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Explicitly, sex-positive ideology tends to say that people should ask before touching someone or before escalating touch: that is, I should say “I want to kiss you” before I kiss you, “can I touch your breasts?” before I touch your breasts, “want to get a condom?” before PIV. Some sex-positive spaces– such as many kink parties– take it to the extreme that you can’t touch someone’s shoulder without asking first.

In practice, in my experience, sex-positive people tend to be fine with nonverbal consent. While I usually ask people before kissing them, I’ve certainly just noticed that the timing was right and kissed them before. And in bed I’ve often had the experience of initiating something and having the person shake their head (or, conversely, moving someone’s hands away from a part of my body I don’t want them to touch).

However, I do notice that a lot of people who mostly don’t date sex-positive people say that asking for verbal consent is simply not acceptable in their social circles. If they were like “hey, can I kiss you?” their partner would think they were creepy and weird for not just going for it.

So I wonder if this is how the social norms work: nonverbal consent is so embedded in the culture that in order to make verbal consent acceptable, you have to pretend that it’s mandatory.

If that’s true, it seems unfortunate for people who don’t realize that “always ask before you escalate sexually!” is code for “no one will bite you if you ask before escalating sexually!” People who have nonverbally consented to hot sex might think that sex-positive people think all the sex they’ve had is rape and refuse to listen. And people who interpret things literally might feel guilty about sometimes relying on nonverbal consent.

However, I think having both verbal consent and nonverbal consent be acceptable is better for people who are bad at reading subtext. I think, ideally, nonverbal consent should be the advanced level: when you’re good at body language and understanding context, you can indulge. But if you’re new to sex or bad at body language in general, you should rely on verbal consent, and it should always be acceptable to ask for clarification. If two people want to have sex with each other, it’s ridiculous for them not to get laid because one or both doesn’t understand a particular method of communication.