Mindful Sex: Embodied Consent

by Jessica Graham

There’s no mindful sex, no good sex, no sex at all as far as I’m concerned, without consent. Consent comes first in my safe sex regimen. But the kind of consent that I’m talking about isn’t the antiquated “No Means No” model. I’m talking a clear-of-mind, sober, full body, “Hell Yes!” kind of consent. Radical and embodied consent is the only way to go.

Let me be very clear right at the start: someone who practices radical and embodied consent with themselves and everyone else could still be harassed or assaulted. I’m not saying that being mindful will save you from sexual assault. Or that it’s somehow your fault if you were assaulted. Or that it should be your responsibility to not get assaulted. It’s other’s responsibility not to assault. Tragic and traumatizing things happen all the time and meditating doesn’t magically put a force-field of protection around you. However, meditating will help you handle all the tragedy and trauma that happen, and do so with more self-love and spaciousness. It will also help you to practice consent in all other areas of life, too.

I’ve often said that I was my worst sexual abuser. Of course I was groomed to treat myself that way, to think of myself as unworthy and unimportant. But eventually, through a dedicated spiritual practice, I stopped making myself “follow through” when I really wanted to stop fucking the person I was fucking. I stopped doing sexual acts that I didn’t truly enjoy. At some point I stopped wanting to give head to guys who were mean, just because they were hot, had a big cock, and drove a cool car. And finally—not all that long ago—I stopped sexually engaging with people, however alluring and fun they might be, who weren’t interested in being 100 percent present and connected during sex. Oh, what a long and winding road, and if I could look ahead, my guess is that it keeps twisting and turning until death do us part.

The raw, bright light of awakening keeps shining on new dark corners as we traverse the spiritual path. If we allow it, this light envelopes our sexuality too. That’s been true for me, which is why I’m so passionate about the merging of sexuality and spirituality. There is so much suffering and unconscious belief and behavior around sex, including in the spiritual community. We already have a puritanical culture, but then add on top of it the sense of separation that is created around sexual pleasure and activity in many spiritual circles. This is a recipe for some extra-strength shadow stew if you ask me. It is in this shadow stew, spiritually flavored or not, that we may find the roots of true consent. Consent with ourselves.

Speaking From the Gut

For some folks this roots of consent was covered over by the dirt of early sexual abuse, emotional incest, and the other horrors of childhood for far too many. Your brain and body get wired to accept (and in some cases dish out) sex without true consent. When your sexuality has been taken from you in this way, finding your way back to consent with yourself can be hard. But it is possible, take it from me. Meditation, therapy, and trauma recovery have been healing my wounds since 2008. I’ve become a different kind of person with a different kind of brain, body, and sexuality.  

When you come to the place on your path that leads to mindful sex, consent with yourself becomes required. It’s incredibly hard—damn well impossible for me—to mindfully have sex when you don’t want to. There’s always the trick of spiritually bypassing your thoughts and emotions, transcending/dissociating, and letting your body go through the motions like a sex doll. But I really don’t suggest that.

Aside from that, once you’ve experienced a certain amount of awakening, and abide in some level of mindfulness, you just aren’t aren’t going to be able to force yourself to fuck. Unless, you are 100 percent not allowing your spiritual practice to touch your sex life. This would take a lot of dedication and resolve, and you should probably get a Gold Star for that level of compartmentalization. I’m sure there some “spiritual” folks out there who are racking up some of these shiny, gold stickers right now. Okay, so aside from that, consent with yourself becomes a hell of a lot easier once you wake up a bit.

Communicating your wants and do-not-wants to partners is a requirement for any sexual activity, in my opinion. If you can’t talk about safe-sex, including consent, then stop having sex, now. There’s nothing wrong with you, there’s just some work to do. For the rest of you, safe sex and consent don’t need to be a separate—and often awkward—thing from sex. Those conversations—and I say conversations because safe-sex needs may change, and consent is without a doubt fluid—can be sexy!

