By Alexis Hillyard
When I first heard about the concept of ‘consent’ I only really ever pictured it in the context of a casual hook-up, a one night stand, a very new couple, or in a polyamorous relationship. Little did I know that consent would start to have a huge impact on how I live my life day to day.
Canada has better-than-average consent standards that go beyond just ‘no-means-no.’ Consent in Canada is defined as voluntary and enthusiastic, as in “yes-I-really-want-to-and-thank-you- for-asking” type of consent communicated on your own terms. It is not a consent that’s implied on the basis of silence, previous sexual history, or what the person is wearing (taken from ConsentEd.ca). Let me tell you, incorporating the ‘yes means yes’ style of consent into my daily life was incredibly empowering. Many folks in my friend group now practice asking for consent before hugging each other. We ask if we can touch each other in other ways too, like playing with hair or consoling each other. It’s offered me new and powerful ways to engage with the world and my body. In the bedroom, however, consent was a little more tricky to integrate as a daily ‘between the sheets’ practice.
About 3 years ago I left a long term relationship – we had been together for almost 12 years – and one of our struggles centered around physical intimacy. We didn’t have strong enough communication around our needs, desires, and past experiences, and because of this our sexual intimacy suffered. Feelings of rejection, confusion, and hurt circled around us often. When we were able to be intimate and have sex, I sometimes felt I needed to pounce on the opportunity (even if I wasn’t in the mood) because the opportunities were very few and far between. After giving it our best, our relationship ended for a number of reasons, intimacy being one of them.
It’s 3 years later and I am with a new partner, and our sex life is smoking hot. I feel like my partner has awakened things inside me that I never knew were there! Both my partner and I identify as highly sexual beings and have fairly high sex-drives. You’d think, wow, they must have sex all the time! Well, we definitely have a lot of sex BUT our sex life is unique and complicated in different ways. Even though we both wanted to have sex and be intimate often, I still felt like I had to always reciprocate and engage in intimacy if my partner was the initiator. The feelings of “oh-no-I-better-sleep-with-her-now-because-I- don’t-know-when- she’ll-want-to-again!” were alive and well within me. I didn’t even really notice I had carried these old feelings into my new relationship until about a year after we started dating.
One night my partner and I were up quite late, and we were starting to have sex. We were probably on night 4 of a stretch of staying up late to get it on. As we were kissing, we each slowly realized how tired the other one was. In fact, she could barely keep her eyes open! Immediately we noticed this and started talking right away. We talked about how we want to have sex when we are awake enough to be present with each other and really enjoy it. We talked about how funny it was that we got into this routine of staying up late all these nights in a row, and didn’t really consider if that was a good choice for our work schedules. We even talked about the notion of consent, and really FULLY choosing to have sex with each other – not because we think it’s expected or because it’s a sexy routine for two women with high sex drives. NO! Our sex can look and feel and be however we want it to be, and we get to invent and re-invent it all the time! We talked about the fact that just because we both have high sex drives doesn’t mean we are always going to feel like sex at the same time or in the same way. We talked about how sometimes we might now actually feel like sex when the other person does – and that that’s ok!
We practiced saying no to each other. We gave each other permission and support to say ‘no thanks honey” whenever we need to. AND we talked about how we still find each other desirable even when we don’t want to have sex – what a concept! Seriously, this was mind blowing for me. And it gave me so much more permission and safety to just be me in the bedroom. It took us months to really fully get used to the motion and give ourselves permission to fully enact it, but we are almost fully there now! Yes, practicing consent takes a lot of vulnerability… but it opens up amazing new worlds when you know that you and your partner are FULLY present during full ‘yes means yes’ consent sex. Also, through that late night talk we discovered that day sex is our new favourite kind of sex. Yes means yes!
About Alexis Hillyard
By day Alexis works at the Edmonton Public Library and by night she is the creator of the YouTube series ‘Stump Kitchen,’ dedicated to celebrating body diversity (Alexis was born without her left hand) and gluten free vegan cooking! Alexis has worked in the past for Camp fYrefly, Canada’s national leadership retreat for LGBTQ+ youth. She loves the ukulele and is a self-proclaimed choir nerd!