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Consent and the Path of Pleasure with Betty Martin


As mammals we are wired for pleasure, but how we actualize our desires has never seemed more complex.  The pandemic has added new layers of anxiety to the simple human need for intimacy and connection. Touch can be healing and transformative when mindfully given and received.  Consent is an ongoing process of agreements rather than a destination.  As partners in pleasure it is possible to move beyond old wounds and expand our capacity for joy and deep intimacy.

In this episode of Awake In Relationship I speak with Betty Martin regarding her new book The Art of Giving and Receiving:The Wheel of Consent and how to arrive at YES in any relationship.  We also discuss how relaxation and the curiosity to follow your own pleasure can lead to deeper ecstatic states in intimacy.

Show notes

  • To learn more about Betty Martin and her work go to instituteforsexuality.com or  bettymartin.org 
  • To get a free chapter from Betty’s book The Art of Receiving and Giving: The Wheel of Consent go here
  • To learn the 3 Minute Game mentioned during the episode for exploring giving and receiving with a partner go here


Episode Transcripts

intro  0:09
You are listening to Awake In Relationship, a podcast about intimacy, community and culture in a time of great change with Silas Rose.
Silas Rose  0:38
Hello, dear listener, my name is Silas Rose and you’re tuned in to Awake In Relationship. As mammals we are really wired for pleasure and without it, I really believe that our mental, physical and dare I say, spiritual wellbeing suffers. There are of course, many forms of pleasure and as far as I’m concerned, whatever floats your boat, so long, it’s no one’s harmed. In this conversation with Benny Martin, we focus mostly on tactile pleasures, specifically touch, which can be kind of a tricky thing these days, I think it’s fair to say that the pandemic really has added a new layer of anxiety to the basic human need for connection and touch. Quite often intimacy or the pursuit of pleasure can be really murky business. Even in the best of times, it’s pretty hard to get through this life these days without some form of wounding, that affects our ability to enjoy pleasure. Healing is something we experience in relationship and the right kind of touch offered or received mindfully can be transformative. This is really where pleasure can be a medicine. I can think of no better person to speak on this topic than my guest Betty Martin. Betty with her co author, Robyn Dalzen, have recently published the Art of Receiving and Giving: The Wheel of Consent. Betty Martin is really recognized internationally as a thought leader in the area of consent and human sexuality. So a good portion of our conversation focuses on the difference between the notion of giving consent, and arriving and consent. Central to this really is the ability not only to set boundaries, but to ask for want we want in relationship, it a great model for how to become a good partner in pleasure. Through the course of this interview I got a sense of Betty’s big view on sexuality and specifically, one makes sex good. So that’s a topic that interests you. I hope you will stick around.
Betty Martin, good morning and welcome to  the show
Betty Martin  2:46
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Silas Rose  2:50
Ive wanted to have you on the show for a while. As I was mentioning in our pre chat, I  have many friends that are involved in your work in various communities, including sexualogical bodywork folk and people in the polyamory and ethical non monogamy community. I think a good place to start our conversation is just talking a little bit about your own journey into this work and why focus on consent?