Try staying deep in your body the next time you have the safe sex talk with a new partner. People often energetically jump up to the throat and head when having this chat. No wonder it doesn’t feel sexy. It’s all mind and tight throat, instead of gut and genitals. Focus your attention on your pelvic area, butt, legs, and feet and speak from there. Tell that new lover that you have HSV-2 with your energy grounded in the lower body. Feel your feet as share your safe word with a play partner. Contact the heaviness in your thighs while you ask your partner if they want to have anal sex (and be sure to have the lube handy in the event they say yes!). This kind of embodied consent is what I wish for you and everyone, including myself.

The Full Body Yes

Being able to talk about sexual history, STIs, and sexual desires from a mindful and grounded place, allows you to have sex that’s on a whole new level. If you can stay in contact with your body and what it has to tell you, you’ll know what you want and don’t want. You’ll know if you want to stop or keep going. Plus you’ll have much better sex. Being in your body during sex feels good and is good for you. You’ll learn what your body loves and what turns you on. Because you are more in touch with yourself, you’ll also know what’s going on with your partner.

In addition to making you a better lover, this becomes very important in the subtleties of consent. If your partner is giving you non-verbal cues through body language and behaviors that they want to stop or slow down you should be able to pick up on that. If you are caught up in your mind and what you want, you may miss these cues. To be a good lover one must learn to understand to read and understand one’s partners in the most subtle of ways. This isn’t to say it not also the responsibility of your partners to speak up. No one should be expected to read minds, but then again you don’t need to be a mind-reader to pick up on discomfort in a person you are intimate with.

Intimacy and your ability to understand yourself and your partners will deepen as you learn to spend more time in your body during sex. In this process you’ll start to understand consent in a completely new way. What could once be ignored will be as obvious as a UTI No longer will you be able to “just go with it” when all you want to do is get in your car and drive away. You may find that this consent-based attitude will spill over into all areas of life and relationship. For example, you won’t be able to string someone along or get strung along anymore.

Radical Consent

Have you ever had one of those relationships that you know isn’t going to last, but is enjoyable for the time being? What about when your partner is giving you cues that they are falling fast and are daydreaming about trips to Europe and moving into a loft downtown? But you don’t break it off because you’ve told them you aren’t looking for anything serious? Well, embodied consent leads to radical consent and honesty and you won’t be able to play that game anymore. You will recognize your responsibility to avoid causing harm to your lover. You won’t be able to play dumb.

Nor will you if you are the unrequited half. To stay in a relationship that you know doesn’t meet your needs, is the opposite of consent and honesty. You don’t have to take any immediate action if you are on either side of an imbalanced relationship. Instead practice embodiment within the relationship. See what your animal self has to say about the situation. You can do this by simply resting attention on the body while you interact in the relationship.

Spend a few weeks focusing on the sensations in your chest and stomach in your formal meditation practice as well as in action throughout the day. Sharpen the tool of attention and mindfulness on these emotional centers of your body. Then bring this attention and mindfulness into interactions with your lover.

It will be amazingly obvious when you are being dishonest with yourself or causing harm. Your stomach will twist in knots, your chest will contract around your heart, it will not feel good. These sensations won’t be new, you’ll be be aware of them and unable to ignore their message. Of course you can see how this would begin to play out in all the other areas of your life.

The Consent-Based Life

Embodied consent with yourself will move you away from people, jobs, and belief systems that no longer work for you. Just like you can no longer force yourself to fuck, you won’t be able to force yourself to believe that you’ll never be happy or that you should work seventy hours a week at a job that doesn’t turn you on. This master level of consent acts like a sieve that will sift your life, catching everything that doesn’t have a place. What will be left behind is the beautiful, totally imperfect, tragic, and joyous activity of a life that will unfold breath by breath.

As the mind takes a back seat to the unfolding of your life, surrender and awakening will flow easily. Consent will no longer feel like a boundary. Instead you’ll recognize it as a natural part of the activity of you.

Consent is required in sex, but I’d say it’s something to work towards in every area of your life. A life built on consent and honesty is such a worthy endeavor. As you feel for and look for full body consent in yourself and others you’ll be modeling this behavior to the world. Don’t underestimate the ways in which you can be the change that world so deeply needs. We need you.

Order Jessica’s book, Good Sex: Getting Off without Checking Out

Read the Mindful Sex Series


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