how to practice consent - shaking hands image

How to Practice Consent

If you haven’t had sex before you can practice consent by thinking about handshakes! Find out how this works

Note, because of coronavirus you shouldn’t be doing this at the moment with people outside your home. If you do this with people you live with, wash your hands first!

If you are new to sex you might find it all quite overwhelming and you might not be sure about how to do it consensually. So I’m going to get you to think about handshakes, or any other greeting, and how consent works there.

Then we’ll talk about sex! But before that …

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Think about handshakes

We’re talking about handshakes here because I’m in the UK and we are obsessed with them (and everyone else in the world doing them). But you might have your own local greeting too.

1. The Handshake Script

Can you remember the last time you shook hands with someone? They often aren’t memorable, but I bet it was: right handed, medium firmness, up and down and about 2 seconds long. Not much eye contact.

There’s a script of what we’re meant to do when we shake hands and often people do the same without thinking (even if someone is left handed). Even though we have this script it can be a little bit different for different people. Like one person’s idea of a ‘medium firmness’ handshake could feel bone-crushing to another.

2. Negotiating a Handshake

Next time you shake hands try negotiating absolutely everything. Asking first. Which hand? How firm (scale of 1 – 10)? Dry hand first? Up and down? Left and right? How many shakes? How long for? Fistbump? High five? A complex combo shake?

This might be a more memorable handshake. You might meet each other’s needs. There may be more of a connection between you. You also know what’s going to happen. But, it’s also a bit awks talking about it so much. You kind of lose the spontaneity, the buzz, the spark of the first handshake. If you negotiate what you do it can be a better handshake but it can also be well awkward.

3. The ‘Tuning In’ Handshake

Next try a third handshake. This time you try to have the best of both handshakes. You’re trying to have a great handshake together but instead of talking you just really notice everything that’s happening.

Look for eye contact and facial expressions: are they enjoying it? Do you nod your head, or smile, or laugh. Do you make a noise like ‘mmmm?’ Notice your body language, are you turning towards each other? How do you hands connect and disconnect and how does that feel? Maybe it might help to slow it down a bit so that you can notice what’s going on.

People often have this kind of handshake in real life. It’s just taking the time to really be with each other for a couple of seconds. Think about your own experiences of handshakes and whether you’ve had any really good ones – did you feel a sense of connection like this?

Handshakes = massive sex analogy

You’ve probably already worked out that this is an analogy. This is a sex and relationships website after all. I’ll explain it a bit more below, but actually it is more than an analogy. Think about your handshakes (or other greetings) and think about how you get your needs met. How does a really good handshake feel and how does that make you feel about you and the other person?

‘First handshake sex’

BISH first handshake

Like with the first handshake, some people don’t like to talk and just do it. The sex follows the same script (kissing, nakedness, ‘foreplay’, entry sex). Some people like that kind of sex.

Just like with handshakes, sometimes you get a good one, sometimes the sex happens to work for both people. However often it doesn’t meet your needs at all because you haven’t talked about what kind of sex you want. For instance many people find that entry sex just doesn’t do it for them. Also other people can’t do, or don’t want to do, that kind of sex. The definition of what ‘counts’ as sex is kinda hetero and kinda ablist.

Also not talking about sex you’re going to have can be non-consensual. If no-one agrees to anything, or you don’t check to see and ‘one thing leads to another’ you might think it’s consensual but the other person might not. If you are just following the script, rather than paying attention to each other, then it can be non-consensual (which could be rape or sexual assault)

‘Second handshake sex’

Bish second handshake no-one has sex

The second handshake approach to sex sounds great, but in truth people would rarely have sex if they had to negotiate everything about it before hand. Like with the second handshake, it’s good to know that you’re meeting each other’s needs, it’s good to set boundaries and it’s good to have an idea of what will happen.

However, talking about sex in that detail is awkward and it might kill the buzz and excitement. Sex can be really hard to talk about if you have had poor sex education and aren’t used to saying sex words like: breasts, lips, or pimhole*. It’s also harder for some people to talk about what they actually might want than others, particularly if there is a difference in power in a relationship.

But also, some people are really into talking about what they want before they have sex. That’s great, and there’s more advice for how you can do that at this post about working out what sex you want to have, and this one about planning for first time sex with someone.

*not a sex word

‘Third handshake sex’

third handshake tuning in

So we have the script of how we just have sex and not talk about it and the other end where we talk about everything. To get the best of both worlds the best thing to do is to be really tuning into the other person – just like with the third handshake I talked about.

It’s a good idea to do this whether you have talked about the sex a lot, or not very much at all. This is because consent isn’t just a one time decision, it’s on-going. Someone can agree to do something, but then when it’s happening they are also allowed to change their mind. So paying attention to the sex you are having is super important.

It’s about knowing that you both really want to do it with each other and that you both want to have a shared moment with each other. Having enough communication to get going and also being able to check in with each other during it.

That you will pay attention to whether they are enjoying it (as well as whether you are). Looking out for the body language, the eye contact, the noises you make, how your bodies move towards or away from each other. There’s more on how you can do this at the sex talk and communication article.


You can use handshakes to teach people about consent. It’s much more interesting than just reading this article out to your students. You can find details of how to do this in my Consent Teaching Pack at my website for practitioners. The handshake activity is also in DO… RSE for Schools.

Please leave a (nice) comment below if you like or ask me a question here.

© Justin Hancock, 2024 Find out more about me and BISH here.

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I’ve been a sex and relationships educator since 1999 (with a background in youth and community work). In that time I’ve taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. I’ve worked with many charities, local governments, schools and youth organisations facilitating training and workshops. My two books, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and If You Want To) and Can We Talk About Consent? are widely available around the world. I’ve been on the telly and the radio and have written articles for newspapers and magazines. I’m also a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Read more about me and BISH here. Find out about my other work here Justin Hancock

If you’re over 18 and would like an advanced version of BISH check out my podcast Culture Sex Relationships. Also I’ve written a sex advice book for adults with Meg-John Barker called A Practical Guide to Sex available wherever you get books. We also did some zines to help you to figure out what you want from sex and relationships. They are at our website.

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