Pre-Consent in Relationships

One of the most delicious phrases to hear in a sexual encounter is, “You can do whatever you want with me.” Mmmm!

That’s a form of pre-consent. In that case it’s perhaps overly broad, and there may be some hidden boundaries to discover along the way, but it really opens the door to less constrained exploration together.

Even when pre-consent is more limited, it can speed a connection along towards the more fun and interesting parts.

When you’re beginning to explore a new connection with someone, I encourage you to invite a conversation about what falls within the realm of pre-consent and what doesn’t.

Many people perceive the main risk of a new relationship to be moving too quickly and accidentally doing something the other person doesn’t like. That’s a valid concern. But another major issue is that you might move too slowly and miss out on good opportunities. What if the other person was willing to go further, and you held back? What if you go so slowly that the connection fizzles?

I’ve missed some good opportunities for connection when I held back by assuming boundaries that the other person didn’t actually have, which I later learned during a follow-up conversation.

One way to avoid missing out here is to talk openly about areas of pre-consent for anything that you’re curious or uncertain about. I’ve been surprised multiple times by how much someone is willing to explore early in a connection. I tend to underestimate people by assuming that they have constraints that aren’t there. A short pre-consent conversation can reveal the actual truth.

Not everyone feels comfortable having these kinds of conversations, but for those who do, it’s so refreshing. I definitely appreciate such conversations since it gives me clarity about where the person’s current comfort zone is. It gives me more confidence that I won’t accidentally cross a line – and also that I won’t overlook a really nice opportunity to connect, play, or have more fun together.

It’s really nice to get more clarity about which doors are really closed and which doors are actually open. It’s been my experience that the truth doesn’t always align with my expectations. However, after practicing this more, I found that my expectations improved to move further into alignment with truth. Experience helped to upgrade my intuition. So you may find such conversations more valuable when you have less experience; you may not need them as much as you gain relationship experience.

A pre-consent conversation can even be done via texting or email. And it can happen in any stage of a relationship – from before you meet to many years into a long-term relationship or marriage.

The point is simply to discover what the other person is okay experiencing with you without your having to ask each time. What can you just do without hitting resistance?

Here are some questions you can answer:

  • Can I hold your hand when we walk together?
  • Can I hug you? How often?
  • Can I kiss you? How often? Do you like French kissing?
  • Can I ask you deep personal questions?
  • How physical can I be with you?
  • Would you enjoy cuddling while we watch a movie? Cuddle sleeping together?
  • How far are you willing to go on our first / next date (even before it happens)?
  • Can I talk openly about what I’d like to do sexually with you? Or would that make you uncomfortable?
  • Can I tease you sexually? What kinds of teasing do you like?
  • Can I touch your breasts? As much as I want?
  • Can I give you oral sex? Will you give me oral sex?
  • Do you like D/s play? If so, what are you open to exploring?
  • Are you open to threesomes?

I wouldn’t ask all of these questions up front interview style, although I suppose you could. I think it’s better to do this in stages. Start with some of the easier ones. If you meet resistance there, you may want to pause to see if any of those closed doors open up later.

You may be surprised by the actual boundaries some people have. There is no ladder of sexual and emotional openness where everyone has a convenient spot on some particular rung, just as there’s no ladder of consciousness. (Power vs Force has an interesting ladder to read about, but it’s also nonsense in terms of practical reality… and basically the same one used by Scientology.)

Any wild fantasy you have, including ones that initially seem nonconsensual, can be made consensual if you just ask. What if the other person would enjoy having that experience with you? You may never know if you don’t ask.

I wonder how many people secretly fantasize or turn to porn regarding certain experiences they don’t have an outlet for in real life… that they actually could have if they just opened up and asked around to see who’s interested. It’s way more delicious to explore various desires for real. You just need consent. How do you get consent? Ask enough people.

A common issue here is being afraid of the no. But hearing a no early and up front is better than dodging the truth like Trump at a news conference. Avoiding a potential no will only build more fear and hesitation. The more truth you invite early, the easier it is to make aligned decisions and to find aligned partners.

If a no is temporary, it’s good to get it out early, so you know where you are. And if the no is permanent, then it’s an invitation to decide whether to explore with that person while honoring their boundaries or if you’d prefer to connect with someone more compatible. Don’t perceive it as a failure if you find that someone’s boundaries don’t match your own and that a connection isn’t going to work as you’d hoped. Instead, honor the other person as a unique individual, and then honor your own desires by seeking a good match.

This also depends on where your boundaries are and how comfortable you feel moving faster. In some areas I’m slower and more cautious, like in wanting to connect with people who have aligned ethical values. In other areas I like to move faster than most, like when it comes to physical touch and affection because I enjoy that so much.

A pre-consent conversation could reveal a yes that unlocks a lot of yumminess – emotional intimacy, affection, sexual pleasure, playfulness, laughter, fun, and more. I’m enjoying a 10+ year relationship that began with a playful pre-consensual conversation, and it’s exceedingly delightful. I appreciate it each day.

One thing I really like about this relationship is that we started out fast. I think that was important because we lived in different countries. If we had moved too slowly in the beginning during the limited number of days we had together in person, we might not have gone through enough open doors to bond as quickly and deeply as we did. We might have robbed ourselves of some really beautiful experiences and some fabulous early memories that set the tone for the future years of our relationship.

Don’t overlook the risk of moving too slowly. Holding back could lead to some of your biggest lifetime regrets. Fortunately you don’t have to violate someone’s boundaries to move faster.

Receive Steve's new articles by email.

Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

You may also like...