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Unfortunately, too many of us have been there: You’re naked in bed with someone, something feels off, and there are no words that seem exactly right. It’s not uncommon to feel voiceless when faced with any kind of uncomfortable sexual scenario—even one that might feel mostly good. But when it comes to consent, it’s either a fuck yes or it’s a fuck no. So how do you comfortably manage the less-than-fuck-yes moments?
Schekeva Hall, a staff psychologist and assistant director of outreach services at St. John’s University in New York, shared with Tonic a list of go-to lines for maintaining consent in every interaction. These can be adapted to your individual situation, and adjusted based on your own comfort level.
Note: Consent violations are never the fault of the victim, under any circumstances. This script is intended to serve as just one small piece of a much larger conversation.
If: You feel like there was a minor miscommunication that needs to be resolved. (For example, you asked for dirty talk, but it went in a direction that you didn’t enjoy.)
Try saying: “I’m glad that I felt connected to you and I enjoyed our time together, however there’s something that didn’t feel quite right,” or “there’s a couple things that got lost in communication and I want to talk with you about it. I wanted to give you the opportunity to learn more about how I’m feeling. I hope you can hear me out.”
Hall explains, “You’d be honest about it while affirming the fact that there were aspects that were in sync, and targeting the part that needs to be resolved by clarifying.”
If: You communicated about a crossed boundary the night before and you want to reinforce that idea now.
Try saying: “I want to check in with you about last night, I remember that we had a conversation about you being pushy, and I just wanted to remind you that I’m not interested in being persuaded or pressured to do anything.” Or, “I’m giving you this feedback so that you understand it’s not okay—you need to respect me. This is not how I need to be treated.”
Hall notes that bringing up this issue outside of the original context is a good way to begin rebuilding trust. "We’re always navigating and communicating with our partners what our boundaries are. We’re always wanting that to be acknowledged and respected. Communicating this information is a blessing: It gives the person hearing the feedback an opportunity to recalibrate and do better.”
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If: You don't remember what exactly happened and you want to know.
Try saying: “I want to check in with you—did we have sex last night? Because I don’t remember much.”
This can be a jumping off point for a more in-depth discussion about what qualifies as consent—for instance, consciousness being required. Of course, Hall concedes that this approach does place a good deal of faith in the other party. “There’s an emotional component to admitting you don’t remember what happened and relying on someone else to be forthright. Bringing it up puts vulnerability on you, but it’s an act of trusting that person. The hope is that they’ll be honest.”
If: You were aggressive last night and you want to apologize.
Try saying: “I realize I may have been really pushy when asking for sex and it made you uncomfortable. I’m sorry for my behavior, you deserve my best and that wasn’t it. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to talk with you about what happened and apologize.”
Asking for permission to apologize provides the affected party with the opportunity to exercise consent—it’s a small step, but an important one. It also shows that you’re willing to own your mistake and take responsibility. “It’s way better to have someone who recognizes that they’ve committed some sort of a breach rather than be in a space of denial,” Hall says.
She provided some tips for the process of apologizing. “Don’t allow yourself to get defensive. Another thing that sometimes comes up is guilt, which can propel you to explore, but often people stop with guilt. Look at yourself with accountability. Recognize that you made someone feel pressured, and take some time to reflect before responding. If you’re apologizing, you want to make sure you’re apologizing for the other person’s benefit and not to absolve yourself of guilt. And you want to consider the things you can learn from that experience.”
If: you need to stop what’s happening in the moment.
Try saying: “This isn’t working for me, we need to stop.”
And don’t feel like you have anything to be sorry about. “It’s about recognizing that you’re not doing anything wrong,” Hall says. “You have complete authority to change your mind. You don’t begin with an apology.”
Hall concludes by pointing out that the feeling of safety plays a major role in deciding whether something is a miscommunication that needs resolving, or if it’s a breaking point.
“A relationship that feels safe is one where you can express your needs and the other person is going to be in the space to hear that clearly. If you express you’re not interested in whatever, and that person is still pursuing [it], that’s one of those things that tells you they’re not really seeing you in the relationship. If they’re only seeing their own agenda you might have to reevaluate yourself in that relationship. Relationships are built on trust, and if you can’t trust that person to honor your emotions it could be a deal-breaker.”
If you need further support or resources for consent, boundary, or sexual violations, please visit assaultservicesknowledge.org. You deserve to be treated with respect, every time, and you deserve support.
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