Not every sexual situation is going to be had in the context of a relationship, though. Soon after my first boyfriend became my first ex-boyfriend, I found that the same rules apply to scenarios where I attached my face to another person’s whose middle (or even last) name I didn’t know! (ESCÁNDALO.) These experiences taught me plenty of frank, direct, flirtatious, and gentle ways to make consent a part of every hookup, regardless of how well I might know my co-hooker-upper. How you decide to approach the babes of your consensual and highly sexy future is up to you, but here are some pointers on how to score and feel great about it, how to make sure these future-babes are equally jazzed about what’s going on, and what to do if things take a too-intense turn and you want to set them back on track.

If someone is touching you in a way that feels like too much (how you determine this is, as with most things related to sexual desire, highly subjective), tell them to change what they’re doing, or to stop, if you prefer. If you’re all right with the former, pull away a little and say something like “Do that [more slowly, or gently, or however you’d like them to change it it], please.” No matter what you say, don’t couch it in language like “I don’t think I want to do that yet” if you’re actually sure you don’t want to do that yet. You don’t have to water down what you know in your heart/parts to be true, and your boundaries are not up for renegotiation unless you say, and mean, that they are.

In one of my frenches of yore, nothing much was “happening” that wasn’t kissing, on the surface, but the francophile in question had me pressed up against a wall in a way that I found a little too impassioned, even though I was otherwise enjoying the festivities. Getting specific about what wasn’t working for me righted that weirdness: “Hey, can you back up a little?” goes a long way, and not in the sexually figurative sense. She got the message that I wanted to SLOW RIDE, TAKE IT EASY in that instance, although we had hooked up in explosive, grabby, and generally raunch-as-hell ways before. When dudes have rammed their tongues down my esophagus, which has happened a solid handful of times in my life, saying, “Can you be a little gentler?” has been similarly effective.

If you say, “I like it when you slow down,” and then that person doesn’t, I advise you to bail—and this advice extends to not just kissing, but every kind of sexual contact. First and most important: Physically separate yourself from this person, since your comfort and safety come first, regardless of whatever the hell they’re doing or saying to imply the contrary. Then, if you feel comfortable doing so, let them know why you’re bailing, because they should be aware that their supremely jerky behavior is the reason they’re about to be alone. Then, unless you have anything more you’d like to say, just leave.

Consent also includes protecting your physical health. You should always use some kind of barrier method that prevents STIs, like a condom, if you’re having sex. To be extra-safe throughout your encounter, you should also periodically check to make sure that barrier method stays in place, too. People can be surprisingly and infuriatingly boneheaded about this! Once upon a night that started out promisingly, I caught someone I was with trying to remove a condom without telling me. What a nightmare, right? When he explained that he assumed I’d be “chill about it,” I freaked. How dare anyone treat anyone else this way—and then be an idiot bro who tries to project his grossness onto me BY USING THE WORD CHILL AS AN ADJECTIVE. Yo, I became a banshee. I fucking hate that guy, and I wish I could tell the world his name so that he could see exactly how chill I am.

On the other end of the consensual spectrum, a recent hookup asked me if I’d gotten the Gardasil shot (an HPV vaccine). This sounds a lot less cool than it was, but trust me! I was kissing this person for the first time, and, even though it was unclear whether things would go further, he wanted to let me know before they did that he carried the virus, so any decisions I made that evening would be informed ones. “That’s awesome of you to tell me,” I said, a little too impressed. His response was even better: “It’s not! I just think you have the right to know whether I could potentially be giving you something like that.” That is exactly how to be! In case anyone tries to tell you that pausing a sensuous sexperience to ask questions, provide information, and/or make sure everything is cool with your partner “kills the mood,” let me tell you, honesty made me like him even more, which is usually the case with any kind of sexual encounter—or life-encounter in general.

Sex, like every other way of relating to another person, is at its very greatest when you and those you’ve chosen to hang around with are honest, listen to each other, and generally make a point of keeping kindness and respect at the forefront of your minds. I know that part won’t be hard for you. I hope that, even though hooking up with other people can be unpredictable, you go into every situation knowing and trusting that, whatever your boundaries are, they’re exactly the right ones to follow. You know what you want—and so should anyone who has the privilege of being on the other end of whatever that means for you. Go get it. ♦