top of page

It took Me 13 Years to get Enthusiastic Consent from Myself


Written by Tashi Donnelly (she/her) | @tashi_rd | Feature Editor

Illustrated by Gabbie De Baron (she/her) | @gabizzlesizzle | Graphic Designer

Consent is the most important element concerning sex. Since the start of the Me Too movement, it has started a global conversation. The importance of consent can’t be overemphasised. It doesn’t matter what kind of sex you’re having, whether it’s side-play, vanilla, or five-hour-long BDSM sessions, your partner's consent is everything. In my life, I’ve struggled with the subtler aspects of consent. I learned from an early age to prioritise the needs and expectations of others over my own, often at the expense of my well-being. This pattern extended into my sexual experiences, where the desire for acceptance overshadowed my own needs. In the last few years, I’ve attempted an open, honest internal dialogue.

When the girlies and I get together over a cheese board and multiple bottles of McGuigan’s Black Label Red, there isn’t a lot we don’t talk about. Apologies to anyone sleeping with one of us, we don’t know the meaning of secrets. A major topic for a gathering of the girlies is one of us getting our socks rocked by a new squeeze. I love these raw and honest conversations, full of filthy details. 

“And after he spread my legs he whispered “good girl” in my ear, and shoved it in!”

“Girl, stop it! Did you like that?”

“You know I didn't think I would, but I definitely do now!”

These are some of my favourite conversations to have with any friend. But there is a troubling theme that pops up frequently: regret. We’re all sex-positive feminists, we preach consent, we’re nonjudgmental and respect the wide range of sexual expressions and identities, and we would never put up with sexual coercion. But there is an almost hidden, internal form of consent that is more complicated than the ‘enthusiastic consent’ model. I know “no means no” but I haven’t been taught how to say “no”.

Along with being AFAB (assigned female at birth), I was also landed with Autism and ADHD at birth, though only assigned in my early 20s. I couldn’t always understand why arbitrary social rules were causing breakdowns in my ability to communicate with my peers, so I resorted to manually learning those rules. I wanted to become someone who was ‘quirky’, but quiet, polite, and agreeable.Society was explicit about what it wanted from women, and that was service. It was also clear about what it wanted from Autistic and ADHD people, and that was for them to be less themselves. “Masking” is a term used to describe how neurodiverse people hide parts of themselves to meet societal expectations of functionality. This takes the form of mirroring neurotypical behaviour, making eye contact, trying to smile when appropriate, or memorising scripts for social interactions, etc.  I’ve already had an incredibly hard, and unfinished, journey with accepting my neurodivergence and attempting to “unmask”. Neurodivergence affecting my relationship with sex wasn’t something I’d considered until recently.

Growing up, I was taught it was rude to say “no”. I got constant messaging from society that to be polite and likeable, I had to be available to service those around me. Even before puberty, I experienced gendered messaging. I was expected to help other kids with their work or share my toys, even if I didn't want to. My outbursts or tantrums were criticised more severely than those of my male peers. I often felt I had to agree to social interactions or activities that gave me sensory overload, for fear of being perceived as boring. My shyness gets branded as ‘stuck-up bitchiness’. As I grew up, the worst-case scenario of this ingrained messaging resulted in me agreeing to sex because that’s what was expected. 

After my last long-term relationship ended, I excitedly entered my Slut Phase. But after 18 months of finding myself in these regrettable situations, I felt like giving up. None of my sexual partners were awful, every person I slept with was courteous, kind, and always asked for verbal consent either before or during the sex. But I wasn’t asking myself for consent. The internal calculations of social interactions dictated that my own needs were secondary to those of my sexual partner. The question, “Would you like to try doggy-style?”, didn’t lead me to ask myself if I wanted to, it led my inner dialogue to speculate: They asked if I want to do doggy-style = they want to do doggy-style = if I say yes to doggy-style right now they will have had a positive experience with me = they will approve of me and I will feel accepted. Acceptance felt like everything to me, for my womanhood, and for my neurodivergence to be perceived as innocuous.

This complicated internal dialogue becomes even more confusing when I’ve agreed to sex I haven’t entirely wanted but end up enjoying once it’s happening. There are physiological differences between people with penises and people with vaginas that affect arousal, and how quickly arousal can occur. It can take a long time for my body to respond to what my mind wants, and vice versa. This often makes me feel guilty for even thinking about not wanting to in the first place. This all adds to the intricacy of my internal dialogue. 

After that 18-month Slut Phase, I did quit sex, despite it being one of my favourite activities. Not all of my sexual encounters were tainted with regret, but enough of them were for me to reevaluate what the fuck I was doing. A wise friend, who has many similar tales to mine, told me “it feels like self-harm” to enthusiastically consent outwardly but not inwardly. I needed strategies for checking in with myself and being vocal about my desires, or lack of them. I recognised it was unfair to myself and my sexual partners, who deserve honesty and respect. If the nuance of consent was readily taught and talked about, I wouldn’t have spent over a decade feeling like I was always failing at some aspect of consent.

My journey to understanding consent wasn’t as straightforward as I would’ve liked it to be. As a society, we must start having more nuanced conversations about the grey areas of consent. I’ve talked to so many people who share my experience of societal expectations shaping their relationship with consent and sex. Grappling with neurodivergence, gender roles, or sexual orientation adds another layer of complexity. I’m grateful to all the people who have shared similar personal struggles with me, and I hope by sharing my own I can help make others feel less alone, and able to start their own journey with self-consent.


bottom of page