Awkward: How to ask for sexual consent without feeling like you killed the mood

By Summer Hoagland-Abernathy, Senior Editor

You’ve got your tongue in the cheek of this guy you met on Tinder, so you would say your second date is going pretty well.

His dating profile photos had mood lighting, shirtless pics, lip biting and a chocolate-covered banana. You are 99% certain he is on Tinder to hook up. His bio even has a winky face.

But as you go to take off his shirt, that 1% tugs at the hairs on the back of your neck. Does he really want this? Is he just trying to be polite by not rejecting you?

But if you ask for consent now, you will kill the mood, right? You’re both already in the throes of pleasure, and you feel like you can’t hit pause, even for a second.

While no one wants to ruin the mood when foreplay is getting hot and heavy, consent is key to any sexual encounter, so how can someone ask for sexual consent without ruining the momentum? The Chronicle spoke with etiquette, communication and sex experts to find out.

Sexy talk

Sylvia Mikucki-Enyart, associate professor at the University of Iowa in the Communication Studies Department, said you can make consent part of your foreplay.

“Just posing a question, like, ‘Can I kiss you?’ Or when you’re in the act of something, ‘This feels good for me. Does this still feel good for you?’” Mikucki-Enyart said. “It doesn’t have to be totally cold and dry.”

As consent is normalized, it becomes less of “a big thing,” said Catalina Lawsin, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist specializing in sex and relationships at her private practice. The energy and intention that you apply to your words can make them less of a halt and more of a turn-on.

Checking in

Affirmative consent — meaning everyone involved actively tells you they want to be involved — is key to any sexual encounter, but keeping track of nonverbal signs is important, too.

Mikucki-Enyart said if someone suddenly becomes tense or silent, or if they turn away or recoil from you, stop and make sure they are okay.

“The assumption is that it’s actually not a verbal consent but that it’s just a behavioral consent, but that’s where problems arise,” Lawsin said. “In those circles with our friends where we trust, talk about those instances where we actually even changed our mind, where initially it was a yes, but then it changed to a no. How do we actually navigate that?”

Even over-communication can be good in a situation like this, said Bonnie Tsai, founder and director of Beyond Etiquette, a social and business etiquette consulting agency. Talking too much is far better than not talking at all and creating a circumstance that could have been prevented.

Plan ahead

Lawsin said you can have fun sitting with friends and thinking of one-liner questions to ask for consent — and you can share the lines that have not worked, too.

This helps you practice using your voice and normalizing the experience as a whole. As you dream up lines, think about Tsai’s core values of etiquette: courtesy, respect and kindness.

And if you’re stuck when you first start out, try some of Lawsin’s recommendations.

“First saying, ‘This is what I’d like to do. How does that work for you?’ ‘I’d like to hold your hand. Is that okay?’ ‘I’d like to kiss you. How does that feel?’ ‘I’m in the mood for sex. Would you like to as well?'” Lawsin said. “Signing off with what you want — then asking that person. The whole idea behind this is it’s an interaction. It’s a connection. It’s a collaboration. It isn’t, ‘I want this, and you’re along for the ride.’”