Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Beyond not rape.

Everyone (well, everyone cool) agrees that consent is the most important thing in sexual activities.  It's the difference between harassment and flirting, groping and foreplay, BDSM and abuse, between sex and rape.

But is that all it's about?  Not violating your partner?  Obviously that's a big deal, but...

Yesterday Rowdy and I had amazing sex.  It was loving and passionate and messy and rough, the kind of sex that scares the neighbors and soaks the mattress, the kind of sex that left me literally high afterwards, falling asleep spooned around Rowdy and whispering "I'm flying" into his ear.

You know what I didn't say to him afterwards?  "Oh baby, that was so not rape."

Having sex that isn't rape is like cooking food that isn't poison.  It's the bare goddamn minimum.  If your list of sex tips consists of nothing but "don't rape" and then goes straight into physical details, you're missing something in the middle.

Few things worry me more than people (okay, men) who say it's difficult to know if someone's consenting or not.  This suggests to me not just that they could be violating someone's consent, but that even if they aren't, they're having terrible sex.  If your idea of sex is limited to "one partner silently gets on and grinds away and the other tolerates it," it can be consensual, but it's probably not much fun.

Sexual communication does have gray areas and fuzzy middle grounds.  It's just that they aren't between rape and not rape--if that isn't a bright glowing line then you have a bright glowing imperative to stop cold until it is.  No, the gray area is between okay sex and great sex, between compromise sex and consensus sex, between "alright, sure" sex and "oh my god yeah let's do this" sex.

The lowest level of communication between Rowdy and me was "do you want to have sex?"  That's the part that made it not rape.  But it wasn't the end of the process.  Things like "I want to fuck you while you're doing yourself with the Hitachi" and "I want you to fist me"--and even smaller things, bits like "squeeze me tight" and "kiss me, kiss me now."  (By the way, I'm just flabbergasted by people who think talking during sex isn't sexy. I mean, you don't talk about the weather, but if these quotes aren't sexy, what is sexy like on your planet?)

So it saddens me when sexual communication is treated as being about consent only.  Consent is step one.  Consent is getting the keys to the car.  But it isn't knowing how to drive it.

And it flat-out horrifies me when sexual consent is treated as fuzzy, because if you don't know for sure if your partner even wants to be doing this, you definitely don't know what they actually like.

Seeking enthusiastic consent is awesome!  By all means, keep it up!  Not raping people is super important!  But it's not nearly enough to build a sex life on.

73 comments:

  1. "Few things worry me more than people (okay, men) who say it's difficult to know if someone's consenting or not."

    Let's be fair here, on the flipside there's the depressingly large amount of girls that I know/have know know have a distinct "It's not sexy if you have to talk about it, you just know." attitude.

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  2. Out here in vanilla-land, I've been seeing someone who isn't very communicative about sex, and it worries me. Sometimes I can ask "Do you want to have sex?" and not get a response at all. It isn't just that she doesn't want to talk, she's of two minds about what she wants.

    One time after naked times and mutual masturbation, before we had full blown sex, she asked why I hadn't just "gone for it." I said because she'd said in times before that she didn't want to have sex, and she hadn't said anything differently this time.

    The first time we had sex, it was after six months of seeing each other. She verbally consented that time, moaning, naked and legs wrapped around me. Later, I got a text message saying that physically it was the best sex she'd ever had, but emotionally she hadn't been prepared for it.

    I don't want it to seem like I'm angry at her. I just want to describe how even when I ask, I don't know for sure what she wants. I don't even know if SHE knows what she wants, or if part of her wants something and another part doesn't. That worries me.

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  3. Co-signed. Sex should be fun. Giddy, giggly, thrilling, shock-your-grandmother (unless you have a cool grandmother), swinging-from-the-chandeliers FUN. For both - sorry, all - parties. (Thanks for expanding my horizons on that.)

    I've actually heard a guy argue that in order to be absolutely certain that he won't be accused of rape, his partner has to keep chanting 'yes, yes, yes' throughout the whole thing. I'm like, '...you've never made a woman go YES YES YES, have you?'

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  4. the only sex i've had was the "okay fine, do whatever, i just want to go to sleep" kind. i don't know if i could handle putting myself out there enough to really go all out and enjoy it. i still feel pretty iffy about my body and i'm just... i'm worried that me looking the way i do makes being sexy/sexual seem gross or weird. i'm working on it, though.

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  5. The usual feminist stance on women who won't say they want sex is "fine, then they shouldn't get laid," but reading these comments, I'm going to take that one further.

