The Differences Between Enthusiastic Consent and Opt-Out Consent—and the Issues With Both
Enthusiastic consent may now be the gold standard, but other forms of consent exist.
Last week’s BOYSLUT about turning into a Cock Demon got me thinking about how consent norms differ between gay male and straight/mixed-gender sex spaces. I haven’t seen anyone write about this before, so I wanted to share my thoughts on the various forms of consent. Of course, there’s much more I could have written on the topic of consent, but didn’t want this to be a 4,000-word piece, so please excuse parts that are a little oversimplified. I know this isn’t the usual horny BOYSLUT content, but this is my zine, and it’s also a free article!
I was recently at a gay bar/sex club when a 60-something-year-old bear in assless chaps took to the stage. After thanking everyone for coming, he shared something I had never heard before in any sex-positive space.
“This is a place where you can touch first,” he said. “Out in the real world, you can’t go up to a stranger and slap his ass, but here, an ass slap or crotch grab is how we say ‘hello.’ It’s our version of shaking hands.” The crowd, myself included, roared with applause. I could not tell you how excited I was to get my ass slapped by a stranger and to turn around to see him hard in his jockstrap. Of course, I was also ready to slap some big ol’ booties.
Now, if the host of a mixed-gender sex party in Brooklyn gave this same shpiel, the attendees would be in shock. I’d suspect many would leave. That’s because most established sex parties in Brooklyn use “enthusiastic consent.” But enthusiastic consent is actually just one type of consent. There are others, too. In this piece, I’m going to break down the difference between enthusiastic consent and what I call “opt-out consent.”
Enthusiastic consent is essentially: “Yes means yes.” Before any form of touch, not just something sexual, you need to ask and get a verbal (and excited) yes. So before hugging someone, you ask if it’s okay to hug them. Before kissing someone, you ask to kiss, and so on. It’s essential that the verbal yes is enthusiastic and not given begrudgingly or in any way coerced. If you ask someone four times to kiss, and on the fourth time, they say yes so that you stop asking—that’s not enthusiastic consent. (That is sexual coercion, and you’re an asshole.) This is an abridged version of enthusiastic consent, and I’m leaving out certain nuances, but this definition suffices for my purposes.
There is no definition of opt-out consent online. (Screw it, I’m going to say I coined the term!) Simply put, it’s “No means no.” But it’s a little more complicated than that. It is assumed that you can engage in certain behaviors without asking, just like at that Key West sex club. Consent for certain elements of touch is given upon entry, so you can slap an ass or grab a peen without asking. This isn’t just tolerated but appreciated and enjoyed.
Now, if you’re not interested in someone, you can say, “No, please don’t do that.” Your no undoubtedly needs to be respected. But in opt-out consent spaces, people (theoretically) don’t have issues owning their no. Or even if they are not 100% comfortable owning their no, they know how to simply walk away after a man grabs their ass, and they’re not upset, triggered, or offended. They simply don’t care and move along with their night. (For what it’s worth, I’m describing myself right now!)
Pros of Enthusiastic Consent
There are clear pros of sex spaces that utilize enthusiastic consent:
1. It’s safer.
Assuming everyone is properly engaging in enthusiastic consent, you know you’re not going to be touched or have to do anything unless you really want to. This is great! No one should do anything sexually unless they want to. Unwanted advances are not just unwanted, they can be both triggering and dangerous.
2. It empowers individuals.
You feel a sense of autonomy and choice when you’re asked to do something (sexual). Whereas when someone touches you first, you often don’t feel the same sense of empowerment.
3. Unwanted touch, however innocuous it may seem, can be triggering.
Especially for survivors of sexual assault, something that seems harmless, like a hug, can be triggering. That said, if you are deeply triggered by someone putting their hand on the small of your back as they say, “Excuse me” to pass you—you shouldn’t be attending sex clubs. On that note, if you struggle to say “I’m not interested” in general, you shouldn’t attend sex clubs because you’re still going to have to say that—or some variation of that—when someone seeks enthusiastic consent. To be clear: I’m not talking about unsafe spaces, predators, or power imbalances where one doesn’t feel comfortable saying no because they fear repercussions; that’s obviously different. I’m talking about safe spaces where you know your no will most likely be respected.
