How To Make The First Move Without Forgetting Consent (Spoiler: It's Not Hard)

Kasandra Brabaw

For straight men and women, the sexual script has generally gone like this: Boy likes girl; boy asks girl out; boy makes the first move. That’s always been less-than-ideal (not to mention, limiting). In the #MeToo conversation, though, it feels more out of touch than ever. But, as is the case with most social movements, rhetoric comes faster than actual change. Many men feel as if they’re still expected to be the sexual aggressors, whether that means asking someone out, leaning in for a kiss, or escalating a makeout session into sex.

As one man wrote in a Reddit post shortly after the Aziz Ansari allegations came to light: “I don't know where the line is between complimenting and harassing, or a proposition and misconduct. I absolutely don't want to push myself on anybody or be where I'm not wanted, but there's also a substantial amount of reliance on men to initiate everything from saying ‘hi’ to asking for a date.”

Honestly, it’s a lesson everyone — regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation — should be learning, and one that’s probably more straightforward than it seems. Yet, in the Sahara desert that is sex education in the US, people aren’t learning what consent really is. (Hint: It should be more enthusiastic than “no means no.”)

So, we found experts to break down how all people can make the first move and still be mindful of consent. Lesson number one: The best way to know if someone wants to have sex with you is to ask. Read on for the rest of their tips.

#MeToo has raised the voices of women who’ve been sexually assaulted or harassed — and that’s not just great, it’s revolutionary. So, where does that leave men? To help answer that question, Refinery29 is providing actionable advice for men who want to be allies.

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Find a way to ask that feels natural.

The gold standard of consent is a clear and verbal “yes,” according to Julia Bennett, the director of education at Planned Parenthood. And the only way to get a verbal “yes” is to ask for what you want. So, instead of just kissing someone without knowing if they’re okay with that, literally say, “Can I kiss you?”

If that feels too awkward, and it might, then feel free to switch up the phrasing in a way that feels more natural to you — just make sure you’re still being clear about what you want to do. “There’s no right way to ask,” Bennett says. “There are lots of ways we can talk about sex.”

Maybe, for you, asking for consent sounds more like, “I’ve been dying to kiss you all night…” and then a pause to let your partner respond. If they’ve also been dying for a kiss all night, then you can go ahead and kiss them (or maybe they’ll kiss you!). But, if they haven’t been wishing for a kiss, the pause gives them time to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

For some people, it might feel more natural to say something like, “How would you feel if I kissed you right now?” or “What do you want to get out of tonight?” No matter how you decide to say it, the point is to ask your partner what they want, and give them time to respond.

Make it about your partner, not yourself.

Although “I’ve been dying to kiss you all night…” is a great way to ask for consent, sex educator Kait Scalisi says that sometimes you’ll want to focus your question on what your partner wants, instead of what you want. “Because women are socialised to be accommodating, you want to make it about her, not you,” she says. “Instead of, ‘I really want to kiss you right now,’ you can say, ‘How would it feel if I kissed you right now?’”

The same advice works for when you want to move past kissing. If you want to escalate things, you can say something like, “What do you want me to do to you?” or “Where should I put my hands?” But make sure you’re checking in with your partner before you actually do anything. Remember: Consent is an ongoing conversation, so you’ll need to ask each time you want to try something new.

Turn asking for consent into dirty talk.

There’s a common misconception that asking for consent will ruin the mood. If you’re making out and getting turned on, do you really want to pause to ask if they want to take things further? The answer is yes, you 100% should take that pause every time, because it’s the only way to know that your partner actually wants to have sex — and it can be totally hot.

Asking for consent is essentially a form of dirty talk, Scalisi says. “Be playful and have fun. Instead of, ‘Can I touch your breasts?’ you can say, ‘Do you want my hands on your tits?’” she says. You can also talk through a fantasy of yours and then say, “Would you like to do that?”

Pay attention to body language.

While it’s important to get verbal consent from a partner, it’s also important to pay attention to body cues that might suggest the other person didn’t really mean to consent. This is especially important when there’s a difference in power, like between cisgender (meaning: not transgender) men and women. “There might be issues of social power and coercion at play [when someone consents],” Bennett says. “Just because they said ‘yes,’ doesn’t mean you can’t pick up on the fact that they’re uncomfortable from their body language.” If your partner is pulling away, if they’re tense, if they don’t kiss you back, or if they become stiff and unresponsive, take that as a sign to stop what you’re doing and check in.

Still confused? Planned Parenthood has a video that shows what it looks like when someone’s just not that into it.

Another reason to pay attention to body language? It can can bolster the verbal “yes” you’ve already gotten. If your partner is really into whatever you’re doing, their body language will likely let you know. They might lean in, touch you, moan, and do a bunch of other very sexy things that you can take as a sign that they’re totally down to be kissing or having sex with you. You just have to pay attention. “Be in that moment with someone,” Bennett says. “Listen to them, be present, and learn what they’re interested in doing.”

Oh, and FYI: You can’t look at someone’s body language and determine that they really meant to say “yes” if they said “no.”

If you're drunk, it might not be the time to make a move.

Most of us know by now that if someone is visibly drunk and/or slurring their speech, they can’t consent to sex. But Bennett wants to remind people that being drunk or under the influence of a drug means you’re not able to ask for consent, either. “It’s a lot harder to pick up on body language if you’re intoxicated,” she says. Even if your partner isn’t drunk, your own intoxication can keep you from noticing the standoffish body language that would otherwise signal you should stop. So, if you find yourself far beyond the point of tipsy, it’s best to hold off on initiating sex. Trust us, there will be other nights.

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