    I think if you can't talk about sex, it's probably not all that good for you to get laid. I think that not having sex until you can talk about it isn't a punishment but a growth opportunity. I think it gives you the chance to face down your own insecurities.

    I'm not trying to tell commenters what to do, but if I were in the place of being unable to talk about sex or dating someone who's unable to talk about sex, I'd hold off on sex altogether until I was able to have that conversation.

    I think no sex is better than sex without communication--and sometimes no sex is better, sometimes it turns out that you really don't have much sex drive or really aren't comfortable having sex right now or with this person. I think that's a legitimate answer and worth finding out.

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  6. Holly, I think what you might be missing with that is that all these experiences are extremely common. Outside the nice circle you live in this is the norm and it goes unquestioned. The culture of "silent love" as you've put it before is pervasive and insiduous. The concept of wanting sex for pleasure explicitly and exclusively is almost never introduced to young women through their sex ed and this can create tricky situations for young men in terms of the conflicting and incomplete messages they get about consent and what is "romantic" and "normal". Heap on this the repression that stems the perception that as opposed to girls they want sex all the time no emotions you have a complicated situation.

    And there aren't really a lot of good alternatives to this as you age. There's porn. You have PUA and The Rules sort of idiocy about relationships. Cosmo. Dan Savage is really one of the few what I'd consider "positive" sex ed influences for adults even though he can be problematic.


    I know your advice is well meaning but a lot of what you write about on your blog about sex is still considered to be radical. When you are giving (the perfectly good) advice about waiting until you're ready for sex you're giving it to a generation where the boys are taught they should always be ready and the girls are taught that being ready has little to do with them actually being turned on.

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  7. I'm not ordering people to be celibate until they can be radically open in their sexuality.

    ...I just wish they were. But I'm not weak-saucing that wish.

    I'm not going to adapt my advice for "this is actually wrong, but I don't think you're ready for right."

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  8. Nor am I suggesting that you do. I was going for something more along the lines of. "Educate yourself and try again when you feel comfortable." Seems more structured to me? Something to do while you wait. Because the problem here isn't individual immaturity about communication. It's broader and I feel like it should be tackled with that in mind.



    ...with all due respect to you and did I mention I love your blog to death and have a not so tiny crush on you and your awesome? :P I don't mean to be critical I just see a caveat here.

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  9. Okay, yeah, that's a fair point.

    I think some separation from mainstream culture is necessary to be psychologically healthy, these days.

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  10. Long-time-reader-first-time-commenter (though I've tweeted a bit) here, and I will respectfully disagree with this bit: I'm just flabbergasted by people who think talking during sex isn't sexy. I mean, you don't talk about the weather, but if these quotes aren't sexy, what is sexy like on your planet? MKINYK and all that. I mean, I do talk during sex, me and my partner do comminicate verbally, because it's neccessary, but I don't find it particularly sexy, and if there was a reasonable way to get around it I would take it. Probably my most ideal non-specific fantasy is sexual telepathy, just *knowing* what works without any preample. Obv, being with someone for a long time does cut down the chatter a bit, knowing from experience what they like and don't like in a general sense, but still. Since I don't like the concept of dirty talk at all, and since more matter-of-fact talk at best doesn't distract from the moment, nope, I don't find talking during sex sexy at all. Just necessary. (It may be sensory thing; I can't fully enjoy sex with music on, prefer dimly lit rooms to bright light, etc.)

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  11. I have to say, I've been reading these comments with interest because I have a terrible relationship with sex that is fraught with self-esteem and body image issues (despite the fact that I VERY much enjoy sex, no, I can't be "radically open" about it) and have been celibate for the past five years while I attempt to make myself ok with myself.

    Basically, at the rate I'm progressing, I predict I'll never be ready for sex, and I am NOT okay with that. But I guess it's even worse to be sexually active and a shitty partner.

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  12. Even if I were out to tinker with her personality, I'm not sure how much progress I would make at our ages. Best get busy falling out of love and breaking up with her, I suppose.

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  13. Goodness it's so refreshing to read something like that. Thanks Holly. People communicate about politics, fashion, news, tv shows, work, everything under the sun, but way too many people have sex silently not expressing their desires and preferences. "A little more to the left" might be the most underrated sentence of the last 10 years.

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  14. To the Anon who wrote, "I don't want it to seem like I'm angry at her. I just want to describe how even when I ask, I don't know for sure what she wants. I don't even know if SHE knows what she wants, or if part of her wants something and another part doesn't. That worries me."

