Consent and coming out

Knowing your preferences and your limits is an important part of having a satisfying sex life. For most of my life as a sexually active person, I could have talked about these ideas, but it wasn’t until more recently that I was finally able to practice what I often preached.

This is tied to the fact that I came out (selectively) as queer in 2009.

Coming out was not easy for me. I starting coming out to myself late in my first year at college, but I distinctly remember looking myself in the mirror and seeing “QUEER” stamped across my forehead. For a while, thinking of myself in that way was so difficult that I shoved myself back in the closet, determining that what had just happened must have been a weird symptom of stress or something. In the meantime, I was in a long distance relationship with a boyfriend I’d been with since high school. We’d see each other about once a month and we almost always had sex when we were together.

Fast forward one school year and I had come around to certain things about myself.

I was definitely queer. I came out to my boyfriend right away as bisexual (which is no longer a label I use). He was supportive and we stayed together because this did not appear to change our relationship. There was a problem, however. I still was not terribly interested in sex with my boyfriend.

This was something I didn’t realize fully until I had a new partner, but I had never been very interested in the sex I had had with men in the past. My boyfriend and I did have sex, and it was something I had convinced myself (dishonestly) that I wanted. I had bought into the idea that I was supposed to want to have sex with my boyfriend, even when I could tell that I was not truly interested. The sex was not terrible or selfish on his part, but my interest only seemed to hold for a very brief time. This created a situation in which I rarely initiated sex. It also meant that enthusiastic consent was not something that was practiced in our relationship.

I knew my boyfriend wanted sex because he almost always made the first move. While he did not often check in with me during sex, something that may have given some indication of my lack of interest, he was good at asking me if I wanted sex before we did anything. I always said I did, whether or not it was really true, but I was aware that this wasn’t the kind of consent that should take place in these situations. I knew about enthusiastic consent and I often spoke to people about the idea. I just couldn’t bring myself to amend the situation with my boyfriend. It would be messy to explain that what had become a common practice did not actually fit with my personal definition of consent.

Our relationship ended a few months later for reasons unrelated to sex. I don’t want it to sound like my ex was a bad guy. He did practice affirmative consent (having sex when I said, yes, I wanted to), but it didn’t change the fact that I just wasn’t into having sex with him and he didn’t seem to notice.

Once that relationship was over, I had the time to come to terms with my queerness. I quickly realized that while I had thought that I had enjoyed sex with men before, I had not been completely honest with myself. It was a bit shocking to realize that the sex I had had in the past didn’t fit my personal ideas about proper consent, but in a way it makes sense. If you can’t be honest with yourself about your desires, then it’s hard to be honest about what you want sexually, and not being honest about what you want makes consent very tricky. Once I was able to be true to my desires, I found myself wanting sex more often and being able to enjoy it on new levels. This gave me the freedom to navigate new rules of consent.

I’ve been with my current partner for almost a year now and something that I am incredibly pleased with is how effortlessly we’ve been able to have awesome, feminism-informed sex, and how easy it was to communicate my ideas about consent. We practice enthusiastic, affirmative consent with ease and for the first time in my life I can consider myself truly satisfied.


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10 Responses to Consent and coming out

  1. MeiYouMayo says:

    This really struck a chord with me, because right now I’m going through basically the same exact thing you went through; it’s very reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who’s dealing or has dealt with this sort of thing.

  2. Bushfire says:

    This sounds exactly like me in my first year of college. It’s amazing how your first experience with a woman can change your whole world.

  3. PrettyAmiable says:

    Sometimes I wonder if we only recognize enthusiastic consent once we’ve experienced it with another person, such that we don’t notice when it’s simply affirmative consent prior to that experience. I’m not saying this is an excuse that we can use, but it’s something that I hope will be part of sex ed in the future – the identification of types of consent.

    I’m glad things worked out for you, and to commenter one, I hope everything works out for you as it did for Amelia.

  4. elizabeth says:

    I could have written this. I think that many of us share very similar experiences when we begin the process of coming out to ourselves and to others.

    It’s so hard to understand, without having experienced it, what enthusiastic content feels like. It’s possible to consent for years without feeling enthusiastic consent. It was so shocking for me to consider that all the experiences I’d considered satisfying for years were, upon closer examination, not what I’d wanted at all.

  5. Amelia says:

    It’s great hearing from all of you. And I agree, different kinds of consent should be included in sex ed. I actually work on my college campus to educate people on that topic because understanding consent is really important and can give you a very different view of your sex life.

  6. Astrid says:

    This was really the right post at the right moment, as I struggle with what it means to give consent for sex you’re not really interested in. I am not sure of my sexual orientation (or whether I even believe in sexual orientation labels), but I can certainly relate to the idea that you’re “supposed” to have sex in a relationship, even though I know this is not true.

  7. Jim says:

    Amelia, this whole post is wonderful, and I especially apprecite this piece of nuance you included:

    “but I had never been very interested in the sex I had had with men in the past. My boyfriend and I did have sex, and it was something I had convinced myself (dishonestly) that I wanted. I had bought into the idea that I was supposed to want to have sex with my boyfriend, even when I could tell that I was not truly interested.”

    Your experience of coming tracks pretty closely with mine, in the essentials, and I get tired of being asked why if I knew or should have known or must have known I was gay did I go through with that charade…. from people for whom everything is just so clear and simple for them. It must be wonderful to be them. They rarely see how crude and insensitive that formulation is by the way.

    Elizabeth, I like yopur whole commnet. I takes the words right out of my mouth.

    elizabeth: I could have written this. I think that many of us share very similar experiences when we begin the process of coming out to ourselves and to others. It’s so hard to understand, without having experienced it, what enthusiastic content feels like. It’s possible to consent for years without feeling enthusiastic consent. It was so shocking for me to consider that all the experiences I’d considered satisfying for years were, upon closer examination, not what I’d wanted at all.  (Quote this comment?)

  8. I appreciate the stories I’ve heard. Since I’m currently in an opposite-sex relationship, I can’t completely relate to your role, but I do relate to his.

    A former partner came out as a lesbian a couple years after we’d (briefly) dated. I suspected that something was up because things I’d say during the act itself were very well-received with prior partners, but tended to either repel her or have no effect at all. At first I assumed something was wrong with me, but after giving it some serious thought I eventually figured it out.

    She tried, though. Growing up super-religious as she was, I know that it was something she tried to deny for a long while. This is in great contrast as another friend of mine who also identifies as lesbian who never felt any compulsion to date men at any point in her life and came out in high school.

  9. I am bi/queer as well and I have a boyfriend. He is terribly sweet guy and I love him a lot. But I do the flip-flop all the time! It’s insane!! Some weeks I really don’t want to be with him and other times I can’t wait to be bed with him. So it is very confusing. The weird thing is is that I am not attracted to guys but I am terribly attracted to girls/women all the time! He knows about me and that’s wonderful that he doesn’t care and he uses consent but sometimes I wish for a girl.

  10. Bushfire says:

    Heather, I’ve gone through the exact same thing. I’m in a great relationship with a woman now, but my previous one was with a man. I ‘flip-flopped’ a lot, too. All I can say to you now, years later, is that I feel my female relationship is more stable, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy being with him or that I was “faking” in any way.

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