HIM: It seems you can’t turn around lately without hearing about the issue of consent. The Stanford Rape Case, in which an elite varsity athlete was discovered attempting to have sex with an unconscious woman behind a frat house, is only the most recent high-profile example.
Stories like this are shocking to read about, but daily life abounds with many less extreme examples. Although the Lifestyle is generally populated by people with progressive, sex-positive attitudes, it is not a paradise of enlightenment. The problem for swingers is that, because you’re up for more than the average person, some people seem to think that means you’re up for anything, any time.
HER: The issue really hit home for us one night at a sex club about a month ago. People who have not frequented clubs might imagine that unsolicited touching happens all the time in a place like that. After all, if you’re naked in a crowded room full of people having sex, you’re just asking for it, aren’t you? Thankfully, that has not been our experience. People are usually very good about following club (and social) rules of etiquette, so this night was an anomaly for us.
After dancing for awhile, we made our way to the back where we took off our clothes and settled into the last open space between two couples on ‘the big bed’. It’s made up of four king-size mattresses bound together into 169 square feet of adult playspace (it’s actually closer to 170 square feet, but one of the rules of the lifestyle is that you must use the number ’69’ in every possible situation). Generally there are 8-10 couples on it at any one time, and the idea is clearly to encourage some interaction between them. So while you were getting things started by going down on me, I asked the woman to my left, who was getting plowed by her muscle-bound man, if I could touch her. Those were the exact words I used: “Can I touch you?” She said yes, so I ran my hands gently over her arms and breasts while you were giving me oral. You then changed positions to fuck me, so I left that couple alone to focus on you.
A few minutes later the man on top of his partner to our right asked you if he could touch my tits. You looked down at me and I nodded, so you said yes. So far, so good. Everyone was doing what they were supposed to do. However, this guy grabbed a handful of breast and squeezed. I know some girls like to be manhandled like that, but I’m not one of them. My titties are sensitive. I grimaced, and you said, very nicely, “gentle.” That should have been enough, but he carried on with an even harder grab, not to mention a twisty move that I felt might rip out my implant. You turned to him and, less nicely, told him, “I said gentle! Don’t you know what gentle means?” Then you grabbed his wrist and moved his hand away to make your message clear.
HIM: I was really angry. Thinking about it later, there might have been a language issue. But I don’t know how he could have missed my tone of voice.
HER: I know. I was surprised that you wanted to keep going. I’ve seen you put off by lesser distractions. So you lay down beside me to act as a barrier between me and the tit grabber and asked if I wanted to move. I said no. The back of the club was pretty full and I didn’t want to give up our valuable real estate. In our little bubble of calm, I stroked you back to hardness. Then, just as we were getting back into the groove, the muscle-bound dude to our left, the man whose woman I had been stroking earlier, slipped more than one finger inside me. It didn’t hurt– I was lubed up and ready to go — but it was surprising and unwelcome. I told you what was happening, and you bolted up. “Did you ask her if you could do that?” you demanded, more angry than I’ve ever seen you. I was a little worried that you’d start a fight, and I wasn’t sure you’d win. That guy was huge!
HIM: If he had done that on the subway, he would have been charged with assault. The fact that we were naked at a sex club makes no difference whatsoever. God, I’m getting angry all over again.
HER: These were both situations that started out perfectly. Although we weren’t interested in fucking either of these couples, a little touching would have added something very welcome to our fun. Yet they both went wrong because of two men who didn’t understand consent at a basic level.
The tit grabber had permission, but he clearly didn’t understand escalation. Whether someone has said ok to touching, or all-out fucking, the approach has to be the same: you always start gentle. Any woman who wants things rougher or harder or faster will let you know in words or through body language. And just to make it a little more complicated, you can’t assume a woman who likes one thing rough will like all things rough. With each new activity you have to start all over again on the gentle cycle. For example, I like my clit spanked surprisingly hard, yet I can only handle the lightest of caresses on my nipples. I can’t explain it; it’s just the way I’m wired.
As for the muscle-bound dude, he made a different kind of faulty inference. Sure, I had touched his wife’s breast and arm (with permission), but even if I had crawled right inside her vagina, it wouldn’t have given him any rights with me at all. If he wanted to touch me, he had to extend the same courtesy I had to his wife: ask first. My deal with his wife was non-transferrable. It was not a ‘friends and family’ arrangement.
HIM: In every case, I think it’s a failure of empathy. As angry as they made me, I don’t think either of those guys were trying to be mean. Both of them were probably touching you in exactly the ways their wives like it. They were looking forward to seeing you squirm in delight as they worked their special brand of magic. It’s also hard not to see the influnce of a certain kind of porn at work. You watch enough pizza delivery men drilling bored housewives and you can lose perspective on the subject of real female sexual desire.