    Dude, the communication between you two sounds terrible. It sounds like you're actually leaving space for her to make her wants known, and yet she's entirely incapable of expressing them. You need to tell her you can't have sex with her until she can clearly express what she wants. And if she can't--there are far more people out there who are way less confusing.

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  15. It took a few years before I could rationally lay out why I find the statement "but how can I know if she really wants to have sex" so damn disturbing. How can you not know? Why would you continue at all if the person your about to fuck is right there and you can't be sure that they want to be.

    Even creepier are the asses that ask questions like, "well if xyz happens can I be charged with rape". Like the only reason they want to know is so they can ride the line as close as possible and feel ok.

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  16. My husband could talk about the weather for all I care, he has such a sexy voice it'd be worth it. He communicates in these tony little grunt and "Mmk?" "Y'alright?" "S'good?" "More?" sentences. If I could get that man to speak steadily ..... (And not for lack of trying, he's just not a talkative person)

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  17. I think that the reason that talk during sex beyond "making sure consent is given" is rarely dealt with, is that it varies a lot from person to person, and as such is harder to deal with on a generalized basis.

    I know one women that during sex prefer to have a entire conversation that is entirely divorced from the act of sex (punctuated by brief comments about the sex) - which is rather strange to me.

    In the other ditch I know someone that gets turned off a fair bit if her partner talks beyond the bare minimum during sex - and yet, sex with her was actually quite good. And her body-communication was good enough that it was fairly clear what she wanted.

    Me? Personally, I like getting surprised by sex partners. I find it fairly thrilling when I don't expect something they do. So for me, too much communication from my side is sort of counter productive.

    My point is, that's three widely different perspectives on talking during sex, and I don't really want to say "your sex is wrong sex". Agreeing that communication about consent should take place is easy - further than that it depends a bit on individual taste, making it much harder to deal with as a topic.

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  19. Maybe if you can't talk during sex, talk before sex?

    "When I get home, I'm gonna chase you upstairs to bed, tickle the hell out of you, take all your clothes off and jump on you and ride you until you come."

    "In three seconds, I want to be upstairs, with my face between your legs. Then I want to try what we did last night, only this time, let's do it on the floor."

    "Meet me in the shower, let's lather eachother up and then suck eachother off."

    I mean, isn't knowing what is supposed to happen going to take the pressure off? Then you don't need to talk beyond moaning and "yes. yes! YES. YES!!" and the only surprises will be the little things that make you happy, and don't kill the mood entirely if they don't work for you.

    The point isn't just that "not talking is bad." It's that "talking is good for you. Like vitamins. Take those daily supplements of communication, please."

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  20. @Jason: Holly is saying rape fantasy are wrong? Holly pervocracy, bdsm-loving Holly? God, we mustn't have read the same blog.
    And I don't see how rape fantasy goes against this post. How can you think about doing a rape or any kind of fantasy without talking a lot about what you want before and/or during sex?

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  21. Nice try, but troll control isn't narcissism, Jason.

    Especially when your post consists largely of "how dare you be female and also say things."

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  22. I'm not sure we can conclude that it's always ridiculous for men to be worried that they won't be able to recognize consent. Among other issues, my experience of sex education is really nagging at me. I don't know how common this is, but my high school sex ed left me with the impression that a woman might say or do almost literally anything while still not consenting. She might moan, sigh, French kiss, do a striptease, whisper dirty nothings, show you where her clit is, and/or scream "YES YES YES!" And she might reassure you, clearly, explicitly, and repeatedly, that she enthusiastically consents. Now, I think that's an unrealistically exaggerated message, but if I'm not the only one who heard it that way it might be contributing to some of this uneasiness.

    Also, let's not forget that people can consent mistakenly - even enthusiastically and mistakenly. Especially if I'm doing something that's new for me, I might want it very badly at the time and believe that I'm ready for it and still be unhappily surprised by the emotions that arise afterwards. So I might say, "Wow, I really wasn't emotionally prepared for that, I wish I hadn't done it." Chances are that will make my partner feel as though zie's done something wrong despite the fact that I certainly did consent.

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  23. @Chantal: The point isn't just that "not talking is bad." It's that "talking is good for you. Like vitamins. Take those daily supplements of communication, please."

    Your words are like the soothing balm of honey; delicious, and good for your throat when things are starting to go wrong.

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  24. Talking is awesome. It took years, but we enjoy an unprecedented level of conversation during sex now. Well, mostly him talking and me grunting in the affirmative or negative beyond a certain point. My brain enters a certain space where talking just doesn't happen anymore. My verbal center pretty much shuts down.

    He talks. It's fantastic. We both get off. Whee!

