It looks a little something like this. You and your potential bae-to-be hit up a holiday bash together, and for some reason those ugly Christmas sweaters have you feeling all hot and bothered. Or, you spot your crush from college looking like a hot toddy by the fireplace. But before you make your move, don’t forget to consider the C-word — consent, of course. Even when there’s some mistletoe hanging overhead, experts say there are multiple reasons why you should always ask for consent.
Consent is arguably the most crucial aspect of any intimate act, whether that’s a mind-blowing makeout, oral sex, or full-on intercourse. It’s the thing that ensures a hookup is enjoyable and comfortable for everyone involved. However, the definition of consent has remained a bit muddy for some. In fact, a 2015 poll of 1,053 adults age 17 to 26, conducted by The Washington Post, revealed that 18 percent of college students think someone has consented to sexual activity as long as they didn’t say “no.” But the fact of the matter is, someone might be unable to verbally reject intimacy for a number of reasons. They could be afraid to say “no” because they feel pressure from their partner, or they could be incapacitated due to alcohol or other substances, for example.
So let’s just go ahead and clear that up definition first. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), consent can be defined as "an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity."
But how exactly does that agreement go down? According to a Planned Parenthood survey from 2015, 37 percent of people consider getting a condom as a surefire sign of consent while another 35 percent think taking clothes off shows consent, and 24 percent believe nodding your head in agreement should suffice. Experts agree, however, that the only way to be sure is to get enthusiastic verbal consent.
“Society has changed dramatically (for the better) in its respect for and appreciation of the complexity of mutual consent when it comes to intimacy,” Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show tells Elite Daily. “Implied consent is no longer OK from a social standpoint. We live in a world where consent needs to be in place explicitly. We must make sure that if we desire to be intimate at any level with someone, they agree before any intimacy occurs.”
So, how can one go about getting legitimate consent? For starters, never assume or beat around the bush — get straight to the point to ensure that there are no misunderstandings or misinterpretations.
"Asking for consent doesn’t have to be as complex or anxiety provoking as some feel it is,” explains Dr. Klapow. “It does, however, require that you communicate in words, not actions.”
The tradition of hanging mistletoe in your house around the Holidays goes back to the ancient Druids. A sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology, hanging mistletoe usually signifies that those under it must share a holiday kiss.
If you find yourself under the mistletoe with a cutie you want to kiss, for example, Dr. Klapow says resist just going for it. Instead, he advises asking: "May I?" while gesturing to what’s hanging overhead. And if they say something along the lines of “I don’t know,” or “I’m not sure,” consider that to be a no.
“Unless you hear a ‘yes,’ you don’t have consent,” he explains. “Call it awkward, call it a spontaneity killer — but it needs to happen,” says Dr. Klapow. “The person you are about to get physical with needs to verbally agree to get physical. If they say no, back off, and if they offer an alternative (i.e. how about a hug?), then compromise.”
Licensed clinical social worker Melanie Shapiro agrees that a simple “would it be OK if I kissed you?” is pretty transparent. Be mindful if you’re in a group or party setting, too, as this can make it uncomfortable for someone to be honest about their wishes.
“Asking in private is usually best so each person can be honest and avoid embarrassment,” she adds. It's also crucial to listen to the object of your affection's response. It's not enough just to ask — you also have to listen! If the person seems hesitant, but still agrees, that is not the same as enthusiastic yes. While body language isn't an exact science, it's important to try and read your potential-partner's cues.
And what about getting physical beyond a simple kiss? No matter what kind of hookup you’re hoping for, Dr. Klapow says it’s crucial to spell it out every step of the way in a kind, gentle, and loving manner to make sure your crush is on the same page about what’s going down, and also that they feel safe to express their desires and boundaries.
“You can think of consent unfolding with explicit statements,” explains Dr. Klapow. "I’d like for us to do more than kiss — are you OK with that?’ – Then, if things progress, ‘I’d like for us to make love — are you OK with that?'"
Dr. Klapow stresses that it’s crucial to look for cues that a line is being crossed for the other person so that you can back off. They may not be comfortable enough to say “no,” or “stop,” which is why he says it’s important to look for non-verbal signs as well, such as if your hands or body are being redirected.
“And if there is no clear answer, do NOT assume that means yes,” he adds.
Now, here's where things get a bit blurry for some — what happens to consent you add alcohol to the mix? Whether you know the person is intoxicated (you watched them knock back a few cups of that deadly holiday punch) or you can reasonably infer from their speech or behavior, then you cannot get a legitimate form of consent, according to Dr. Klapow — which is why he advises not moving forward with the hookup.
“You are walking into a risky situation,” he explains. “They may or may not remember, they may or may not interpret your actions accurately. When in doubt, be willing to walk away from a night of intimacy in exchange for peace of mind that you are not walking into a lifetime of problems or accusations.”
Shapiro points out that even if you do get consent from someone who’s been drinking, you can’t be sure if their judgment is impaired by the alcohol.
“Besides, it’s better (and more romantic) to enjoy a kiss when both partners are equally present and consenting to the interaction,” she adds.
The holiday season is all about giving, and of course, being kind to others. So as the new year approaches, take this opportunity to sharpen your understanding of consent and further, make it a top priority to make sure you get it — before you get some. After all, what could possibly be sexier than getting physical with someone who's 100 percent down? So here's to some smoldering smooches under the mistletoe, folks — you know, the kind that warms you up on a cold night, puts more sparkle in your eye than any present ever could, and more importantly, the kind you both agree to.