There are a lot of things you can say in favor of a norm of using affirmative verbal consent while having sex. It accommodates people who have a hard time reading other people’s body language, whether because of inexperience or an impairment. It lets people negotiate more specific desires and communicate their preferences more easily. For many people, it decreases ambiguity.

But the real reason I use it is that the alternative seems awkward.

I have a hard time imagining how one would even go about having sex without using affirmative verbal consent. I instinctively imagine it as being a game of Charades. “Three syllables… starts with S… rhymes with ‘duck by dock’…”

Setting that aside and genuinely trying to imagine it as best I can, I can’t help but imagine awkwardness. What if I put my hands down someone’s pants when they just wanted to make out, and then they have to say “uh, I actually don’t want that” and it totally breaks the mood? What if I’m not sure if my partner’s into it and I can’t check? How do I say when I want something? Do you just sort of pull away to get a condom, and how does your partner tell that apart from pulling away because you don’t want sex? Am I allowed to tell them that they’re sexy? For fuck’s sake, how do you ever get out of that state where you’re both cuddling on the bed together and you want to have sex but you keep getting distracted arguing about Star Wars?

(And yes, when I have had sex without affirmative verbal consent, it has been hella awkward.)

I observe that when people say they don’t want to use affirmative verbal consent, a lot of times they say they don’t want to use it because it’s awkward. It breaks the mood to ask the other person if they want to kiss. They’re not sure how often they should ask or how to ask without sounding creepy or supplicating. They kind of think the entire business sounds like signing a contract that says that the undersigned, being of sound mind, consents to seven (7) kisses and gentle caresses around the area of the left buttock.

I used to think “you people are crazy, obviously verbal consent is the only non-awkward way to do things.” But now I think we’re both right.

I am used to using verbal affirmative consent. Other people are used to using nonverbal affirmative consent. Either way, our default actions, our instincts, our ability to read others, is based on a certain set of norms. Of course it’s awkward to try to use a different set of norms! We don’t know what we’re doing, what’s acceptable or unacceptable, or how to tell if the other person is into it. It’s just like switching any other set of norms. There’s nothing inherently awkward about driving on the right side of the street, but you’ll certainly feel awkward if you’re used to driving on the left.

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