    I babble like a maniac afterward, though.

    I like Chantal's idea of talking before sex too.

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  25. Folks wrote, "I don't know how common this is, but my high school sex ed left me with the impression that a woman might say or do almost literally anything while still not consenting. She might moan, sigh, French kiss, do a striptease, whisper dirty nothings, show you where her clit is, and/or scream 'YES YES YES!' And she might reassure you, clearly, explicitly, and repeatedly, that she enthusiastically consents. Now, I think that's an unrealistically exaggerated message, but if I'm not the only one who heard it that way it might be contributing to some of this uneasiness."

    I'd like to hear more about people's thoughts on this. I had abstinence only sex ed in high school, and what I got from it wasn't so much about communication at all but "Don't have sex, you will get pregnant and die".

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  26. Sometimes I think that people who don't talk during sex are not doing it because they think it's unsexy, it's because they feel nervous and awkward around their partner in the bedroom. I wouldn't be surprised if that applied even to some couples that have been together for a really long time. This may be something to do with the fact that some people seem to be REALLY uncomfortable with their own bodies which is bound not to help, but I'm sure the Cosmo idea that your partner will take little instructions of how to pleasure you better as huge insults doesn't help at all.

    I figured this out when I was having my first sexual experiences when I was about 14 (not proper sex but unpleasant gropings with people I didn't even like) and I realised that actual sex was going to be horrible if I didn't feel comfortable being sexy with the person I was with.

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  27. Molly Ren -

    Me too. It was like that scene from mean girls - "If you touch each other, you will get chlamydia. And die."

    We didn't really talk about consent at all, because it wasn't about actually having sex, it was about trying to convince us not to have sex.

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  28. As my hearing has deteriorated, I've been having to educate lovers on very explicit non-verbal communication. Because the delicate bionic ears come off when I'm getting tossed around a bed (or floor, or...whatever), and verbal communication ends up becoming a rather unsexy "what? Can you repeat that? You want me to do what?"

    It's been frustrating, often amusing, and an interesting learning curve. Debriefing after wards along the lines of what works, what doesn't, and how to fix the latter, has been helpful.

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  29. """Few things worry me more than people (okay, men) who say it's difficult to know if someone's consenting or not. This suggests to me not just that they could be violating someone's consent, but that even if they aren't, they're having terrible sex."""

    Oh, as a man, I could not disagree more...

    Now, my disagreement stems from my love of the one night stand, and in those cases it IS a challenge to make sure that it's not just the moment talking, but that the whole idea is desired. Too much anecdotal evidence of morning-after recantations make the whole thing a little scary.

    However, talking about it before you actually get to his place or hers (or the parking lot if you can't wait), can be quite a turn on -- I also agree that if you can't talk about it you really shouldn't be doing it.

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  30. Anon at 4:12

    Wait, does your disagreement come from being a man or from loving the one night stand?

    Because I'm a woman who has much love for the one night stand, and it is really easy to tell when the guy of the night is into it, and when it's not, and I make it very easy for them to know too.

    In those cases, sometimes communication is difficult, but her point still stands; if you can't tell if they're enjoying it, the sex is kinda bad

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  31. "I think if you can't talk about sex, it's probably not all that good for you to get laid."

    Definitely, Holly. The one time I got laid without having actually discussed sex first...was very much Do Not Want. Maybe if I'd talked about it beforehand, I would've realized how bizarre the fellow's views of sex and gender were, and dumped him sooner.

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  32. Aaaargh!

    Post got eaten.

    tl:dnr - That's all some of us can get. And there are more things at play here than just the sex.

    I think those were my points.

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  33. "Wait, does your disagreement come from being a man or from loving the one night stand?"

    Sounds like he's afraid of sleeping with the mythic woman who will regret her in-the-moment actions and ~cry rape~

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  34. mapoftheproblematic: Yeah, that's a tough statement to unpack... part of it is my experience in the military (I joined the Navy just after the Tailhook scandal, and we got sexual harassment training every six months after that -- if you have a need to be harassed, sexually, I'm the one to do it. At this point, I'm an expert).

    And part of it is my male guilt; it's like white guilt, but gender based.

    I so enjoy the anonymous hookup (though at 43, it's kinda fading into the rearview mirror), but I am always on guard to make sure my partner really is interested in the idea, and not going along because of external needs/desires/dreams...

    I've ended up in bed with women who have: just (as in 14 hours ago) got dumped by her fiance; found that she hated her marriage; discovered that she was newly homeless (that was rather unfun in the overall)...

