Maybe you’ve heard the idea that asking for consent will ruin the mood. In my almost seven years of working at Self Serve down in Albuqerque (3904 Central Ave., 265-5815), I can tell you that’s absolutely not true. And, even better news: Getting good at consent conversations will not only reduce your likelihood of sexually assaulting someone, it helps make you be a better lover. And it might even get you super-laid!

Since our culture is pretty messed up about sex, let's use food to help us understand a bit more. You feel hungry and you meet up with a friend to get food. Your friend asks, "Are you in the mood for tacos, enchiladas or pizza?" If you're really hungry, your mouth might start salivating a bit more at the mention of each of those foods. You might even get excited about all of the options and ask if you can have taco-enchilada pizza. It's unlikely you'll think, "Ew, gross! You laid out some options instead of just making the decision for me, therefore I've lost my appetite."

Sex is the same way! Take time to negotiate with your partner before intimacy and you end up helping them feel respected and heard, while you also advocate for your own desires. You might even leave them excitedly awaiting the options you've talked about. Think of it as foreplay.

This is just one of the lessons about consent that we don't talk about with sexually active adults, and when we don't give adults the proper tools to navigate consent, we send them off into a world where it's easy to perpetrate sexual assault.

This is where Jaycee Lewis comes in. She's the Education and Prevention Specialist at Solace Crisis Treatment Center (6601 Valentine Way, 988-1951) and an advocate for survivors of sexual assault and their families. She says consent should be enthusiastic, sober, voluntary, ongoing and non-coerced.

"I primarily teach seventh and eighth graders about sexual violence," Lewis says. "We are working to prevent future perpetrators by exploring rape myths and sexual harassment. Consent is a big part of this work."

Some people think that teaching kids about these issues isn't necessary because they aren't having sex, but consent is about more than sex. It boils down to consideration of others.

"For middle school kids the word 'consent' isn't even a part of their vocabulary," says Lewis. "I always explain that consent is permission."

When we teach people how to say yes, we also teach them how to say maybe and no, and as it goes in many sex education circles: If you're a maybe, be a no. You can always change your answer to a yes later. Negotiating boundaries and consent is something that should happen on a regular basis, even with a long-term partner.

"Consent is not a one-time thing; we must always check in with ourselves and our partners," Lewis adds. "Consent is necessary, both in individual intimate moments and as part of ongoing relationships."

Some of you might be thinking that continuously getting consent sounds exhausting, but it gets easier the more you do it. And hearing a "no" gets easier, too! One of my sex educator friends, Reid Mihalko, has a great way to gracefully accept a no. If someone denies you, say, "Thank you for taking care of yourself." Most of us hate being out with a friend who said yes to going out, but they really don't want to be there and are miserable. Sex is no different.

In order to get better at asking for consent and feeling confident doing so, Lewis recommends taking your new skills out of the bedroom and into daily life.

"Consent isn't exclusive to leading up to sex, [and] asking if it's OK to give someone a compliment or asking if it's OK to hug a friend who you might just hug without thinking about it are low-pressure ways to practice," she says.

Once you get into the habit of checking in with people about what you're about to do, you might be amazed at how appreciative people will be for this simple act. It helps them feel safe and like they can advocate for themselves without worrying about the consequences.

And this isn't anything new. Alternative sex communities have created best practices around consent that, while not perfect, are a step above what we have in mainstream culture. I won't say that abuse, assault and rape don't happen in the kink and BDSM communities, but overall, more people in those realms practice negotiating boundaries before sex and play.

There's something to be said about reading body language. If you lean in halfway to kiss someone, and they lean in the other half, it's probable they wanted to kiss you. But if they felt pressured to kiss you, they might lean in anyways, and feel bad about it later. Lewis recommends always using communication to get the answers we are looking for.

"What's more likely to ruin a moment: not asking and being wrong, or asking and knowing for sure? Which one gives all parties autonomy over their bodies? Asking does." Lewis says. "It's painfully simple, and yet often overlooked. Questions like 'May I kiss you?' and 'Does it feel good when I touch you like this?' give us, and our partners, clear answers on what is or isn't okay in an intimate moment."

The takeaway here is learning how to be really good at consent will help you be a better person, be a better lover, and help you and your partners feel safe and sexy.