I keep hearing that people like it when people “just go for it” and take control in bed. But then there are all these conversations about consent, and making sure you ask for permission for everything. i’m just really confused. Which is it?

Great question! As you’ve already discovered, we don’t talk about consent nearly as much as we should. This means that we often don’t have the language we need to talk about these things. You are far from the only person confused about this!

So, first things first. Consent means agreeing to do something sexual or physical with someone else. Consent is always, 100%, no matter what, necessary for all kinds of sex and physical touch. Without consent, touching or being sexual with someone may actually be rape or sexual assault.

As we’ve said before, consent isn’t a word or lack thereof: it’s a conversation. This conversation takes place before, during and even after sex. It’s about making sure that everyone is treated how they want to be treated, and sex leaves everyone feeling good, healthy and safe.

You have to respect the boundaries that your partner sets. If you’re not sure you can do that, you should not be having sex with other people. We talk more about consent here.

People find all sorts of different things sexy, and like all sorts of different things in bed. It’s true that some people like it when their partner “takes control” or “just goes for it.” But other people may find it upsetting, painful or triggering.

You can’t know what your partner likes until you talk about it.

The key thing here is—can you guess?—communication! Ask your partner what they want, what they’re comfortable with, and what they’re not comfortable with. This will help you both understand each other’s boundaries, and also how to make each other feel good!

If sex is new to you or your partner, or having sex together is new, it’s important to be extra communicative, to make sure everyone is comfortable and excited about what you’re doing together.

Ask your partner to be specific. In what ways and circumstances do they like being touched, touching others or being sexual? What are they comfortable and not comfortable with? What do you feel comfortable doing together?

Sexuality is a weird, complicated, exciting, amazing thing! It’s never ok to make someone feel bad about what they want in bed. But it’s also ALWAYS ok to set boundaries and say no to anything you feel uncomfortable with. If your partner makes you feel bad about that, it’s a sign that they probably don’t respect the importance of consent. Think hard about whether they’re someone you actually want to have sex with.

We talk more about how to think through your boundaries here. We also like Scarleteen’s Sexual Inventory Stocklist, which can help you think through more specific boundaries when it comes to sex and relationships.

If you’re 10-22 years old and have any other questions about sexual health, you can make a free, confidential appointment at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for comprehensive health care, including STI testing and treatment, birth control and more.