When I was at Brigham Young University for law school, my friends and I saw a poster in the hallway for a seminar titled “Can I Kiss You?” put on by the university’s Title IX Office. We thought it was the most ridiculous thing we’d ever seen. We laughed at the idea of an uncomfortable ending to an awkward date with a dorky boy where he asked “Can I kiss you?” before we would have to reject him. We couldn’t imagine anything that would ruin the moment more than someone asking if they could kiss us.
Fast forward to a couple of months later. I’d been going out with a guy I really liked. He was attractive, charismatic, cool, and well, downright sexy (sorry, Mom). We’d gone on a few dates and I was enamored. We hadn’t kissed yet when one day we were watching Crazy Rich Asians in my little studio apartment. While we were cuddling on the couch he looked at me. I swam in his bright blue eyes. I thought I was going to die if he didn’t kiss me immediately. Then, just as the tension peaked, he asked, “Can I kiss you?”
I MELTED. It was the hottest thing ever. He, this boy I was dying to kiss, was asking me for a kiss! He totally gave me the power. He helped me feel in control and secure and when I answered, “absolutely, yes,” we shared one of the best first kisses I have ever had. It was sweet and simple, but so hot. There was something about knowing he respected me and cared about what I wanted that made me like him and want to kiss him that much more. It was the perfect moment and, unlike I assumed a few months before, not at all awkward.
Since then, I haven’t said yes to every guy who’s asked to kiss me. However, even telling a date no feels less awkward than when I’ve had to dodge a mouth hurtling toward my face. I leave the interactions where I have turned someone down with increased respect for my date and with a knowledge that they respected me. It makes me feel safe, and has made the ending to even terrible dates feel amicable.
Asking to kiss, hug, touch, etc. is all about consent. Consent is power, but the lack of consent is pain. I have been through a lot with men. I have been sexually assaulted and abused, and it sucked. I have never felt more pain than in those moments– like my desires and soul didn’t matter. It was awful, but consent flips that script. It removes all of the fear going into an intimate moment because someone who asks for my consent is someone who cares about me. Because they care, I’m more confident they’re going to listen to me whether I say yes or no. My body security is in my hands again, and I get to be in the moment rather than making an exit plan in case something goes wrong.
I’m not alone in loving consent. Every friend and family member I’ve talked to about consent has said how much they love feeling respected, secure, and in control of what happens to their body, regardless of their background with sexual trauma. Male or female, seeking for verbal consent makes people feel safe.
If so many people enjoy being asked for consent, why did it take so long for me to experience someone verbally asking for a kiss? Why is it that asking for consent used to be a foreign, awkward concept, but now the men I’m dating almost always ask? There are a couple of answers. First, our culture is becoming a lot more aware of consent and is better at showing consent in the media. In the past couple of years, there’s been a sharp spike in the number of couples on TV, whether reality or scripted, who ask for consent. Second, I tell men that’s what I like (feel free to initially cringe as long as you hear me out after). I don’t start first date trauma dumping and talking about how now I want my date to get consent for everything. Instead, I find a way to drop it in. Having the whole nonprofit makes it a little bit easier, but sometimes I talk about consent in a media source and make a point to say how I think it’s sweet. I talk about seeing consent in other contexts and discuss how I like consent. I talk about We Will’s children’s book and about these values, or I directly state consent before touch as a personal boundary.
I want to make it very clear that it is not your responsibility to make sure someone asks you for consent. You are never, ever responsible for someone asking, and even if they ask, they may not listen to you. This is not your fault. It is not your duty to control the actions of those around you; that would be impossible.
I share my experience only to say how I’ve helped others understand how I feel about consent. Those who respected me listened. When someone hasn’t respected me, it’s not my fault, and it wouldn’t be even if I said nothing. However, communicating my preferences has helped, so I encourage you to try talking about it with family or friends. Get yourself used to it, and if you feel comfortable talking about it on a date or with someone you like, do it. And, guess what? If someone finds that awkward, they may not be your person. Honestly, conversations like these are some of the easiest ways I’ve been able to tell whether I am compatible with someone and whether I feel they’ll respect me.
It may initially seem silly to hold “Can I Kiss You?” seminars, but as I go around to high school football teams, college student groups, church congregations, and everything in between, I see its importance. When I teach about the simple concept of consent, people have questions. They’ve never been taught about verbal consent and likely never considered it. People don’t know how to ask or how to read body language to know if someone is consenting. But, when they do, my 2018 study suggests they’re less likely to commit sexual assault. That's why we teach consent. It really is key.
Some say there is no magic way to know whether someone is consenting, but I think verbal consent is magical. It’s wonderful. It’s hot.
Ask for consent.