Let's talk about communication, consent and pleasure in sex among queer folks

Having an open and honest discussion about consent and pleasure is fundamental to ensure that you and your partners fully enjoy sex.

This article is about consent in sex. In the photo, the legs of two people intertwined on a bed.
Image: Via Pexels - Ketut Subiyanto

We all know that sexual education in Irish schools is severely lacking when it comes to queer folks. Relationship and Sexuality Education shouldn’t be only about reproduction; it should be about individuals building their own knowledge and then sharing that with another person (if they choose to do so). In my opinion, three essential themes of RSE that are often overlooked, but are essential to good sex education are: communication, consent and pleasure.

As queer people, we are often expected to be the spokesperson for our gender, sexuality or expression. We owe no one an explanation or a lesson in our specific brands. That being said, you must be willing to communicate your needs, your expectations, your desires and your boundaries to a partner. This can be difficult, and often, you may not feel confident in expressing yourself for fear of judgment.

Sex is not something that should ‘happen’ to someone. Dismantling the classification structures of Top/Bottom and Fem/Masc and allowing ourselves to build strength in expressing ourselves can play a major role in developing healthy, happy relationships and sex. Fear that explaining how you like to be touched or be spoken to could “ruin the mood” is natural, and it is a hang-up that a lot of us have.

Being a willing participant is important, but being an active contributor makes the job easier for both (or more) parties. We must be able to say, “I don’t like that”, or “I’d rather do it this way next time”. Even after the deed is done, some post-coital review is essential. Ideally, you should be able to ask your partner about their favourite or least favourite moments, what did they enjoy most or if there was something they didn’t like. And if you were to do something again, how could you maximise their enjoyment? Framing it in a positive way can definitely help and allows for change and learning.

In media, we often see consent as something that a boy must ask a girl before they have sex. That’s a very limited way of thinking about it. Consent has no gender, and we all should be asking for and giving it. Consent is respect, and it’s making sure that people are comfortable, relaxed and happy for a planned sexual activity to be carried out.

Consent education is often missing in regard to queer relationships or framed in a heteronormative way that can leave LGBTQ+ people piecing together information that fits them. It can also lead to assumptions that sexual aggression or violence is only a cis-het occurrence, and that can be dangerous. Moreover, it can make it difficult for people in the LGBTQ+ community to speak out about domestic or sexual violence.

Consent for each sexual act you go through should be clear and enthusiastic from both (or more) parties. When I speak to young people about sex, I get them to imagine consent as a contract – I know, super romantic. You have to lay out your terms, your intentions and what you’d like to happen. The other party then gets to counter your proposal and offer alterations or changes. This leads to an open conversation, allowing the other person to offer their suggestions and changes, which you can then choose or deny. And you should continue the discussion until you have a contract you are all happy with.

However, the contract is alive, and it will move, change and alter as you carry it out. The ability to communicate consent well is also alive, and it will not be the same with everybody you have sex with. It might start out stuffy and difficult, but it will begin to soften and move when you understand your partner and their expectations.

Moreover, you have the right to withdraw consent at any point. If you have consented to an act, you do not have to see it out to your partner’s desired conclusion. Building good communication skills will help you say, “I don’t like this and I’d like to stop”. And if someone does not respect your request to stop, or pretends not to hear you, then that is sexual misconduct. That person has put their sexual gratification above your rights and needs and it is not ok. If this ever happens to you, please consider speaking to someone about it.

Because we live in a heteronormative society, there’s a really good chance that, as a queer person in this world, your understanding of desire, attraction, masturbation and romance were all tied up in a neat bow of shame and guilt. Blame, guilt and shame go hand in hand, and we are quick to appoint them to particular behaviours or actions. This concoction can make it very difficult to think about pleasure in a healthy way.

But let’s start from the basics, shall we? What is pleasure? Simply put, it is a stimulus applied to a physical area that triggers a response in our brain and creates a feedback loop that we enjoy. It’s a pleasant feeling caused by a certain action from ourselves or someone else. We should not feel bad about what we find pleasurable, since everyone is different and will find different things, in different amounts, enjoyable. As long as it is healthy, safe and consensual, pleasure should not be mixed in with guilt.

So, give it a go and consider: what do I find pleasurable? How would I explain to a partner what I want to do? How will I know they are comfortable and want to be there? Explore the areas you may have shied away from and allow yourself the guilt-free ability to enjoy your body.

The information contained in this article was provided by Sexual Health West, and more can be found in the organisation’s West of Ireland Sexuality Education Resource (WISER).

© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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