    And while the large majority were emotionally secure folk who were happy to go home in the morning or glad that I left early, there is always the chance that a random partner may decide that the evening had been a bad idea and Should Be Dealt With, though I've only ever run into that once.

    Mostly, I'm just skittish over a lot of anecdotal evidence of accusation -- and while most of those events only involved besmirched names (on both sides) and not the authorities, the possibility of any of it does indeed scare the crap out of me.

    However, I do stand by the idea that if you can't talk about your sexual desires, then I am certainly not your partner.

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  35. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  36. BTW: Holly - when I try to use livejournal credentials, my post don't go nowhere - the page reloads and here I am again, editing my post!

    While it's nice to have another chance to review for typos or thinkos, it's kinda exasperating... being nothing more than A Nony Mous can cast a body as more troll than participant.

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  37. peniscolony: while your scenario is not pure myth, it's usually (as I have run into it) cast in a personal exchange, and not a run for the authorities... but that personal exchange can rock a person's world and more.

    While I try hard to stay away from anyone who would even ponder such a thing (rule 0: don't die, rule 1: don't mix your fun bits with KrAzY), that doesn't mean it can't happen -- never forget, people are funny creatures, you and me included.

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  38. Annon I've been chatting with.

    I think now might be a lovely time to visit Harriet J as she explains how you can't accidentally rape someone

    The relevant highlight (although go read the whole thing. tis gooood)

    "I think (total presumption here) that when your friend is talking about drunkeness or mistakes, he’s imaginging perfectly reasonable things. He’s thinking, “What if my best friend’s girlfriend and I have sex and then later she feels bad for cheating?” Or, he’s imagining, “What if I’m at a club and there is a super drunk girl I like and she drags me back to her house where we have wild energetic sex all night?” That’s sex that’s a mistake. That’s drunken sex. That’s not rape, and women don’t call that rape. If your friend thinks they do, he needs to check out the stats the government puts out about false accusations: women falsely accuse men of rape at the same rate that (surprise!) people falsely accuse other people of any crime. It’s somewhere in the range of 1%-2%.

    He’s assuming that everybody has this definition of mistakes or drunken sex, but rapists don’t."

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    1. I've seen a lot of effort go in to debunking the 1-2% stat, sometimes to place it as high as 9%. The fear, not of raping someone without knowing it, but of them regretting it and changing the story because while they consented physically and verbally emotionally they weren't prepared, is a legitimate one. Without the anecdotal evidence of others, I've had three instances where I performed or had performed on me a sexual act with someone I didn't want anything to do with (male and female) and afterwards felt a lot of shame and regret over. Do I call rape? No, I went along willingly in the moment and I can't recant that, but I can see how people with more to lose or just less introspection would jump at the chance to rewrite what happened.

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  39. I'm bad at talking during sex (especially once I get into subspace) but really good at talking ABOUT sex at other times. (And emailing, txting, yum...)

    If your partner can't/won't communicate, then you might need to find the safest, least sexual setting and have that conversation then. A time and place when you are comfortable, alone together, and have plenty of time, but when actually HAVING sex is not expected to occur.

    I agree with Holly, it really would be better to stop having the ambiguous/unwanted sex until the communication can happen first.

    It makes me so sad to think of all the bad unrewarding sex that people think just IS how sex is; it's like living on Saltines and MRE's and thinking that counts as food. (Life is a banquet...)

    flightless

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  40. Hershele OstropolerOctober 14, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    Anon (10/14 04:44):
    And while the large majority were emotionally secure folk who were happy to go home in the morning or glad that I left early, there is always the chance that a random partner may decide that the evening had been a bad idea and Should Be Dealt With
    Well, I don't even think most feminists would agree that consent can be revoked after the fact (it can be retconned in some cases, but it doesn't sound like that applies here). Rape isn't the same as sex one party later regretted.

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  41. I think that sometimes situations get described as "one party regretting sex and crying rape because of it," when really they're "one party later realizing that they weren't really consenting/weren't in a state of mind where they were able to consent/finally realizing that they have been raped after not wanting to admit it to themselves."

    I'm not saying that there aren't any people whatsoever in the world who will regret having consensual sex and will call it rape as a sick form of revenge, but that's way, way less common than some people claim. A lot of the time, there's something else going on there.

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  42. "It makes me so sad to think of all the bad unrewarding sex that people think just IS how sex is; it's like living on Saltines and MRE's and thinking that counts as food. (Life is a banquet...)"

    better than starving to death

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  43. Anon 6:34, you make an excellent point.

