How to handle regret when you gave consent

Sex and consent can be tricky because… well, humans are. We often don’t understand our own emotions and motivations, which makes communicating them to others extremely tricky. There is a difference between what we want, what we expect and what we need. Even with something as basic as consent.

I would say that consent is always necessary; but I recently hooked up with someone who repeated ‘you and your consent are important’ so many times I wanted to scream at them. I KNOW. It felt so patronising the way they kept repeating this to me, like it was a new idea, or they should get a gold star for saying it. Of course, consent is important, but let’s have a little practical sense and read the mood as well.

Even with cases where consent has been properly checked and obtained, it still doesn’t mean that sex will be perfect or there will be no regrets afterwards. If you’re sexually active and have never regretted something/one you’ve done in bed then congratulations, I’m not sure how you’ve managed it. If, however, there are certain things you’d rather not discuss then please know: you are very far from alone.  

Sex positivity is great, and obviously choosing to have sex, or not{!), and being happy in that decision is the most important thing, However, whilst you can be sex positive all you want in theory- feelings of shame may sometimes creep back in. If this has never happened to you then please stop reading, there’s no need for the idea to even enter your head- but, a lot of people I know still feel a certain degree of shame around sex. This seems to be particularly true for women who are often taught to feel ashamed of their sexuality early.

So, what do you do when you want to be sex positive and experiment and go crazy, but there’s this nagging feeling of guilt or shame? What if you consented to something at the time, but now regret it? This is also by no means unusual, it just feels like it sometimes because we don’t talk about it. Sometimes people consent to something they’re not 100% comfortable with even at the time, because they want to please their partner or don’t want to seem boring. Or, maybe you were totally into at the time, but now you’re not turned on or tipsy or with the person in question, you’ve had ample time to (over) think. You consented to everything, but now you regret that it happened.

Whilst, this may not be uncommon, that doesn’t make it any less S***y- so, how do you deal with it? The most important thing is to find your balance and keep perspective. It isn’t helpful to rush to extremes of blame: try not to place all the blame on your partner, or yourself. If your partner checked consent properly they may be hurt or confused if you turn around and accuse them of exploiting, you, or that you regret what you did with them. Equally, there’s no need to blame yourself or internally slut- shame; learn from it and it’s not something you need do again if it makes you uncomfortable.

Of course, in an ideal world you should communicate this with your partner- yes, even if it was a one-night stand. I do realise this may not always be realistic but I’m a big fan of closure and being able to explain to someone why you’re uncomfortable with what happened, will really help heal your attitude to sex. This may not always be necessary, it’s your own comfort and mental health that’s key here, but if you’re going to be sleeping with them again then it’s pretty key.

The more you experiment with your boundaries the more likely this situation is to arise for you. Ultimately, experimenting is fun so why not? The whole point of experimenting though is it can go wrong, so make sure you set yourself up with boundaries you’re comfortable in. By this, I don’t necessarily mean the boundaries of what you are and aren’t comfortable with (that’s what you’re experimenting with after all), but boundaries around how you relate to the other person, your level of confidence, and who you can go to talk things through afterwards.

These are just a few of the things to consider when it comes to being sex positive/ experimenting but, ultimately, being a human being and sometimes feeling just a little guilty. Feelings of guilt around sex are completely natural (please don’t feel guilty for feeling guilty, that’s a downward spiral no one wants to go down)- but know that you are not alone and that, one day, this will hopefully be just another story to tell.