Betty Martin  3:23
That’s a great question. I fell into this work through my own personal journey. In my mid 40s 20 or 30 years ago, after a divorce, I realized you know, my sexuality Yeah, it kind of works, but I know there’s more. And I took a couple of workshops on the topic of sexuality and pretty soon I was assisting at them. And so it became a kind of a spiritual path for some years. And I met regularly with a group of friends who’d also done some of those workshops and just dove into what is this spiritual nature of eros which is kind of funny to call it spiritual because I thought I knew what spiritual meant before I started that work and then I realized that now it’s, it’s not that I found that the more physical I could get with the experience, the more I could tend to the physical sensation, the more spiritual it felt. So I don’t know what spiritual means anymore, but  at any rate, it was definitely a path for me for those some years.  So I realized I wanted to offer these kinds of experiences to other people. I was practicing chiropractic at that time, so I closed that office, moved into the city and open a new studio doing sacred intimate work or sex work. Where I would guide people through their own erotic experiences, to help them notice more of themselves and learn more about themselves. And then, of course, once you start working with people, that’s where you really learn a lot about people, and yourself. So, during one of those workshops, we learned a game called the three minute game. And this was developed by Harry Faddis, who used to teach for the school. The three minute game is very, very simple. It’s two questions. And two people take turns asking each other, these two questions. And the two questions are, what do you want me to do to you for three minutes? Well, that’s fun, I can think of some cool things.  And the other question is, what do you want to do to me? for three minutes, that one also was very fun. And so I took those two questions home to my client sessions. And I started asking my clients, I changed it somewhat because of what I was teaching. So I would ask my clients, how do you want me to touch you for a few minutes right now? And many of them would say, well, gosh, I don’t know where they become a deer in the headlights. And they just had no idea what they wanted or didn’t know how to ask for it or didn’t know that it was for them or didn’t know that it was possible to be touched in just the way they wanted. And they would say things, you’d ask them what they want. And they’d say things like, well, you can such and such, I guess, which might have been true. But that was not the question that I asked, I asked what you want. But it was really hard for people to notice what they wanted. And in the same with the other question, how do you want to touch me, then people would really get confused, because for the most part, we think that if you touch somebody, it’s for their benefit. And so touching someone for your own benefit, was kind of a mindfuck. People just couldn’t figure out what the heck I was talking about. But right away, I noticed that, oh, when we play this game, when I’m the one who’s doing the touching, in one instance, it’s for you. And the other instance, it’s for me. And those are very different experiences. And so I just noticed that Oh, these this, who is the who is doing is one question and who is it for is an entirely different question, and doesn’t really correlate with who is doing. So I could be touching you the way you want. Or I could be touching you the way I work. Very different experience. So that’s where the Wheel of Consent came from.  It should be called a wheel of agreement. But that’s too long, and it’s too late concerning the name. So that’s how consent came to be important to me, it’s not something that I set out to figure out, it just wasn’t on my radar. I mean, I knew that, you know, you need to consent before you touch people and stuff, but I, that wasn’t that big of a deal to me at the time. So it was it was discovering these two different dynamics that really brought consent into sharp focus for me,
Silas Rose  9:13
I think it’s fair to say that consent  has somewhat gone mainstream. And mostly in kind of a response to toxic masculinity and the bad stuff that happens on campuses. Your approach to cosent is, I would say quite different. In some, way, it is not necessarily a kind of a legalistic approach. Right?  it’s really about kind of arriving at consent. Can you talk a little bit about the difference?
Betty Martin  9:42
Yeah, that’s a great question. I, after I’ve been teaching consent for some years, I thought I should probably look this up in the dictionary, so I did. And then what I found was, consent means agreeing to what somebody else wants. So consent to do XYZ for you, or I consent to allow you to do XYZ to me. And that’s, and it’s important to have a legal definition, of course. But I’m using it in a more expanded way to mean, what is it that we want to do together? And what are we agreeing to do together to have the most fun? And so that’s why I say, giving consent, or getting consent is not really the whole picture. I I prefer to think of consent as something that we arrive at together, we have a little conversation about, what are you into what sounds fun? What are the things that you don’t want to do? Will you scratch my back, honey? Sure. You know, can I play with your hair? Yes, but don’t pull it. That’s consent. So I’m, I’m using it in that kind of expanded way. And yes, there’s definitely a need for a legal definition. But that’s not really what I’m dealing with so much.
Silas Rose  11:10
intimate relationships, especially early on, are often kind of murky ground.
Betty Martin  11:17
Yeah, I’d say so.
Silas Rose  11:19
So there’s always this kind of hodgepodge of needs and wants, desires.  I think this is also the case on long term relationships, we too fast. And so someone might agree to something that they really actually don’t really want. Or worse. Someone takes something that’s not on offer. How does the Wheel of Consent, particularly the quadrants, deal with that. I know it’s a big topic. I can do a whole podcast on the quadrants. But how does that clarify the whole process of becoming intimate with someone?