    I've had literally dozens of times in my life where some kind of physical contact happened that I didn't want - but all of these were the result of someone grooming me by infringing on my personal space in tiny little increments. So, by the time things crossed over from "I wish zie wouldn't sit so close to me but zie's probably just being friendly and I'd look like a bitch if I complained" to "WHOA RED ALERT ZIE'S KISSING ME THIS IS NOT 'FRIENDLINESS'," I had myself convinced that I'd been "giving off signals" by letting them do all the previous stuff, and therefore I had no right to complain.

    tl; dr: I've had many, many times where someone was so subtle and manipulative that I didn't see an experience as sexual assault or sexual harassment until after the fact - years after the fact, actually, and largely due to reading enlightened feminist blogs like this one.

    This is not the same as enjoying something at the time and then regretting it later; what I'm talking about is being frozen like a deer in headlights at the time, but going along with it because I was convinced I'd somehow "asked for it", would look like a tease or a bitch if I told the person to get off me, etc. It wasn't until fairly recently that I've been able to see these incidents for what they were - and to recognize that most predators follow the exact same pattern.

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  44. The problem with your metaphor is that human beings have been documented surviving weeks--sometimes months!--without pressuring an unenthusiastic partner into terrible, marginally-consensual sex.

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  45. I'd rather masturbate than have sex with someone who barely seems to want to be there. Or else, y'know...read up on sexual techniques and practice communicating about intimate stuff so my next partner might actually enjoy being with me.

    But I guess some people would rather whine about their lot in life than do something about it.

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  46. @Holly well of course you can survive your whole life without any type of sex, but who wants to do that?

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  47. Well... I'd rather have good sex than no sex, and rather have no sex than terrible sex. I think good sex is possible for most people, fortunately.

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  48. Actually, let me modify my previous comment. I was picturing "meh" sex in which both people were fine with the concept of fucking each other, but it just really didn't work out well. And I was thinking that if this happens to a person over and over again then clearly they need to sharpen their skills.

    But if the concept of "meh" sex encompasses other options, too, like bullying an unwilling partner until they say "Okay FINE" and lie back just to make you STFU, that's a whole different deal. Anyone who pressures someone into reluctant consent is a fucking asshole and I have no advice for them except that they should die in a fire.

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  49. 9:14 PM Anon
    @Holly well of course you can survive your whole life without any type of sex, but who wants to do that?

    Uh, so borderline-raping people is better than no sex? If you don't particularly care if your partner enjoys themselves, why not just use your hands (or sex toys) instead of using your partner as a glorified masturbation aid?
    I just... fail to see the advances of coercing someone into sex, just so you can get off.
    Care to explain?

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  50. Kollege:

    Point 1: Masturbation, with or without toys, is a form of sex.

    Point 2: read Holly's last comment again. Very carefully. She never says that rape is preferable to...anything, really. I don't know where you're getting that idea.

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  51. re: Point 2 - pretty sure it was directed at "9:14PM Anon" not at Holly.

    re: "starving to death" - no, I recommend "Meals For One"! At least when I masturbate, I know my partner is into it.

    flightless

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  52. (I wish this site had threaded comments!)

    flightless

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  53. goth-is-not-emo:

    Eh? As flightless said, the comment wasn't directed at Holly but at this anon here. Threaded comments or blockquotes would be useful indeed ): Sorry for the misunderstanding.

    And I didn't think about your first point like this before, but it definitely makes sense - as well as a good argument against people who argue that "bad sex" (aka coerced sex) is better than no sex.

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  54. (Sorry for the delayed response -- I'm a slow thinker.)

    On the one hand, I agree that if figuring out whether your partner is consenting is a problem for you, your modus operandi is already too coercive. As Holly says, this is to sex as "it didn't poison anyone" is to cooking.

    On the other hand, I'm not happy with the idea that consent has to be "enthusiastic." I've never had a relationship, or ever made love, where there wasn't a lot of ambivalence. Half the time, I don't know if I really wanted it until afterwards, and sometimes not even then. I'm a lot closer to the end of my life than the beginning, and I have never had what I would call "mind-blowing sex," and I doubt I ever will. By your standards, this is "bad sex" -- does this mean that I (and people like me) should forgo sex entirely for the rest of my life?

    But I don't do sex to have my mind blown. For me, it's a lot more about the relationship, about trust and intimacy. I can't even imagine making love (I hate the expression "have sex"!!) with someone if I didn't feel a visceral sense of trust in them. I'm convinced that the biggest reason that I stopped being able to function sexually in my marriage was that I didn't feel safe with my (now ex-)wife. Her idea of sex was a lot more like what Holly describes -- hey, let's jump in the sack, I'll do this, you do that, but it wasn't accompanied by a relationship that made me feel like she was even aware of me as a human being, so it just felt like one more duty.