HER: This idea of asking first and starting gentle seems like common sense, but I guess it’s not easy or natural for everyone. And it’s certainly not simply an ‘insensitive male’ issue. One of our closest female friends and play partners was talking to me about this at our sexy pool party. She had watched me going from couple to couple, asking for permission each time, and said that she finds it awkward to ask. We know her to be pretty gregarious, but her style can come across as just plain aggressive to the uninitiated. I had actually seen one couple, who were a little shy, pulling away from her enthusiastic grabbing. So I told her to follow me as I approached the last couple in the pool.
They were holding each other as I moved toward them. I smiled, said hi, and they returned my smile and opened up their little circle. This is an important first step: read the body language. If they had stayed huddled together and not turned toward me, I would have kept moving. Then I touched them both on the upper arms. I think this is a great way to start for those who feel awkward putting their interest into words. And since I touched them both, I was not threatening. We talked for a bit, then I asked the woman, ‘Can I kiss you?’ she smiled and said yes. But that wasn’t enough. I looked at her husband, and he gave me the nod too.
I think this is a step many people forget. In a swinging situation, you are dealing with not just the person you are making contact with, but their partner as well. They both need to be okay with whatever you’re doing.
This is the sore spot we’ve touched on a few times ourselves. I’ve felt hurt when you have done something that I wasn’t around to consent to. I’m sure you and the woman were both fully on board, but if I don’t find out until later, I feel like my voice was silenced. And I know you’ve felt hurt in the past when I’ve raced ahead with someone with whom I feel a connection while you look on helplessly with their uninterested (or just plain unattractive) partner.
HIM: I guess what our friend was worried about was that asking might interrupt the flow or make things less sexy. And I know what she means. Sometimes an unasked for touch can be exciting, a forbidden gesture that works out well for everyone. But that possibility is not worth the potentially greater possibility that someone will feel hurt or even violated. That doesn’t have to mean all the fun or spontaneity is off limits. You have cultivated a special gift for making consent seem incredibly hot. It enhances the turn-on rather than detracting from it.
HER: I guess it’s all in how you ask. I never want to ‘presume the sale,’ so you have to ask with a little flirty humility, if that makes sense. Like when, after I kissed the woman in the pool, I noticed her husband was getting turned on. I said, ‘You’ve got a great cock. Can I touch it?’ It’s flirty and complimentary, and most men wouldn’t say no, but I was watching for his wife’s reaction.
I don’t always get it right, though. The other night, for example, we had dinner with a couple we had been corresponding with for weeks. Dinner went really well, so I said I’d like to go to a bar and keep the night going. That was my first mistake. I should have asked how they were feeling and if they thought hitting a bar was a good idea. It turns out the woman was tired after an early morning and might have preferred to go home, but it was hard for her to say that after I blurted out what I wanted to do.
At the bar, we paired off with each other’s partners: me with him and you with her. The guy and I were drinking faster and getting more touchy with each other than you two. I could hear you two talking enthusiastically, but my back was turned and I couldn’t gauge the sexual temperature. At one point he put his hand on my knee and I said ‘it gets better the higher you go’. Within a moment he was touching my pussy under my dress. I asked him if his wife would be okay with that, but I didn’t ask her. At the end of the night, I kissed him goodbye with enthusiasm, but you guys only shared a polite kiss on the cheek. These were not major indiscretions, but the imbalance was enough to make her feel uncomfortable. As we drove away, we saw them walking down the street. She was gesturing angrily at him, and I felt instant regret that I hadn’t done a better job of ensuring everyone was on board.
HIM: Well, I’m all for people taking responsibility, but I don’t think it was entirely your job to ensure that his wife was on board. As we found out later, she had told him two days earlier that she would not be engaging in any kind of sexual contact on our date. If we had known, we would have had no problem with her decision since they were both really nice, smart, attractive people, and as it turned out we had a fantastic time socially. Still, he made a miscalculation. While he had consent from you to engage sexually, he knew for certain that there was no way his wife would be granting the same consent to me. What he decided in the moment was that he was going to enjoy a benefit with my wife that I would absolutely not be enjoying with his. Your permission for some pretty intimate touching was given without all the availabale information. Imagine if he had said up front ‘my wife has no intention of having any sexual contact with your husband – now, do you mind if I touch your pussy?’ I highly doubt your response would have been ‘knock yourself out’!
HER: You’re right, but that makes him sound conniving, which I don’t think he was at all.
HIM: He absolutely wasn’t. In fact, he was a great guy, but the issues around consent can be tricky when you’re dealing with four separate individuals. It’s not only about permission, but also about making sure everyone has the same information before permission is given. The risk is that you take a positive situation and end it on a negative.
HER: I agree. Hurt feelings aren’t sexy. Arguments aren’t sexy. Consent, however, when you get it right, is very sexy.
Liam & Kate are a married couple, very much in love, writing honestly and insightfully about their adventures in the world of non-monogamy.