindness around consent. A lot of this has to do with rape culture. Toxic masculinity equates sex with power. It normalizes certain behaviors even if they make others uncomfortable. Nowadays, so many people have been victims of sexual harassment or assault that it should hit close to home for everyone.
Now sure, men can get primal. Sometimes the testosterone is flowing and we make mistakes. We may touch someone or assert ourselves too strongly. But in the same way, we can’t just beat people to death when we get angry, we don’t get to blame our primal urges on pushing sex when someone doesn’t want it. There is a line we must all respect and it involves open communication and respect. I have literally been groped by a man in the middle of a conversation. When I did the same thing to him, he was offended. We can’t have such obvious double standards. Sure, maybe you’re a top and you don’t like your butt touched. So maybe don’t touch people’s butts without asking. Unwanted touching is unwanted touching.
1. A Porn Problem
Many gay porn scenarios are rape. Someone is “straight” and his gay friend makes a move on him. He says, “No man.” But the enterprising gay keeps going. They inevitably have sex. A guy hides under a sheet and pretends to be someone’s girlfriend to have sex with him. A guy sees his friend sleeping and decides to perform oral sex on him. All of these are sexual assaults. This is not to yuck anyone’s yum or to shame anyone. Porn is a fantasy. And, by virtue of its production, there is consent. The models all sign releases. The issue arises when people get enticed by porn scenarios that are against the law. It’s a fantasy, not a goal to achieve. Impersonating a woman to have sex with a man is rape. Having sex with someone who is drunk is rape. Having sex with someone who is sleeping, or straight and saying no is rape. Many porn producers are shifting their narratives to fit with the times. The plots and dialogue are more mindful of consent. But we should be aware of how these fantasies can affect reality.
Consent can seem counter-intuitive. There can be pressure to be self-assured and confident to be “masculine.” Sometimes a guy wants you to be aggressive. Asking to kiss someone can kill the vibe. But we should be focused on having healthy, consensual sex. Here are some consent basics to help you be a more gentle man and also a gentleman.
2. Take Nos Seriously
No, and anything in the negative should be a boner killer. When someone says, “no” it should be a moment to step back and reassess. When you’re having sex it involves two people. If you’re having good sex you’re respecting your partner and should be in sync with them. A “no” may have nothing to do with you but it does mean you should be the one to stop.
3. Ask Questions
It’s always good to ask questions. If you don’t ask questions you don’t know. Questions are open-ended and create a conversation rather than pressure. This is negotiating consent, not a hostage crisis. It’s easy to ask before you do something to show respect for your partner. Plus, creating an open dialogue can help create greater trust and intimacy. That will make the sex better overall.
4. Negotiate Touching Strangers
It seems like it’s happened to everyone. Someone has grabbed your crotch or slapped your butt at a bar. While this often gets normalized or blown off it’s not okay. Sure, you should be able to grab someone’s crotch and butt at a bar. But they should want you to. It’s simple enough to talk to someone before you lay your hands on them. You touch someone because you like them and are interested. It shouldn’t make them feel uncomfortable just because you’re too shy to talk to them.
5. Intoxication is Not a Free Pass
By the standard definition of consent culture, having sex with someone who is heavily intoxicated is a form of rape. Granted, with heterosexual sex it’s a bit easier for this to happen. But among queer men, having sex with someone who is too drunk or high on drugs to give consent is rape. You shouldn’t assume consent and wanting to have sex with someone who cannot give consent is something you may want to explore with a therapist.
6. Communicate Your Boundaries
This one goes both ways. Clear communication is key. In the same way, you should ask questions and check in with partners, you need to communicate your boundaries. No one is psychic. Someone may make a mistake. But they will not know it’s an issue until you let them know. We all come from different cultures, upbringings, and backgrounds. We should never assume what is not communicated. Also, some people may miss non-verbal or social cues. If someone crosses a boundary, tell them. Don’t assume they should have known better. Don’t attack them for the mistake. Clearly communicating a boundary is more likely to show someone they crossed a line. It’s good to avoid lashing out at someone for mistakenly crossing your boundaries because they will only get defensive. Until it’s communicated they won’t know. This is a moment where you can teach someone something. If you’re uncomfortable, you do not have to have a long conversation with them. You can simply say, “That is not okay. I do not like that.” and walk away.
7. Clothing is Not Consent
Just because someone is wearing full drag or nothing at all it does not give you consent to touch them. You do not get to grab someone aggressively because you see something shiny. We should all respect people as people. Yes, someone might be wearing a ton of color or showing a ton of skin. They may want attention but attention does not need to come with a physical response. Their pride in their body or looks should not be diminished by your poor boundaries, self-control, or jealousy. Also, for your own personal safety, never touch a drag queen’s wig.
8. Sex Work is Work
Sex work is complex but it has work in the title. Just because someone is a gogo dancer, escort, or porn star doesn’t mean their body is your wonderland. It’s called work. Gogo dancers do not walk around bars in undies to be groped by bar patrons. They dance and add to the ambiance as their job. Just because a porn star or escort has sex for money doesn’t mean they have no boundaries. You wouldn’t walk into a store and just take something you wanted. In the same way, you shouldn’t just touch someone because they are comfortable with their sexuality.
Consent is about respecting and empathizing with someone. While these should go hand in hand with having sex with someone, they don’t always. But here’s hoping these tips can help you in clearly communicating with potential partners. Clear communication can make you a better lover and create a space for more enjoyable sex. After all, to review, sex is between two people. If you don’t want to have sex with another willing individual there are plenty of FleshJacks, body pillows, and sometime soon, sex robots. But if not, let’s strive to be good men.
Christian Cintron is a writer, actor, and stand-up comedian. He has written about entertainment and gay culture for Edge Publications, Queerty and DNA Magazine. He’s also a regular contributor to Backstage.com.
YouTube: CintronicComedy // Twitter: AbsoluteCintron // Instagram: @SighKickScream