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  55. AMM:

    To my mind (and I am not Holly, of course), if two people both want sex because they expect that it will increase intimacy between them, that's a good reason. The goal doesn't need to be orgasm, your own or your partner's: but everyone involved should want to be there, and want to do this.

    The level of ambivalence you have, well, if that's okay with you and your partners, I'm not in your relationship, but I don't think I'd do well with a partner who told me that they frequently didn't know, before, during, or after whether they (had) wanted sex then.

    That's quite different from "oh, go ahead, but make it quick because I just want to get some sleep." And that in turn is different from "I'm too tired/stressed/sore to really get into this, but I'll be happy to watch you play with yourself."

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  56. Hershele OstropolerOctober 15, 2011 at 9:06 PM

    AMM:
    I'm not happy with the idea that consent has to be "enthusiastic." I've never had a relationship, or ever made love, where there wasn't a lot of ambivalence. Half the time, I don't know if I really wanted it until afterwards, and sometimes not even then. I'm a lot closer to the end of my life than the beginning, and I have never had what I would call "mind-blowing sex," and I doubt I ever will. By your standards, this is "bad sex" -- does this mean that I (and people like me) should forgo sex entirely for the rest of my life?

    I think the concept of enthusiastic consent originated as a quick and, as it were, dirty way to distinguish consent from non-consent by steering people away from borderline cases. If nonconsent is 0, mere consent is 1, and enthusiastic consent is 4, what looks like a 1 through a haze of lust and confirmation bias may be a 0 while what looks like a 4 will probably be at least a 2. It's never wrong to wait for enthusiastic consent but there are circumstances where I will say it might not be necessary.

    It's not clear to me why you're having sex you're not sure you want, but I don't think anyone's saying you shouldn't have consensual but bad(=not mind-blowing) sex.

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  57. The level of ambivalence you have, well, if that's okay with you and your partners, I'm not in your relationship, but I don't think I'd do well with a partner who told me that they frequently didn't know, before, during, or after whether they (had) wanted sex then.

    I envy people who (apparently) know what they want. There's nothing I don't have mixed feelings about. If I'd ever decided to wait until I knew what I wanted before doing it, I would have starved to death in my bed.

    I find I have to just decide on a course of action, based on my best guess as to whether it'll turn out right in the end, for some interpretation of "turn out right." Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. I've given up on pursuing happiness -- it cones when it wants to, or not, as the case may be. Instead, I try to do right by people, which at least gives my life meaning. And I try not to do too many obviously stupid things....

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  58. Normally I avoid feminist writings, because my preference for Dominant, domineering men generally sets me in a category that most of my feminist acquaintances consider lowest of the low (omg, a woman who enjoys her men a bit misogynistic)...

    but this post made me giggle in many places, so I think I'll keep reading ;)

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  59. Hershele OstropolerOctober 18, 2011 at 9:38 PM

    I'd submit (so to speak) that you've been reading the wrong feminist blogs, if that's the reaction you get.

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  60. Very likely the wrong reaction. I have friends who lean more toward the militant man hating spectrum of things, or who feel that women should have men kneeling at their feet begging for the honor of serving her whims... Neither of those appeal to me, and I'm pretty open about my preference for the sort of men who would rather have me do the kneeling, so it leads to friction.

    I stumbled here through a fetlife discussion about someone ranting in a metafilter post that self-identifying as a slut means someone can't be a feminist blahblahblah... so figured it was worth checking out.

    I'll likely do more reading and commenting as I wander back through old posts.

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  61. Great Piece. As a 28 year old man, I related to what you wrote about if one party is consensual and the other is not, "sex is probably not much fun".
    These days with so much emphasis in the media decrying date rape on college campuses and elsewhere, it is frightening to be a man.
    I and many other friends are actually terrified to have sex with a women we date because the slightest non communication can mean a disaster. A man accused of rape can potentially
    go to jail.
    Perhaps it is better for men these days to stay abstinent -perhaps for women as well. That is why the pornography industry and items such as fleshlights are increasing popular for men.
    The dating game can be scary for men.

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  62. Hershele OstropolerOctober 19, 2011 at 9:33 AM

    I and many other friends are actually terrified to have sex with a women we date because the slightest non communication can mean a disaster.

    It's interesting that you'd rather give up sex than talk to women.