Betty Martin  11:58
Oh, boy, well, the Wheel of Concert, it’s, it’s a model, it’s a way to look at things. And it’s also a practice. So if we have a, as a practice, that means it’s something you are fairly strict on the parameters of, and you come back and revisit it again and again. And as a practice, the wheel of consensus of practice of taking, receiving and giving a part. So that, either I’m giving, it’s all about what you want. And I’m either giving you the action that I’m doing for you scratching your back, or whatever, or I’m giving you access to me to do what you want. Either way, it’s about you. And so it’s all about you for this mean, you know, five or 10 minutes, or whatever it is. And of course, I have my limits, and I respect those and you respect those, but it’s all about you, I’m giving you this gift, and then we switch, and then it’s all about me. So either you’re doing what I want you to do, you’re scratching my back, whatever I’ve asked, or I’m allowing you to do to me something that you want to do, you’re playing with my hair, feeling up my legs, whatever. And again, I have limits, and I’m going to be clear with those. So the practice of taking, receiving and giving a part. Why bother? Because why can’t we just mush around and play like it’s for both of us. And it’s because when you take them apart, you are able to have experiences that you cannot have, if you don’t take them apart is a different set of experiences that are available to you a different set of has a different set of challenges, a different set of delights, it doesn’t mean that you should live your whole life, taking them apart. But as a practice you, you learn how. And for one thing you learn what they are you learn what receiving a gift, actually is when you’re not trying to give something back at the same time. And that is life changing. To have something be completely for you for this, you know this 10 minutes or whatever. That is really yeah, that’s life changing that cracks your heart. And so yeah, to practice and take them apart. And then when you close the practice and go back into your regular life, then you can decide what to do with it. You can decide how it applies or how it doesn’t apply or or you can play in a way that doesn’t involve giving and receiving this just playing around in the middle. That’s fine too. But what it does so so, so to practice, so what it does for your Life in your relationship is that it clarifies dynamics that have been confusing. And so you can see Oh, this is where I’m setting aside what I want in order to go with what the other person wants. I’m giving to them. But oops, it’s not something they actually wanted. So why they do that? Or I’m over giving around, give, give, give, give giving, or I’m not asking for what I want. Why am I not asking for what I want? Well, of course, it’s vulnerable. Or, I’m expecting to receive this gift, but I’d never asked for it. I just expect it as if there was to read my mind, or they didn’t you have all these insights about your relationship? dynamics, which can be hard to see in yourself, you know,
Silas Rose  15:55
Especially thinking about people that are in long term relationships and are kind of stuck in a pattern.
Betty Martin  16:00
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, working with couples, it’s just fascinating, because when you have them ask each other, these two questions, all kinds of dynamics will become visible, that they weren’t seeing before. That can be really interesting. And of course, if you’re honest with yourself, as a practitioner, you have to notice that oh, I, you know, I here I am helping this person learn how to ask for what they want. I’m having trouble asking for what I want. So where am I going to clean that up? So you got one thing about working with people, it makes you notice, were you doing the same thing yourself, and you will always ship the same thing.
Silas Rose  16:49
So we’re all kind of innately pleasure seeking creatures.  it’s very much a part of our kind of survival mechanism, you know, seeking out the good. And, of course, there are many kinds of pleasure. You focus on tactile, why is his touch. so important for our wellbeing?
Betty Martin  17:12
Well, I think we’re just wired that way. Where it’s inherently part of what our nervous system needs, I think part of it is the actual stimulus, the movement of something across your skin, for example, which of course you can do yourself with your hands, a towel, a sponge, you know, hairbrush, you know. But I think the other part of it is the interpersonal connection, that we’re wired as human beings to meet each other, we need each other, that’s just the fact of it. And touch is one way that we convey appreciation, affection, respect, connection, it’s just one way of many that we have of connecting. And, neurologically, it’s a very important one, it’s the one that as we age and die, it’s the last one to go
Silas Rose  18:16
We are a year a half into this pandemic. And, you know, it’s kind of wearing thin on all of us. But what do you see as the sort of long term consequences of social distancing and something on their public health measures? I’m really, I’m kind of set up to prevent us from connecting.
