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A guide to consenting with a non-verbal partner

A guide to consenting with a non-verbal partner

Consent is a vital aspect of all things dating, relationships, hook-ups, and sex. Whether you just want to cuddle, make out, or continue and have some form of genital sex, you ALWAYS need enthusiastic consent to ensure everyone is having a pleasurable and safe experience.

So, what if your partner is non-speaking or non-verbal due to disability or other circumstances?

Disabled people vary widely in how they can and do communicate, or otherwise express themselves. For example, people with physical disabilities impacting movement may have different body language compared to those without.

Neurodivergent people may also express themselves differently and interpret others differently compared to neurotypical people. Deaf people may use sign language, written text, body language, and or lip reading to communicate. There are also instances where anyone may end up in situations where they can’t speak (such as by a gag!) or may just be feeling overwhelmed and unable to get the words out.

Regardless of the situation, consent is still highly important and necessary for any intimate experience. It’s good practice to ask any partner, disabled or not, how they communicate during sex to normalise these conversations. You may want to even bring up things like eye contact preferences, as this can be very uncomfortable for autistic people, but necessary for communication with Deaf people – always just make sure to ask and check in with the individual to see what their preferences are. By opening up this discussion yourself, if someone does happen to be disabled, they then do not have to bear the weight of beginning the disclosure conversation. As disabled people, we can often get sick of finding ways to segue the conversation to talk about accessibility, so it’s a great relief when someone asks about our needs!

Another thing to be open-minded about is that this conversation may not happen in person. Some people may feel much more comfortable and able to articulate themselves better over text – so be open to alternative forms of communication. Regardless of how you do it, communication and consent are sexy, so always make sure you include this before any sexual activities start!

Basic yes and no questions

Before things even move to the bedroom, it’s a great idea to have your partner show how they will gesture for yes and no. This conversation is important to have before sex, as there’s less pressure and allows for easier communication. It is also a great time to ask questions like “what should I do if I’m not sure what you are trying to communicate?”. Since at this time your partner should have their usual methods of communicating (such as speaking, signing, augmentative and alternative communication, writing etc), navigating these situations before they arise will allow for a more comfortable and pleasurable experience.

At first, it may feel like only asking yes or no questions is very limited in the information you can receive, however, a lot can be communicated! If you’ve ever played the game 20 questions, you would know how far yes and no questions can get you. Some examples of questions could be “do you need me to move your arm or leg?”, “do you want the vibrator?”, “do you want more lube?”, “does this feel good?”, and many others too.

Some people may nod or shake their heads, use blinking, tapping, or hand gestures/ signs to communicate yes or no, so be open-minded to various alternatives! You may also wish to negotiate other things you would like communicated, such as gesturing for slower, faster, changing position, more lube, and many others. Whatever you decide on is most important to be able to communicate non-verbally, just make sure to make it clear before anything gets sexual!

Safe words and signals

While it’s important we can communicate yes and no, perhaps the most important is to be able to convey when something needs to stop immediately or take a break. One of the most commonly used safe word systems is traffic light colours (green for good, orange for I need a break/ something to change, and red for stop immediately). But what are some non-verbal alternatives? You could perhaps tap your partner or a surface quickly to communicate to stop, and slower for needing a break. Another possibility is finger snapping, clapping, or waving your hands. One of my favourites is having loud items in each hand (such as keys or marbles) that can be dropped to signify the need to stop or break. An alternative for this idea is balls that light up when dropped (particularly good for Deaf people!).

One of the most important considerations is that you should test out the safe word before play. There’s no point agreeing to snap your fingers if you can’t actually snap your fingers! This is also very important if any restraint is involved in play, as there may be greater mobility restrictions than anticipated. So, it’s always a good idea once someone is restrained, to ask them to demonstrate the safe signal, as well as check in with how they are currently feeling.

Check-in

Consent is an ongoing process, not just established at the beginning or before sex. It is so important to check in throughout sex to make sure everyone is still feeling okay and into it. Some easy ways to check in are asking (verbally or by signing) and having responses such as thumbs up/down, nodding/shaking head, or other negotiated ways to communicate yes and no.

Checking in also doesn’t just have to be “Is this okay? Should we stop?”, it can also be “does that feel good, do you like that, are you having fun, do you want me to do anything for you?” etc – it doesn’t have to be a mood killer! People are sometimes overly cautious when having sex with disabled people, but it does become more natural over time as you learn what people like and how they communicate, as well as how it can build the mood.

Communicating with a nonspeaking person may feel daunting at first, but as with any other person, you learn how they communicate uniquely, and you will create and find ways to work well together to make it feel fun and easy. So go out there and have some super sexy and communicative experiences!

Illustrations by Aimée Sullivan. Follow her on Instagram: @aimeeisokay

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Content Disclaimer:

The information in this article has been fact checked and reviewed for accuracy by Adulttoymegastore’s team of content specialists and sexual wellness experts, including Sex Educator Emma Hewitt.

Adulttoymegastore does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment for illness. Any information published on this website, either by Adulttoymegastore or its authors, is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a medical professional.

Evan Johnson, Queer Sexuality & Disability Advocate
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