4. It creates a better sexual dynamic.
This is huge. If you don’t feel safe or secure while hooking up, it’s not going to be a fun time. And personally, I know that I only want to kiss someone if they really want to be kissed. I don’t want to have misread nonverbal queues, kiss them, and have them kiss me back out of pity (or just because they're going along with the motions). Also, people tend to express what they like more with enthusiastic consent. “Yes, do this.” “No, I don’t like that.” So this leads to everyone having a good time.
Pros of Opt-Out Consent
1. There tends to be more sex.
In these spaces, everyone is typically down to get with everyone. So, typically, you’re more likely to get laid and to fuck a bunch of people. Hot.
2. The anonymity.
Anonymity turns many people on. Opt-out consent spaces really allow for anonymous hook-ups.
3. Not stopping a scene.
When a man is in a sling, blindfolded and taking loads, he does not want you to ask, “Can I fuck you?” Yes, he obviously does. He wants a dick inside of him. Any dick will do. He likes that there's a surprise cock, and he likes the fact that you’re a stranger who didn’t say a word.
4. Less of a “fear” of doing something wrong.
This is ironic because, in actuality, enthusiastic consent is safer since you’re getting verbal confirmation. However, I know many men (and to a lesser extent, women) who are so nervous in enthusiastic consent-forward spaces. They’re terrified of fucking up or accidentally hugging someone who doesn’t want to be hugged. You can always see how uncomfortable they are. Opt-out consent spaces help to put these men at ease. They’re less worried about making a mistake.
Cons of Enthusiastic Consent
There really aren’t any cons of enthusiastic consent, which is why it’s quickly becoming the gold standard of consent. It just might not be as “hot” for everyone, but if you want anonymous gay sex, go to a dark room where you can touch without asking. But that isn’t a con as much as it’s a preference.
And like, if someone asks, “Can I fuck you?” while you’re taking loads and you get COMPLETELY taken out of the mood, check yourself, dude.
While you might get rejected because some folks find it “weird” or not masculine if you ask before touching—they want you to “have balls” and “just kiss them”—fuck those people. I’ve had women say they would have kissed me if I just went for it, but by asking, I ruined it. I said, “Okay,” before walking away. Like what do you want me to say? “I’m sorry it’s not considered masculine that I want you to have autonomy over your body and have a fun sexual experience?”
Cons of opt-in consent
It’s not as safe, but that’s its entire appeal. When things aren’t safe, our bodies become physiologically heightened, similar to when we’re aroused, and it can make sex so much hotter.
More legitimate mixed-gender sex clubs are using enthusiastic consent, which is a good thing. Given power differentials, societal expectations surrounding sex, and gender roles, I think an opt-out consent space would be triggering and/or dangerous for many women, nonbinary, and AFAB individuals. So the con is that opt-out consent isn’t feasible for more public mixed-gender or “straight” sex parties.
Neither form of consent is superior.
Enthusiastic consent is undeniably safer, but that doesn’t make it superior. However, the issue is that opt-out consent spaces don’t often make it clear what type of consent they’re using. We’re also beginning to see a generational clash. Younger queers are aware of enthusiastic consent and see it as the norm, whereas older gays (and swingers—I have a whole other piece dedicated to swinger culture coming out soon) have no idea what it is. So I’m hearing more stories of younger gay men who went into a sex space, weren’t aware that they would be touched first, and left feeling violated, for lack of a better word. That’s not good for anyone involved.
So we need more spaces like the Key West club that make it clear (ideally, before entering the space) what type of consent is being utilized and what you can expect from other attendees. That way, everyone feels empowered and has a fun, pleasurable, and cum-filled time.