Negotiating sex – start with the wheel of consent

The wheel of consent is a revolutionary tool, and there is no way I could possibly explain it better than Betty Martin does here. Effectively the wheel of consent, as you see above, pulls apart any instance of touch into two axes. The first is about who is doing the touch, the second is about who the touch is for. This separation helps us to see touch as occurring in some really different dynamics so that we can work out what is happening in our sex lives, and what we want more and less of. I’m not going to go into any more detail about the wheel of consent, but you can find a print out of the resource Betty Martin made about it here, and video resources to give a longer explanation here. What I am going to do is make some suggestions about different ways to make use of it in sexual and kink negotiations.

Play the 3-minute game

The most obvious way to use the wheel of consent is to play the three-minute game. This involves asking and receiving two questions: ‘how would you like to be touched for three minutes’ and ‘how would you like to touch me for three minutes’. You can find videos that offer more instruction, information and insight into how this can help you to recognise different sexual situations here. You can also find a foldable handout here.

Think about your most comfortable dynamic

Most people have a ‘quadrant’ of the wheel of consent that feels most like home. Frequently, people also have a preference for one of the dynamics: either serve/accept or take/allow. Spend some time working out what your most comfortable quadrant and dynamic is, and explore erotic ideas in that area. You get to stay in your comfort zone, and also explore different kinds of things within that dynamic.

Find a pleasurable activity in your least comfortable dynamic

Most of us like more than one flavour of ice cream, but even if you’re like me and solidly into rum and raisin whenever it is available, it can be great to try something different every so often. Figuring out how to negotiate well enough to feel safe in an uncomfortable dynamic can be a challenge but one that is likely to create positive ripples across all sorts of parts of your life. So, pick the dynamic that feels least natural to you and work out what you would need to be able to communicate for it to feel good.

For me, the take/allow dynamic is much harder than the serve/accept one. To be comfortable in that dynamic with someone in a sexual context, I have to have built up a lot of trust in myself as well as in the other person. I need to trust that we both have the ability to say ‘stop’ if something doesn’t feel great in the ‘allow’ position. The ‘take’ position it is all about feeling like I understand the boundaries and limits so that I can honour them; it also requires a tonne of aftercare for me.

Creating space for the more challenging dynamics is a great way to learn how to negotiate less comfortable sexual situations. The starting point of knowing that it is the more difficult dynamic or aspect of a dynamic for you can make it easier to express fears and reservations. It can also help you to be kind to yourself when you are trying to talk it through.

The wheel of consent is such a flexible and useful tool that it can be applied to a lot of situations. Here I have focused on its use as a tool for working out sexual negotiation with another person, but it can also be used to practice self-consent, create interesting varied dynamics when writing erotic fiction and to analyse everyday interactions. If you have a favourite use feel free to comment about it below.

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