I used to love, in my youth, what I would call 'the art of the pull' and what gay guys call 'the art of cruising.' I had a favourite bar that I frequented. I would go there around nine or ten pm, have a couple of drinks, dance to a few good tunes. I'd find someone I thought looked sexy (or interesting, or amusing, or intriguing) and do my best to convince them that they really, really, wanted to go home with me. Then I'd spend all night with them, drop them back at the bar in the small hours of the morning and get a good nights' sleep.
Being on the hunt was fun, whether it was for a man, or woman, or a couple (because that happened too.) Hell, we had a few group orgies that would even spill out of my car onto the pavement, or end up too big for my bed so that couples would be left to fend for themselves on the thick-pile rug or the couch. It was great training for a budding sex worker. I enjoyed working out who I was attracted to, and who was attracted to me. A lot of non-verbal communication was involved: eye contact, body language, and some sort of sixth sense that I'm convinced is the basis of my knack for getting along with guys. Once I had them home, and had them naked, the real test began - what did they like? What was going to make them feel amazing? I prided myself on finding the right things to do for them. It was a lot of hunches and guesswork, but often we managed to have incredible. It was hot - really hot. I'll never forget those nights.
Not everything went to plan, of course. There was the guy who was so nervous about the situation that he rushed out my front door in the middle of the night without even stopping to ask what suburb he was in. Also, the time I got carried away and I bit someone's nipple so hard that they ended up with a bruise (and weren't happy having to explain it to their mates in their swim class). Also, the time with the girl who was so gorgeous and sweet and said she wanted to come home with me, but who didn't want to be touched when she was naked and couldn't explain why...when we stopped playing I felt uncomfortable, but I didn't know how to talk to her about what she really wanted.
There is this idea in popular culture that good sex is supposed to be instinctive. A good lover (it is said) will just 'know' what to do to make you feel great - his or her touch, the activities you both engage in, should all happen naturally along with unstoppable sexual stamina, conventional good looks and a certain level of level of confidence. It's simply not done, when having 'normal' sex, to stop and admit you don't know what to do next. This would all be fine if everyone's bodies all worked the same way - we'd just need enough experience to know which buttons to push. But the truth is that there are as many different sexual preferences as there are people. Some guys like rough sex, some like to be gentle. Some are sensitive and some are ticklish. Some women need to be touched in very specific ways to get off; in fact I'd say all people are very individual in how they need to be touched to fully enjoy a sexual experience. Then we must consider that some don't want to be touched in certain places, or perform certain acts at all, and this is perfectly acceptable. (If your idea of amazing sex is two hours of sixty-nine-ing then who's to say you shouldn't just stick to what you enjoy?)
This is why, when things went wrong for me on my weekend adventures, they went very wrong. Because there was always the risk that someone might not have really wanted what I was offering, or who needed a very specific approach, or who badly wanted to ask for something but was afraid to tell me in case it made things 'weird.' If you don't communicate, you might never know, and people can be badly hurt both physically and mentally. I know I bruised some of my lovers both in the heart and on the body (particularly that nipple). Although I was aware of the need for consent and knew how to respect a 'no', I didn't know how to get the other information I needed. This is why radical consent is so important.
The idea of radical consent and communication in sex has been enjoying something of a renaissance of late, and it couldn't have come soon enough. Radical consent is the idea that everyone should have total control over their own bodies. It is the idea that consent is not something that is given once, but many times before and during any interaction. It also isn't just a matter of a simple 'yes' or 'no', but more about being open to someone's feedback around their experience: that means that if a person I'm playing with wants to be having sex with me but would like to do it in a different way, they can tell me. If they start out feeling good and then want to slow down, they are welcome to say that too. And further to that, if I'm a responsible human, I need to be communicating then adjusting my behaviour to ensure we're both getting what we want at any given time.
I find myself asking a lot more often now. Things like "does this feel good?" "Should I go faster/slower/harder/softer?" "Is that the right spot?" "Do you enjoy (insert sex act here)?". You might think that these interjections would spoil the mood - constantly having to stop what I'm doing to 'check in' with my partners. In fact, they hardly slow me down at all, and this continuous communication takes on the feel of sexy bedroom talk. I love looking into someone's eyes and asking "is this working for you?" because an affirmation is incredibly erotic. There's nothing sexier than someone in the heat of the moment telling me "Yes, this is great, I feel amazing."
Sometimes I use a 'traffic light' safe-word system: 'green' means that it's fun and we can keep going, 'orange' means 'I'm not enjoying that, try something else' and 'red' means that play needs to stop immediately. It takes a little practice but I guarantee that it works, and it's still sexy (perhaps more so if you have a little bit of a sense of humour). I was out seeing a first-time couple on the weekend and getting my first 'Green!' from them was very gratifying. There's nothing that turns me on more than knowing that what I'm doing to someone in the moment is exactly right for them!
Asking during sex takes a lot of responsibility for 'good sex' away from the giver and makes each person responsible for getting their own needs met. It means I'm not guessing any more because I'm getting the information I need - that bite, or position, or dirty talk, that I thought would be really hot might not feel good for the other person. It's not a matter of having to guess. It's a matter of being open to direction and encouraging the person I'm with to share their feelings. Whether the answer to any of my questions is in the negative or positive, the correct response is always 'Thank you. Thank you for telling me how great you're feeling...Thank you for helping me touch you in a way that's better for you....Thank you for telling me to stop or slow down, because that honesty makes me feel so much closer to you....And thanks for valuing yourself enough to make your needs and feelings known to me.'
Asking gives myself and my lovers the opportunity to be genuinely open to pleasure and connection. Those who seek pleasure for themselves and see themselves as worthy are so damn sexy! I'm 'green' on that.