Betty Martin  18:36
Well, um, it’s unfortunate that we have to have to, you know, social distance, but I’d rather be social distanced than dead. And I’d certainly rather be social distance from my neighbors, for them have been dead. So I don’t think it’s, I mean, it’s unfortunate, yes, but it’s not a deal breaker. It’s not a killer, it. It’s that said, if you are already depressed and anxious and isolated, it can be even harder on you. Absolutely. I think that’s true. And if that’s what it takes to minimize your risk of, of getting sick, then that’s just what you got to do. However, I do want to make a distinction between connection and being physically close. You and I are connecting right now. And we’re, you know, hundreds of miles away. So there are ways to connect with each other and to notice that we’re connected. They just may not be as fun as having a hug.
Silas Rose  19:54
One thing I got from the book is really that pleasure is such a subjective experience. We each have kind of a ceiling of tolerance for touch. Can that change?
Betty Martin  20:11
Oh, yeah. Because pleasure, yes is absolute subjective, it’s an internal neurological phenomenon. So what brings me pleasure is going to be different than what brings you pleasure and, and we do have a ceiling to how much pleasure we are emotionally comfortable with. So I might be, I might enjoy a teaspoon of pleasure, but if it gets up to a tablespoon, I’m starting to get nervous. Or if it gets up to a bucket full, then I’m really anxious, you know, so it’s it, it’s completely natural to have a ceiling, of course we do. And that ceiling is basically the point beyond which our shame and fear and self doubt kicks in, do I really deserve this, this makes me anxious, when’s the other shoe gonna drop? So yeah, we have a ceiling. And the way to expand that is to not try to push yourself, just, if you can enjoy a teaspoon, and enjoy a teaspoon, and just enjoy it. And when it gets to be too much, then back off, it’s not a problem. So that way you learn to trust yourself, and kind of titrate it. And many of us, of course, are on this path of expanding our pleasure capacity, which is a really good thing to do.
Silas Rose  21:43
That’s, that’s a very kind of real way to experience freedom. And perhaps this relates to the spiritual experiences you talked about
Betty Martin  21:56
Yeah, and for, you know, expanding our own sense of pleasure, it’s, it doesn’t have to be these huge Earth shaking experiences of cosmic orgasm, you know, it’s pausing a moment under the shower, to notice that the warmth feels good on the back, and just wait there for 20 seconds. And notice, oh, this feels really good. or looking at the trees in the fall, and the beautiful colors and just pause for 10 seconds. And notice, oh, that’s really beautiful. Or the feel of the feel of the fabric on your jacket. Oh, this feels really nice in my hands, and just pause for a few seconds. And notice that like, pleasure is available, just almost all the time. If we just slow down and notice it. And the book of courses is mostly about tactile pleasure, because it’s based on experience of touch. But yes, there’s many kinds of pleasure. Absolutely.
Silas Rose  23:10
Relaxation seems to be key. For those who are listening who might get overwhelmed in intimate situations, what would you suggest,
Betty Martin  23:23
Oh, that we could talk for a few days about that? That’s a great question. What I suggest is go back to the practice of the three minute game of the wheel and consent, take turns asking each other. How do you want me to touch you for three minutes? And how do you want to touch me for three minutes? Because so often when it comes to pleasure in relationship and in touch, which for many people also mean sex, but not necessarily. This, what we fit what many people think is, well, the touches happening, the hand is going down my back. So I’m supposed to like it. And what’s wrong with me if I don’t like it? And that is so sad and completely backwards. The question is not, why don’t I like this. The more useful question is, what is it that I actually want, maybe I want this hand on my back to be still just stay there. Maybe I want this hand on my back to scratch me instead of caress me. Maybe I want this hand to not be on my back. Maybe I want this hand on my head. Or maybe I want this hand to hold my hand. Or maybe I want to help with the laundry. Like there’s something that sounds meaningful and useful. And good to you. And your, your opportunity, your job is to pause a little bit and notice what that thing is. So, so don’t ask yourself, what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I like this? Ask yourself, what is it? That actually sounds really good right now? And the thing about asking for what you want, it’s hard. Of course, it’s hard. I don’t know anybody who’s really perfect at it. But the thing about playing the three minute game is that it creates a context in which now there’s room for you to ask for what you want. Your partner says, How do you want me to touch you for three minutes? Well, that might be kind of awkward. But really, it’s a luxury to be asked what you want, because in not all situations, do you have that opportunity? And now you have the opportunity and you have all the time in the world to ponder. Hmm, what sounds good right now, how does this sound now? doesn’t sound good? All maybe my feet? Nah, that’s not it. Oh, maybe my ears? No, that’s not. Oh, my calves would just squeeze my calves. And when it finally bubbles up to you what it is that you want? You’ll find yourself going? Ah, yeah, that’s what I want. Yeah, it’s a hell yes. That Oh, yeah. Oh, that’s what I want, then that’s what you asked for. So the structure of the practice creates the space where it becomes easier to ask for what you want. And nothing happens. Except exactly what you asked for. So there’s nothing to go along with and endure? Yeah. Pleasure. Yes. Instead of telling it where you think it’s supposed to be? Well, I’m supposed to like this. So I’ll ask for that. No, that’s not it. That’s not.
