(cross-posted from Feministe)
Knowing your preferences and your limits is an important part of having a satisfying sex life. For most of my life as a sexually active person, I could have talked about these ideas, but it wasn't until more recently that I was finally able to practice what I often preached.
This is tied to the fact that I came out (selectively) as queer in 2009.
Coming out was not easy for me. I starting coming out to myself late in my first year at college, but I distinctly remember looking myself in the mirror and seeing "QUEER" stamped across my forehead. For a while, thinking of myself in that way was so difficult that I shoved myself back in the closet, determining that what had just happened must have been a weird symptom of stress or something. In the meantime, I was in a long distance relationship with a boyfriend I'd been with since high school. We'd see each other about once a month and we almost always had sex when we were together.
Fast forward one school year and I had come around to certain things about myself.
I was definitely queer. I came out to my boyfriend right away as bisexual (which is no longer a label I use). He was supportive and we stayed together because this did not appear to change our relationship. There was a problem, however. I still was not terribly interested in sex with my boyfriend.
This was something I didn't realize fully until I had a new partner, but I had never been very interested in the sex I had had with men in the past. My boyfriend and I did have sex, and it was something I had convinced myself (dishonestly) that I wanted. I had bought into the idea that I was supposed to want to have sex with my boyfriend, even when I could tell that I was not truly interested. The sex was not terrible or selfish on his part, but my interest only seemed to hold for a very brief time. This created a situation in which I rarely initiated sex. It also meant that enthusiastic consent was not something that was practiced in our relationship.
I knew my boyfriend wanted sex because he almost always made the first move. While he did not often check in with me during sex, something that may have given some indication of my lack of interest, he was good at asking me if I wanted sex before we did anything. I always said I did, whether or not it was really true, but I was aware that this wasn't the kind of consent that should take place in these situations. I knew about enthusiastic consent and I often spoke to people about the idea. I just couldn't bring myself to amend the situation with my boyfriend. It would be messy to explain that what had become a common practice did not actually fit with my personal definition of consent.
Our relationship ended a few months later for reasons unrelated to sex. I don't want it to sound like my ex was a bad guy. He did practice affirmative consent (having sex when I said, yes, I wanted to), but it didn't change the fact that I just wasn't into having sex with him and he didn't seem to notice.
Once that relationship was over, I had the time to come to terms with my queerness. I quickly realized that while I had thought that I had enjoyed sex with men before, I had not been completely honest with myself. It was a bit shocking to realize that the sex I had had in the past didn't fit my personal ideas about proper consent, but in a way it makes sense. If you can't be honest with yourself about your desires, then it's hard to be honest about what you want sexually, and not being honest about what you want makes consent very tricky. Once I was able to be true to my desires, I found myself wanting sex more often and being able to enjoy it on new levels. This gave me the freedom to navigate new rules of consent.
I've been with my current partner for almost a year now and something that I am incredibly pleased with is how effortlessly we've been able to have awesome, feminism-informed sex, and how easy it was to communicate my ideas about consent. We practice enthusiastic, affirmative consent with ease and for the first time in my life I can consider myself truly satisfied.