Sex and intimacy can be difficult subjects to talk about as the range of experiences is so broad, regardless of whether you are trans or cis. Complicated feelings about how we view our own bodies can hinder how we feel about ourselves, our attractiveness and our desire for intimacy.
As with most things in life, being honest and authentic, both with yourself and your partner/s, is important. The basis of informed consent is the “informed” part, which means that you give your prospective partner/s all the information they need to make an informed decision about what (if anything) you want to do together. You can only do this by being completely honest, both about yourself and your preferences, but also by stating what your own boundaries are.
Consent sounds scary but it is necessary, and once you get comfortable talking about it, it can even be sexy. The issue is that many of us are taught to feel shame and fear about our bodies and about sex, which makes it hard to talk about. This is even more of a problem for some trans people, who may be experiencing feelings of body dysphoria. Added to the cultural conditioning many of us have, pleasure is something rarely talked about when the subject of sex is raised; and it rarely features in mainstream culture, or even in mainstream porn.
Pleasure is a good starting point for any future consent discussions you might have. Most people know what turns them on but how many of us have actually said it out loud? Take some time to put your feelings into words and try writing them down. This may seem a little daunting at first but start by simply asking yourself what you like, what turns you on, what you’d love to experience. When you start to see and hear the words, you can play around with them, push the boundaries a little – or a lot! Imagine what it would be like to hear yourself saying this to someone else. Get comfortable with yourself first and this will make it all the easier to share your desires with someone else, when the time comes.
The same goes for your boundaries. Take some time to think about what your boundaries are. What do you definitely know you’re not up for, what do you know you don’t like? Again, practice saying these things out loud to yourself so you can prepare for saying them to someone else. Hearing what someone doesn’t want to do can be as sexy as hearing what they do want to do – it tells your partner that you know and respect yourself, which means you are more likely to respect them.
Maybe you have a list of things you are “not sure” about and that’s ok too. Add these to your bigger list along with things you might be willing to try – get comfortable with them as well. The more you can know your own likes and dislikes, the easier it will be for both you and your partner/s to have conversations about sex and pleasure. In time this will become standard practice and you will be able to have these chats with yourself on a regular basis, as and when your desires change.
A “No” is as sexy as a “Yes”
When you’re being intimate with someone you want to feel like you’re safe with that person, that they understand themselves and their own boundaries and that they wouldn’t want to do anything to or with you without your consent. So when someone says “no” to you – they are enacting their own boundaries. That can only ever be a beautiful thing. It tells you that you are safe with that person, that they know their own desires and that – crucially – they’re not afraid to tell you. A “no” is in that sense as wonderful as a yes. Boundary setting is sexy because it means you’re with someone who can communicate their desires to you and you can then communicate what you’re willing to do with them as well. Open, honest sex with clear communication and boundaries means all parties are getting exactly what they want – which is how all sex should be.
The pillars of informed consent are that it must be freely given, informed, mutual and ongoing.
Freely given means that there is no element of coercion or power imbalance involved that could cause the person to consent to something they don’t want. Consent is not freely given if someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as these may impair their ability to give consent.
Informed means that both parties have all the relevant facts to make decisions, this includes information about the sexual health of the other person, discussions around contraception and that each party knows what the other’s boundaries are.
Mutual simply means everyone agrees and is on the same page regarding what they’d like to do and have done to them. It’s important to remember that while someone agreed to something at the start, they can always change their mind.
Ongoing means that the conversation about consent continues throughout any activities. While one party may have said they consented to something prior to sexual activity, they are always free to change their mind so every party should be checking in with each other regularly, though this may seem like it might interrupt things, it can actually add to the excitement, simple questions like “Would you like me to do…”, “Do you still want me to…” is enough.
Go forth and get sexy
Becoming comfortable with voicing your own desires increases your sexual self-esteem, which in turn increases how you feel about yourself and your sexuality. Who doesn’t love having sex with someone who is comfortable and confident with themselves? (Even if the sex is just with yourself!)
It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved, and all it takes is for you to start practicing saying out loud what you like. Get good at saying what you want and what you don’t want and it will come easily to you when you’re having these conversations with sexual partners.
If you’re interested in learning more about consent, Dr Betty Martin developed a tool called the Wheel of Consent and on her website you’ll find a range of videos that explain the principles of consent in great depth.
Find out more about sex and intimacy as a transgender person, in our set of special articles on trans sex here.