Silas Rose  27:11
My next question is somewhat provocative.
Betty Martin  27:15
I can’t wait.
Silas Rose  27:24
How do you define good sex?.
Betty Martin  27:27
Oh, I think that’s a great question. I think, well, sex is first of all, more than sticking some part in some other orifice or other, I think of sex as you’re turned on, and you choose to follow it. And the person you’re with, if you’re with somebody else, is also choosing to follow it. So that could mean lots of different things, you can have sex without touching, you can have sex from a different room, you can have sex across the continent. So get over this idea that sex is equal to intercourse, it’s not, or even sex is equal to genitals, there’s some very sexy things you could play with the don’t involve the genitals at all. But to make it great, I think it means needs to be what is real for you, not what is real for me. Because you’re going to have different things that turn you on than I am, you’re going to have different kinds of people that you’re attracted to than I am or somebody else’s great sex means. It’s meaningful to you, and it expresses who you are, instead of who you think you’re supposed to be, or who society is told you you’re supposed to be or who you think your partner thinks you’re supposed to be. It’s what’s meaningful to you. And that said, What I also think this is my own personal personal thing about what makes sex great for me, for example, is a sense of play, which means response responding to what’s happening, instead of going according to some plan, then to do that. There are some skills that you need and constant skills are some of those skills but for me, a sense of play is really important.
Silas Rose  29:33
There’s innumerable books about how to give your a partner, the cosmic orgasm you talked about, right?  But somehow, the focus on technique seems to get in the way.
Betty Martin  29:48
I totally agree. I’m much more interested in responding to the person and the situation and the feeling right in front of me and see where it goes. I’m not I mean, you know, I might want it technique for, you know, five minutes do me this way. But that’s not really what makes great sex by any means. But think of saying the book if you, if you’re relying on technique, you’re missing the best part,
Silas Rose  30:15
We began our conversation talking about the origins of consent in the mainstream really being toxic masculinity. And I assume that many of the men listening to this episode are now actively working to heal that,  what should men take away from this conversation?
Betty Martin  30:38
Men should understand that they have gotten just as short  end of the stick as women have in and other gendered people have that, that. For the most part, this is a gross generalization. But if you grew up as a boy, there were certain certain things that you were taught that were not available to you that you weren’t allowed to have your feelings, you weren’t allowed to be sensual, you weren’t allowed to express yourself with brightly colored clothes and dancing and you know, all the stuff that people who are raised as girls mostly got access to. And that costs something that is this has a serious cost, to self awareness, to joy to self expression to freedom, to the ability to connect with people, and you’re not broken, there is there are ways to re claim and rediscover these aspects of yourself, just as women are. I’m talking here, mostly about cisgender women, although I think it probably holds for trans women as well. There are things which women are learning to recover, that were denied to them as children. And there are things that men are learning to recover that were denied to them as children. And as a general rule, those are kind of the opposite things. For most people,
Silas Rose  32:18
Wonderful. I feel like we just done this kind of fly by. I hop we can get your back and do a little bit of a deeper dive. Thank you so much Betty for this conversation. And for those that want to learn more about your work and the book, where can they go?
Betty Martin  32:39
bettymartin.org. The book is wheelofconsentbook.com. Both of those websites linked to the other. So you’ll find one you’ll find the other, thanks

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