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  • Miranda L. Galbreath, MA, MA, LPC

Ditch playing hard to get, talk a LOT more about consent


Playing Hard to Get


The concept of “playing hard to get” feels to me like it’s everywhere, and it’s an ongoing effort for me to remove it from my vocabulary. Try to pay attention to how often you think or say or hear it. You might be surprised how often it pops up.


What we’re talking about here is the idea that a person wants something, but they are choosing not to communicate it directly. Or maybe they don’t think it’s okay to communicate it directly. So they act like they don’t want something that really they DO want, and hope the person they want it from somehow magically figures it out and gives it to them. Clearly if a person actually IS “playing hard to get,” that makes it difficult for a person to get what they want.


I work with incarcerated men who have committed sexual offenses, and this is an issue that comes up in treatment. Where this really becomes an issue for the people that I work with is that it’s not uncommon for them to have the belief that the person they victimized (especially if that person is a woman or girl) WANTED the sexually victimizing behavior, but was “playing hard to get,” and/or was in some way giving them subtle signals that they wanted the contact.


They also often present with an overall belief that in general woman and girls don’t say what they want sexually, but that they do indeed want it, and it’s up to the man to go for it. I’m guessing you can see, folks, how these beliefs and practices that are common among folks who have committed sex offenses are ALSO common among the rest of us.


Not Talking About Consent


The issue of not talking about consent often goes hand in hand with playing hard to get. We spend A LOT of time talking about consent in treatment for folks who have committed sexual offenses. Unfortunately, the average person, including the average person who has committed sexual offenses, does not spend a lot of time talking about consent. The absolute most basic consent issue we talk about is that you should not be engaging in any sexual behavior without establishing that the other person involved is consenting. On top of that, we generally spend a lot of time focusing on these other basic issues:


  • The consenting person must be legally old enough to consent. It doesn’t matter what an underage person agrees to. They can’t legally consent. (A 13 year old cannot consent to a sexual relationship with a 25 year old. Not even if the 13 year old’s mom says it’s okay.)

  • A person who is incapacitated and unable to make decisions because of medical or mental health concerns, or because of the influence of a substance is not able to consent. (A person who is in a coma cannot consent, no matter how old they are. A person who is unconscious cannot consent. And frankly, even if the person is not unconscious, if they’re under the influence, or you are, or both, you are playing with fire and taking some risks. Can you really be sure that what you are doing is consenting? My treatment groups are full of guys who SWEAR that their partner was consenting at the time of the offense. Their “partner” thought differently, and now they are in prison.)

  • A person over whom you have power and control may be compromised in their ability to consent. (It’s not really consent if a person feels like they can’t say no because they “owe” you, or you are an authority figure, or you might hurt them if they don’t go along with you.)

  • It’s not really consent if you continue to hound a person until they go along with what you want, or they stop resisting.

  • You can’t tell if someone is consenting just by looking at them. (Just because you think a person is “dressed sexy” doesn’t mean they want to do anything sexual with you. Just because they are doing something you find arousing, like dancing, doesn’t mean they want to do anything more than dance. Just because they’re at the party/club/etc. doesn’t mean they are interested in sexual activity, or are even old enough to consent. The fact that you think they “look grown” and you find their body attractive doesn’t tell you anything at all about their level of sexual interest in you.)

  • You can’t tell if someone is consenting based on their reputation. (Just because you heard they sleep around doesn’t mean they want to sleep with YOU. Just because they did it with your buddy doesn’t mean they want to do it with YOU.)

  • Just because a person consents to one thing, doesn’t mean you have the green light to do whatever you want. They might consent to kissing, but not want to do anything else, for example.


There’s so much more to talk about in terms of “playing hard to get” and consent that we just can’t cram into this discussion. I guess the take home message is that none of us is probably talking about or understanding consent as much as we should. Many of us are assuming it when we shouldn’t. Many of us just plain don’t know how to have conversations about consent. These are areas we can ALL work on to improve our sexual safety, and the sexual safety of those with whom we are sexual.


Wanna learn more? Check out the video of my presentation, “Ditch Playing Hard to Get, Talk a LOT More About Consent.”







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