But her initial request, although surprising, turned something casual into something exciting and intimate. In the end, the permission to be sexy is what made the relationship hotter, Carson feels. “Being given ‘dick pic permission’ […] was very much a romantic, consensual and intimate trust sort of thing.”

Consent seems like a loaded word at the start of 2018, doesn’t it? Can you kiss without permission? What about hitting on someone? Talking dirty? Consent seems like it takes the wind out of your sails and kills the moment, but in actuality, using consent in both new and longstanding relationships can turn a mediocre encounter into something way hotter.

But just what do we mean by consent? “Broadly speaking, consent is when you give someone permission or access to something that’s yours,” explains Dr. Nadine Thornhill, sexuality educator. But coercing, forcing or nagging to get your way isn’t the same as getting explicit consent. “Permission that’s given under stress, duress or because of fear of violence isn’t consent. Consent is given freely,” Dr. Thornhill explains. “Consent is given because that’s what the person wants to do.”

Thirty-three-year-old Alicia had met a man online and before they had a chance to meet in person, he asked if he could send nudes. Because of their long-distance status, Alicia knew there would probably be some form of “phone sex” but before their first official date, he sent a snap. “He said he had a boner and asked if I wanted to see. I said yes,” she explains. But his asking for permission turned a run-of-the-mill nude pic into something more.

“I had been sent plenty of unsolicited photos in the past when online dating and such, so it definitely made it extra sexy that he wanted to make sure I was into it,” she explains. And that’s what can make asking for consent a worthwhile extension of your sexual or romantic conquests.

And consent isn’t just about sending nudes. It can be as simple as asking permission to kiss someone. “If you’re hoping to have a sexual relationship, it’s okay to talk and be honest about it,” Dr. Thornill says. “Try saying something like, ‘I think you’re incredibly sexy. If you’re open to it, I’d love to be with you.’[This] is truthful, it acknowledges a woman’s sexual agency, and it’s also very complimentary.”

Even asking someone you’re into if you can kiss them can turn that awkward first kiss into something more anticipatory and fun. But consent isn’t just for new relationships. If you’ve been with your partner for a long time, adding the right questions into your sex life could be just the spicing up it may need.

“I think in long-term relationships, particularly relationships where there’s a great deal of trust built up, incorporating consent into sex-play, dirty-talk, etc., is great,” Dr. Thornhill says. “Consent doesn’t have to function as a dreary moral obligation we need to get out of the way before we get to the “fun” parts of sex. It can be part of how we play with our partners.”

So, whether your partner is new, or you’re looking to switch things up with your long-time love, reshaping what you think of consent not only makes your relationship better, but can even make it hotter.