(Just so we’re clear, I did not write this piece as some kind of weird defense against any of the recent current events involving sexual assault, harassment, and rape allegation that have been all over the media. I wrote this more from the point of view of being in a relationship and making negotiations about pleasure in those relationships.)
Alright everyone, hear me out here before you decide I’m crazy and don’t understand enthusiastic consent. I know that in a perfect world yes would mean yes and no would mean no, but what exactly does maybe mean? Is it a future yes or a future no? Is it supposed to be a polite, if unclear and vague, way of saying no? Does it come from a place of fear of saying yes or no?
Or does it come out of the idea that my partner might like something that I am ambivalent about? Could it be that I simply have a neutral attitude towards something and so I give the neutral answer? But how does that impact pleasure? If my partner never gets this thing that they want and enjoy, could that breed resentment or even anger? Sure it could. But if I’ve said maybe to whatever their sex act of choice is, that doesn’t mean I’ve committed one way or the other. It could mean I’m unsure because I don’t know what they want. It could mean that I am completely uninterested in it. Or the thing could just be kind of meh for me.
So, what if maybe, sometimes, under the right circumstances, meant yes? It means that a person in an actively consenting relationship could be willing to do a thing. It might mean that they do it simply to give their partner pleasure, but they are still willing to do it despite their own feelings towards it. And that is an OK thing to do. Hell, that’s a good thing to do if you ask me. I feel that it contributes to a healthier sex life over all.
However, I recognize that there are some things that some people simply won’t or can’t or don’t want to do. So in that case what does maybe mean? At that point it sees like a way to give your partner the hope that you might be willing to try something new when you’re not even open to it. In that case I would posit that maybe means no, but I would also suggest that you learn to communicate with your partner in such a way that saying no to them is OK. That avoids miscommunications and any vagueness regarding doing or not doing x, y, or z sexual activity. This ability also leads to a healthier sex life.
Now we get to the idea of maybe and consent. Does maybe imply consent? In a long term relationship where the people know one another well, it might or might not. That all depends on the nature of the relationship and how well the people in it can communicate their needs and wants. But if this is just a short term thing or a one time thing, I feel like the people involved have to be more clear than just saying maybe. Maybe can be ambiguous for many reasons and the root of those reasons should be known before assuming that maybe does, in fact, mean yes. So in the long run, I feel like maybe should automatically be treated as a no, except in certain circumstances, such as a long term relationship and even then it requires constant talking and dialog in order to make sure all parties are on the same page.
Have you ever told a partner maybe? How did they respond? Did you wind up doing whatever that maybe activity was anyway? Were you trying to politely say no? Or were you scared to say yes? All of those questions (and more I’m sure; feel free to share your own) are the reasons I ask if maybe can sometimes mean yes. What do you think about maybe instead of a definitive yes or no?