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No means no: 8 Secrets to building trust and improving intimacy

Let’s looks at the myths and assumptions about consent, and guidance on how to successfully execute it.

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By Jenni Skyler, PhD
Sex therapist, sexologist and licensed marriage and family therapist

Consent is permission. There is an invitation and a response. But some invitations aren’t clear or may even be absent, and some responses are disrespected or fall flat. This is often because consent gets misconstrued as unsexy.

Let’s looks at the myths and assumptions about consent, and guidance on how to successfully execute it.

  • If someone asks nicely, or if they have power over you (like a boss), you are required to say “Yes.” It is our human right to say “No” and maintain a boundary that honors our self-worth and dignity.
  • Then there are people, often know as people pleasers, who don’t have “No” as part of their vocabulary. If you can’t say “No”, then you only have “Yes” accessible to you. This means “Yes” is an obligation versus a choice. Consent starts with the development and self-trust in your inner yes and no.
  • Another misconception is that certain behaviors or clothing imply consent. Most of the modern countries of the world allow for full freedom of expression. This can manifest in clothing or behaviors and should not be misconstrued for consent.

An incorrect assumption is that consent is a one-time conversation. Consent is ongoing, both verbally and nonverbally. If you don’t read body language well, it’s generally safe to default to continuous verbal inquiry and this shouldn’t be a mood-killer. In fact, asking the right consent questions builds respect for the person being asked.

When consent goes wrong

There are plenty of destructive examples of when someone feels entitled to override another person’s consent. This level of disrespect undermines a relationship, and in certain situations, is even illegal. A “perpetrator-victim” dynamic is the least sexy mood you can set.

While respecting a person and their boundaries is the key to a healthy relationship, “elusive consent” can blindside couples and destroy sex lives. I have coined this term because it’s not only common, but also subtle and insidious. Yet, nearly everyone has been exposed to elusive consent at some point in their lives. It shows up as our yellow light—not a full red, stop, “no”; but also, not a green, fully enthusiastic “yes.” It also emerges in marriage and long-term relationships when we say “yes” from a place of duty or obligation.

Couples can easily cultivate a culture of consent. It requires self-awareness of both desires and boundaries, self-respect to articulate these, and partner-respect to act with integrity. When couples can achieve this, they feel trust and intimacy, a lowered sense of rejection when “no” is stated, and a lowered sense of obligation if invited, but not in the mood.

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The secrets to success

The secret to success is to managing your own agenda. This means also understanding that when arousal is high, our logical brain can get high-jacked and hyper-focused on pleasure. If you know this ahead of time, you can manage your own boundaries while respecting those of your partner.

As you manage your own agenda and relationships, remind yourself that the key to success is to stay open and curious. Here are some sample questions and statements no matter if you are hooking up for the first time or married for 15 years:

Questions if it’s a new interaction or relationship:

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  • “Are you feeling safe and comfortable being together right now?”
  • “Please tell me about your boundaries.”
  • “Would you like to stop here or continue?”
  • “I’m enjoying being here with you, and please know I am patient if you’d like to pause.”

Tips for long-term partners:

  • “It’s been a long time since we’ve been intimate. I’m curious if you miss it as much as I do?”
  • “It seems like you’re not enjoying what we’re doing. Please tell me how you feel about it and if there is something else you’d like to do.”
  • “I miss you. I’d love to connect romantically with you. Would you be open to that?”
  • “I’m excited about our date night. What would you like to do?”

Developing the highest level of trust means couples continue to engage in respectful conversation, always asking about and honoring boundaries. Having a more consent-aware world means more universal respect.

Jenni Skyler, PhD, LMFT and CST is an AASECT certified sex therapist, sexologist and licensed marriage and family therapist for

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