Consent is simple: Don’t do a thing with a person who doesn’t want to do that thing. Don’t kiss a person who doesn’t want to kiss you, touch a person who doesn’t want to be touched by you, have sex with a person who is too drunk or young or scared to tell you clearly and enthusiastically that they want to have sex with you.
Flirting, however, is confusing. Frankly, we’ve been socialized in a rape culture; even when we know what we’re supposed to do, knowing how to do it can still trip us up. We don’t want to look like idiots. We don’t want to be rejected. We don’t want to be jerks. We don’t want to miss our chance, and we don’t want to lose our cool. That’s why people cling to easy-to-remember “rules,” like ones about the guy making the first move or what it means if she touches your arm. We’re desperate for a guideline—and one of my personal, least problematic favorites is…well, it’s from the 2005 movie Hitch.
Hear me out by first watching this clip of Will Smith teaching Kevin James how to kiss a girl:
Kind of homophobic, I know, but that’s not the part with the wisdom. The part with the wisdom is this exchange:
“See, this is what most guys do. They rush in to take the kiss. But you’re not most guys. See, the secret to a kiss is to go 90 percent of the way, and then hold.”
“For how long?”
“As long as it takes for her to come the other 10.”
Whatever you’re doing, just go 90 and let the other person come 10. By which I do not mean stick 90 percent of your penis into someone and then ask if this is what they like. The 90-10 rule is about making it clear—through words, actions, body language, whatever tools you have—what you want to do, and then letting the other person decide if it’s what they want too. If she doesn’t “come the other 10,” there’s no kiss.
If you ask someone out in a way that demonstrates your enthusiasm and how much thought you’ve put into the date (doing 90 percent of the work), while also making it clear that the other person has the option to say no (without, say, causing you to break down or hurt them/yourself—two tactics abusers use to get what they want) and she says no, there’s no date. It’s just a guideline, of course, and nothing replaces verbal communication, but if Will Smith can give Kevin James a pretty workable definition of How to Come On to Someone Without Being a Creep in three and a half minutes, you and your gang can follow it.
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