Issues of Consent: Should I Do It Because My Partner Wants Me To?

I recently received a message from a client who came across some sex advice that didn’t sit well with her. She wanted my advice and I couldn’t resist the awesome topic. Here’s her letter:

“I just got insanely angry at [blog] (which I normally love) for posting an article entitled ‘Sex Tips FOR WOMEN’ which quoted a ‘sexual health expert’ who said, ‘Part of being in a relationship is sometimes doing something for your partner that you don’t necessarily enjoy.’ Some of my concerns include consent (!!!) and pleasure! What message is this sending to women?”

If you’re like me, you had an immediate gut reaction to this idea of doing something your partner wants you to try. Then maybe some deeper thoughts. This is a huge question with lots of nuance, so let’s delve in.

Should I “do it” just because my partner wants me to?

First things first: sex should always be consensual. There is never any excuse for someone else to pressure you into doing something you do not want to do. For more on this, check out our past post on saying no.

That being said, those in a relationship should be willing to explore and try new things together

Most likely, you and your partner(s) will have different desires for and levels of comfort with a variety of sex acts. You’ll likely have one of three responses to your partners’ desires “Heck yes!”, “Uh I’m not sure…”, and “Oh hell no!” Anything in that middle category is where things get tricky and good communication is key. You’ll need to discuss which parts of the sex act you’re ok with and which parts you don’t want to try.

Anal play is a great example of this. Say your partner really wants to give you a rim job. You aren’t totally opposed to the idea but it kind of grosses you out. So you tell your partner you’d like to start with a booty massage and just a little finger action to see how that feels. With proper communication and a plan in place to address any discomfort that comes up, trying something new…and slightly scary or uncomfortable…can help spice things up.

Here’s another scenario. Let’s say you don’t get anything out of giving oral sex but your partner loves it. Do you never go down on them or do you do it from time to time out of love and/or desire to give them pleasure? Again – there is no one answer to this because it is all about YOUR boundaries and where you are, and are not flexible. There’s a fine line between doing something only because someone wants you to and doing it because you desire to give them pleasure. The former is coercive, the latter is sexy.

In the end it comes down to whether a sex act is a hard or soft boundary and whether you feel 100% safe trying it with your partner.

Three final points on this.

  1. This rule applies to ALL partners regardless of gender. By calling out women, the original article contributes to a culture whereby women are expected to give in to the demands of their partners and just like it. In any relationship, both partners should be willing to go outside their comfort zones and try new things. This may, from time to time, mean doing something that doesn’t give you a ton of pleasure beyond how fun it is to watch your partner enraptured in orgasm.
  2. All partners need to know their hard and soft boundaries. Seriously – go make a list of what you are willing to do, might be willing to do, and never in a million years could do! I could rant about how we need to talk about sex more in order to prevent violence but I won’t get into that just here.
  3. The ‘us factor’ is important. Sometimes you’re boundaries will shift over time as you look for ways to surprise your partner and spice things up. The ‘us factor’ is so important in this debate because “doing it for them” may become about both of you.

Ultimately, the answer to this question, like most everything when it comes to sex, is many shades of grey.

There is no one size fits all answer. What exactly your answer looks like should be discussed and negotiated with your partner(s).

Not entirely sure what you want?

Check out So…You Think You’ve Tried It All? A desire inventory to explore your yeses, nos, and in-betweens.

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