Why intent should be part of consent.
As a community, we are becoming better at sexual health and consent negotiations. To my surprise, ‘intent’ is rarely part of the conversation. Perhaps it should be.
When talking to a new potential intimate partner, a script is starting to develop around how the conversations go ahead of an interaction.
The key is in the communication and the after-care.
The conversation usually includes consent (This is what I want/don’t want — what do you want/not want?) and boundaries (I will never… I might, under the right circumstances…) and preferences (I love it when… I like… I sometimes like…) Next is a conversation about sexual health, risks, and risk mitigation (number of current partners, last STI test and its results, use of barriers, etc). Between those conversations, you generally cover enjoyment and health, but there’s a big piece of the puzzle missing, in my mind: Intent.
People choose to share physical intimacy for all sorts of reasons — perhaps they enjoy the physical activity, maybe they want to feel intimacy, or it’s possible they want to chase orgasms together. No judgment — enjoy playing for whatever reasons you want. Where things get murkier, is if there’s a lack of clarity about what each partner wants.
Imagine, for example, that you have a long-standing friendship, and you are drawn to the other person sexually. You could have a consent conversation and a conversation about safer sex. To me, it seems obvious that talking about long-term intent is an integral part of informed consent — and that failing to do so can lead to serious misunderstandings — and make the friendship fail as a result.
It can be something as simple as “Hey, I want to explore a sexual connection with you, but I think for me, at this time, having sex once or twice is probably what I’m looking for. Would that work for you?”
At that point, your friend has the information they need to make a choice. If they, in their mind, see the sexual interaction as a relationship escalation, and they think that they may want to be ‘in a relationship’ with you, they are at choice. They can choose to have the interaction and know what the expectation is. They can state their own expectations if they differ. Or they can choose to say “You know… I am sexually attracted to you, but I don’t think a one- or two-time thing would work for me, so I’d rather we just stayed friends.”
The same goes for someone you meet at a dating app, of course: If one person is actively searching for someone to marry and have babies with, and the other person prefers casual hook-ups with no strings attached, chances are that someone is going to get hurt.
Be clear — and know that intentions may change.
Adding intent to the consent conversation isn’t that hard — you’ve already had some intimate conversations; what is another. It is the extension of the consent conversation. Sexual consent for a particular activity can be withdrawn if the context changes, that much is a given — and even if everything else aligns, having an intent mismatch is a perfectly fine reason to choose not to engage sexually with someone.
It is worth highlighting, too, of course, that additional information may change your opinion. It’s possible that the sexual chemistry is great, and that what you intended as a one-night-stand blooms into something else. The opposite is also true; perhaps two friends are curious about what ‘more’ might look like, but that after engaging in play, discover that there’s not as good of a match as they hope. That’s fine too — the key is in the communication and the after-care.
Sex is a loving act, and we owe it to each other to actually talk about what we want out of such interactions ahead of time.