Are you Taking, Giving, Allowing or Receiving?
The Wheel of Consent
Knowing what we want in terms of touch is a powerful tool for our pleasure. When we don’t know what we want, and things turn out well, we ascribe the success to the other person’s technique, says Betty Martin, creator of the Wheel of Consent. But, she continues, we are then handing over the responsibility and power of our arousal to someone else. After a while we are generally not really satisfied (and often, neither is our partner.) It is hardly surprising when we lose interest in sex and either blame ourselves, or the other person. But we expect that we are just supposed to get turned on based on what porn, movies, books or our past tells us works. We often try to mold ourselves to that script which is mostly uninspiring, and we often go along with it even if we don’t enjoy it. As a result, both partners are left similarly unsatisfied.
Two Important Questions
Martin proposes asking each other the following two questions in order to revolutionize the ways that we experience touch- sexually or otherwise:
· How do you want me to touch you for three minutes?
· How do you want to touch me for three minutes?
Set the timer and do this with a lover or platonic, curious co-explorer, no matter how many times you have touched each other before. Listen to yourself and see what arises for you. Then switch and let your partner do the asking.
Martin claims that this simple exercise is a radical (to the root of experience) inquiry into the nature of receiving and giving, of consent and of discerning what you want. Often, we don’t know the answer to one or both of those questions. If you don’t have the answer, then take the time to check in with yourself about what that might be. And when you ask yourself what you want, consider what you really want rather than what you think you “should” want, have done before, or what your partner wants. Considering what you want also extends to within your partner’s requests. Consent must always be present.
Martin has noticed that creativity, authenticity, clarity, sensuality, confidence and presence often arise out of this process of inquiry, touch and reflection. With an open mind and curiosity, you might notice big shifts in what you thought you wanted, knew or expected. People find new depths the more often that they ask themselves and a co-explorer those two questions.
It can be scary to ask for what we want because it is a vulnerable ask, given that our partner might not want to give it or might judge us for the request as not sexy enough or too sexy or somehow not what they were expecting. Being honest with yourself and your partner is key to going deeper into yourself and into the relationship. It is the emotional honesty and vulnerability behind touch that generates excitement or passion, not the touch itself.
You can see Martin’s elaboration on each of the four experiences linked to the two questions answered by both partners in the diagram above. It is helpful to notice what arises in you in each situation during the exercise and in life when you find yourself in each quadrant, whether it be a hug with a friend or relative or naked sex with a lover. Each depends on who is doing the touch and whom the touch is for, always within boundaries of consent for both partners.
Giving: In the top left quadrant, you touch in the way that your partner requests, for their benefit. This is when you serve them, selflessly doing what they want. In the absence of self-reflection on your boundaries and consent, you are the “do-gooder” or martyr, casting your needs aside and “giving” to others. Ideally you want to give genuinely within your own boundaries.
Allowing: Moving counterclockwise, in the bottom left quadrant, you allow your partner to touch you as they want. You give permission for them to take pleasure in your body, always checking in with your boundaries. When there is an absence of consent, it becomes tolerating or enduring, where you are passive and might feel like a victim.
Receiving: In the bottom right quadrant, you accept touch that you requested. You are receiving what your partner is doing for your pleasure. You know what you want, and you ask for it. The shadow side is ignoring your partner’s boundaries such that you feel entitled to the touch.
Taking: On the top right, you touch in ways that are pleasing to you. You touch another for your own pleasure, within their boundaries. Many people find this quadrant challenging, feeling “selfish”. It can bring up shame and self-doubt. Being selfish with integrity means owning what we like and confidently asking for permission to do so. The shadow side is when we don’t gain permission and we become the perpetrator or groper.
Spending time in each of these quadrants, for three minutes at a time, can help us better understand our challenges, fears, doubts and pleasures.
It Is Hard To Grow Up
When we were babies, Martin explains, we had to endure things like diaper changes that we didn’t want. Sometimes we endured other kinds of touch for which we did not feel we had a choice. As we get older we gain choices. We must learn how to make those choices, which might mean even starting to notice that we have them. And sometimes we think that the only way to get touch is to agree to or endure sex.
What If I Don’t Really Want To Hug Aunt Mabel/ Uncle Bob?
Anticipating that you will see your aunt or uncle over a family gathering, Martin recommends asking yourself if a hug with them is something that is for them or for you. If it is really for them, ask yourself if it something that you can give with your full heart. If not, discern how you can set a boundary clearly and kindly. The hug may be something you can’t do right now or maybe you can endure it for a few seconds because you want to give them that gift. The key according to Marin is that you are making a conscious choice rather than doing what you think you “should” do. It is hard to feel or know that we have choices when we didn’t know that it was an option before.
If you don’t want to give that gift this time, try to offer a handshake or another way to connect and feel confident in your choice, looking them in the eyes with a genuine smile if you can. Martin reminds us that your reason for not wanting to hug does not matter and that “No” is a complete sentence. It can be hard to make new choices, especially when that shifts the dynamic in a relationship or family. But we can all remember to ask before we hug another, no matter how many times we have done it before and how sure we are that the answer will be “yes”. We don’t want to find out later that the other person endured our touch. Besides, any kind of touch always feels better on both sides when your friend/ nephew/ niece/ uncle/ aunt/ co-worker/ lover is present to the experience, making a clear, unpressured, active and enthusiastic choice.
For more information on Betty Martin and the Wheel of Consent, visit www.bettymartin.org.
Carlyle Jansen is the founder of Good For Her, a sexuality shop and workshop centre in Toronto. If you have questions or comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go online to goodforher.com
(image of wheel is in Dec 2018 images)