#WeLoveConsent Toolbox: Hooking Up with Integrity
By: Fox Monstera, #WeLoveConsent Communications & Social Media Intern, DanceSafe & Sloane Ferenchak, #WeLoveConsent Coordinator, Editor
#WeLoveConsent seeks to help dismantle rape culture and build a consent culture within the electronic music and nightlife communities. #WeLoveConsent initiatives and services focus on building a consent culture and reducing the incidence of sexual violence in nightlife settings through consent education and bystander intervention. As part of these initiatives, we are publishing a #WeLoveConsent Toolbox Blog Series which focuses on providing the fundamental knowledge our community needs to practice affirmative consent and to help us build a consent culture.
We would like to credit the idea for this blog to Bay Area Services who created a Hooking Up with Integrity card that was adopted from a flyer in Portland whose creator remains unknown.
We’ve been exploring consent oriented intimacy and sexy time, which is a part of the idea of Hooking Up with Integrity. So, what does that mean? Hooking Up with Integrity is the process of integrating consent, respect, and intentional communication into your sexual experiences. We focus on 6 main aspects of intentional self-reflection and communication:
- Establishing Consent
- Respectfully Accepting a “No”
- Communicating Your Sexual History & Sexual Health & Prevention Measures
- Talking About Relationship Status
- Contemplating Intentions and Emotions
- Thinking About the Big Picture
Many of us have been in situations where we are attracted to someone and things get hot and heavy. It can be good to have this conversation with yourself and your partner(s) to decide what you do or do not want to do with when engaging in sexual activities.
As we discussed in greater detail in our first #WeLoveConsent Toolbox Series article (which you should read if you haven’t already!), consent is MANDATORY for getting sexy with some cuties. This involves making sure everyone involved is awake and in the mental state to understand the situation. If anyone has consumed substances, and there hasn’t been a sober conversation about sexy time while on substances, it’s best to wait until everyone is sober to have a conversation to establish consent before getting sexy. Consent is more than getting a “yes” to have sex; establish consent by having a conversation about the desires and boundaries of everyone, how all people want to give and receive consent, and how you want check-in during sexy time, as well as be intentional with your language to help make space for the co-creation of the experience.
Be respectful and see your partner(s) as more than just a sexual experience. Always ask first before touching or getting intimate with someone. These are important practices to have when establishing consent. That said, life is complicated and nuanced and there is more involved in establishing consent and hooking up with integrity than just communicating about boundaries and asking before touching. We explore other aspects of Hooking Up with Integrity below.
Respectfully Accepting a “No”
If you want to engage sexually with someone, you need to ask first. And if you’re wanting to hear a “yes,” you need to be willing to hear a “no.” Just because you want to get physically intimate with someone doesn’t mean they feel the same. It can be anxiety-inducing to ask someone you’re into if they want to get sexy with you, but asking is mandatory! You need to be willing to respect and accept someone’s decision not to get sexy with you. It’s not fair, and is emotionally manipulative, to get upset with someone for not sharing the same desire(s) as you. If someone came up to you and asked you if you’d like to get sexy with them, you’d want to be able to say “no” without fearing backlash, shame, or violence. Treat people with respect and give people the same room to say “no” that you’d want if the situation were reversed.
Communicating Your Sexual History, Sexual Health, & Prevention Measures
It is important to discuss sexual health and sexual history when deciding if you want to get sexy with someone, or deciding if you yourself are ready to get sexy with someone. It is important to be respectful and be honest when talking about this topic. What kind of things should you talk about when discussing sexual health and history?
Talking about your sexual health can involve multiple things: talking about your sexual practices, how you engage in sex with others, your safer-sex practices, your previous and current STI status, when you were last tested, and if you’ve had sex with others since being tested.
Whether you have one or a few consistent sexual partners or are frequently with new sexual partners, these situations put you, and therefore your partner(s), at different levels of risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Talk with your partner(s) about how you meet your sexual needs to determine if you’re comfortable with whatever level of risk is present. There will always be risk present and nobody should be shamed or stigmatized for their sexual practices. The important part is to determine your comfort level with the risks associated with the encounter and to then be able to make a decision accordingly.
How often do you use safer-sex supplies? How often does this partner use safer-sex supplies? Do you plan to use safer-sex supplies if you decide to have sex? Safer sex supplies like condoms/internal condoms, dental dams, and lube are effective ways to prevent the transmission of STIs. Do you know how to use safer sex supplies when being intimate with queer partners? There are other forms of safer sex practices like PrEP, which is a drug that when taken daily reduces the risk of contracting HIV by more than 90%. While anyone is susceptible to HIV, using and prescribing PrEP is a harm reduction technique being used in queer communities to reduce the risk of infection.
It is important to talk about your STI status with potential and current sexual partners. It’s good practice to get tested regularly. Many clinicians recommend getting tested every three months to keep track of sexual health and to keep yourself and your sexual partners safe. If you’ve tested positive for something, it is your responsibility to communicate that to your partner(s). While people knowingly take on the risk when having sex, if you withhold information from someone, it doesn’t allow them to make an informed decision and assess their risk with all the information they need to accurately understand their risks. Ask your partner(s) about their STI history, current status and if they’ve had sex with anyone since they were tested.
Another component of sexual history is understanding, or trying to understand, someone’s past experiences. Anyone is vulnerable to sexual assault, and as we discussed in our first article, certain groups are more likely to experience sexual assault. If your partner(s) open up about sexual trauma, it is important to listen and show compassion and respect for their honesty and trust in sharing difficult experiences with you. When someone opens up about their experiences, it is important to treat them the way you’d like to be treated after being vulnerable with someone.
Accidents happen, and sometimes people unexpectedly get pregnant. Taking this risk into account is an important step in deciding whether or not to have sex with someone. While off the bat, some people might think, “Oh this doesn’t affect me, I’m gay” or “I’m a lesbian,” and that this is only a worry for heterosexual people, that’s not necessarily true. Many trans men and non-binary people are able to become pregnant.
If you are having sex with someone who is able to become pregnant, thinking through the implications of that is important for your decision making. Are they taking birth control? Do you both/all plan to use safer sex supplies to minimize the potential for pregnancy? Have you thought about your own feelings about abortion/adoption/having a child if you or your partner got pregnant? Are you ready to be pregnant, have an abortion, or become a parent if you are against abortion or adoption and do not plan to use protection? These are significant questions to go through with yourself and your partner(s) to determine the best course of action.
Talking About RelationShip Status
Another component of hooking up with integrity and determining whether sexy time is a good idea is talking about relationship status. Are either of you seeing anyone at the moment? If so, have you discussed boundaries and agreements of this with your partner(s)? Going behind the back of your partner(s) is unfair and nonconsensual, both to your partner and to the person you’re looking to get sexy with in the moment. It is important to communicate the boundaries of your dynamic to your potential new partner(s) so that you can all have fun while respecting the established partner(s) you may already have in your life.
Some people engage in different types of intimate relationships than the social norm of monogamy. Consensual non-monogamy (CNM) is a type of intimate relationship dynamic where one or all of the partners seek additional sexual or romantic partners with the knowledge of their other partner(s). Some people seek out CNM dynamics because they seek diversity in their romantic or sexual experiences. Some people find this to be more emotionally/romantically/sexually fulfilling than being with one partner whereas others prefer and feel more secure and stable with a single partner. Check in with your partner(s) and people you’re interested in getting sexy with to see whether this is something that needs to be discussed. Wherever you fall is great as long as it works for both you and your partner(s).
Contemplating Intentions and Emotions
Thinking about relationships status and the questions that go along with it is a great segue into a discussion about intentions and hookups. What are your intentions and motives for this hookup/sexual experience? Are you recently single and rebounding and looking for some physical connection? Is it more about meeting sexual needs than sex with this particular person or connecting emotionally? If that is the case, is that something that this person is aware of and ok with? While it’s natural for people to have different forms of attractions and at different times, being aware of the emotions and motives of your sexual partner(s) can help you to decide if you want to move forward.
Furthermore, knowing how all people involved in this hookup feel about each other can aid in decision making. What are you looking for from each other? Are you looking to be friends with benefits? Are you looking for a romantic relationship? A one night stand? It’s never fun to be crushing hard on someone and want to pursue something deeper with them, and get intimate with them only to hear afterward that they just wanted a one night stand. When having these conversations to hash out the intentions, how everyone is feeling, the desires and expectations from the experience and from the other person/people, it’s important to be radically honest.
Sometimes this honesty means concluding that you’re on different pages of what you’re looking for out of the experience and it’s not really in everyone’s best interest to hook up. Other times it’ll help you all see that you’re desiring mutual things and that pursuing sexy time would be a great idea. Being able to have this conversation ahead of time allows you to decide whether or not getting sexy is something that would be enjoyable for all involved in the long run.
Thinking About the Big Picture
Finally, it’s important to step back and take a look at the entire picture this conversation paints. Is hooking up going to be worth it? On a personal level, if you’ve established consent, discussed sexual health and history, weighed the risks, and came to the realization that even though you agree on the risks and what you’d like to do, if someone is looking for some casual fun while someone else is looking for something serious – is hooking up going to be good for everyone in the long run? For example, is it worth it for all involved to have sex if it’s going to cause emotional complications for one of the people who’s more invested than the other(s)?
On a larger scale – would having sex with this person create negative ripples for yourself or affect others in your life? Is the person you want to have sex with a roommate? Your roommate’s best friend? Your coworker? Will having sex cause more complications and stress than benefits and happiness? If you’re not sure if it’s going to be worth it or are pretty sure that hooking up would cause complications, maybe it’s best to just be friends and not to have sex. And that’s ok, sex is fun and great, but maintaining friendships is really important and also feels great! It can feel sticky and sad to miss out on an opportunity to connect with someone you’re attracted to but minimizing emotional stress for yourself and people around you also is a worthwhile experience.
Overall, Hooking Up with Integrity involves understanding not only consent, respect, and risks, but also doing what’s best in the long run for yourself and everyone involved. It is important to be honest and truthful with yourself and to respect yourself enough to know when a good time might cause more stress or problems than it’s worth. It’s also about respecting your potential partner(s)’ and to do your best to not cause additional stress or emotional turmoil to others through your decisions and actions. Show respect to the mind and body of the people you want intimacy with and ensure that you are advocating for your own mental, emotional and sexual health.