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  63. Ostropoler, re: slut-shaming question on Pandagon. It's because you're the wrong Yiddish literary figure. Gimpel gets all the sheyne Maidels. Of course, I'm a Zionist cactus, so what do I know?

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  64. @ Redheaded Succubus - there are definitely feminists out there who are down with the submissive role; I know lots of them, in addition to being one. :-)

    flightless

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  65. I've had one girlfriend who literally wouldn't talk about sex. I pushed it to the point of "she came round to my place, we get naked and turned on, I say 'do you want to have sex' and she says 'I hate it when you spoil the moment'". But she was in no doubt about her consent and her desire for sex, and could communicate what she wanted. What she couldn't do was reverse the religious nonsense that said very firmly "nice girls don't want sex" and her parents' ugly marriage between almost-rich guy and almost-trophy wife (lots of insecurity). That was a tricky relationship - the sex was great, the friendship was great, but the barriers around what she could talk about broke it for me.

    These days I "suffer" (giggle) enthusiastic requests for sex and we've recently begun talking more openly about other things we need to negotiate on. Which is so amazingly better that I really understand how from this side of the fence it makes perfect sense to say "you gotta try this" and even "if you can't have this why bother with sex at all?" I've gone to YKINMK on it - some people are just not willing to take the risks that might get them to mind-blowing, and that's their call to make.

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  66. I have thought this, but never had the wherewithall to put it together in such a clear- and amusing- manner. Kudos.

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  67. I was having fun reading your other posts. Funny, ranting, pointed, ridiculous, intense, smart, insightful... the whole nine yards.
    I suddenly had to stop and hold back tears when I read this post, because not once in twenty five years of sexual activity have I ever been certain that my partner really and truly wanted me. I spent five years of marriage being reasonably certain that my wife really wanted nothing to do with me at all, and I didn't even know WHY. And I couldn't even tentatively guess as to why any of them did end up consenting at all.
    I'm not even sure I should thank you. I'm not sure I shouldn't either.

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  68. And it flat-out horrifies me when sexual consent is treated as fuzzy

    One of the things I love about BDSM is that I generally have no need to question consent. Generally - if someone consents to anything with me - it's because we've had a frank and open conversation about limits, safewords, consent, withdrawl of consent, and the fact that we consent to exploring things within limits up until the negotiated means of withdrawing consent is utilized or until we're too awesomely worn out to explore any further.

    But in a vanilla context, there are a lot of situations where consent is fuzzy. It's an inherent part of 'the game' for vanilla boys and girls who go to clubs and bars to hook up (or a vast majority of western first world residents aged 18 to 40). The general social convention is for the guy to approach and initiate conversation, without harassing or being creepy. The girl then generally has carte blanch to escalate to touching in non explicit ways - but the guy is almost universally expected to just figure out when it's ok to kiss the girl. When it's ok to touch the girl. and often when it's ok for that guy to take that girl's clothes off or do something more intimate. I know many feminists who'd argue that getting any part of that guessing game wrong is rape. Even if the girl involved gives no feedback or indication that the guy has guessed wrong, apart from not being as awesomely enthusiastic as she might be.

    In new relationships, with partners that you don't know well, for younger or inexperienced guys, or for guys with social issues like asperger's syndrome or a career in IT, there's a lot of gray area in those dynamics. A lot of fuzzy guessing required. And all too often, the only people giving advice on how to take the gray and fuzzy out of those situations are awful. When you have choices like abstinence, accidental rapist, or fledgling PUA - I can see how you'd end up in the gray area dealing with fuzzy. And worrying about it.

    I'm not saying there's a fix to that, or at least not a practical one (Hey everyone, from now on, we're going to skip the games and implicit sexual negotiations conducted while intoxicated, in dark and noisy venues, and just talk about fucking like nobody involved is psychic, hooray! Wait, why isn't it working?). I just feel like being horrified by the gray area around consent isn't necessarily helping/indicative of what leads toward that situation.

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  69. This is why "consent is sexy" has always sort of annoyed me. I understand and completely approve of the reasoning behind it as a catchy hook, of course, but it's never really resonated for me. It just seems to me to be setting the bar awfully low, and is verging on redundant, like saying that sex is sexy, since consent is just the absolute bare minimum needed to qualify something as sex rather than rape. Hopefully the sex you're having is sexy because of more than just the fact that it's not rape.

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  70. "social issues like asperger's syndrome or a career in IT"

    Speaking as a woman with asperger's syndrome, heading into a career in IT... I think you just repeated yourself there. (I saw this and laughed, just had to comment)

    Oh, and as for the earlier statement "who would want to go they're life without sex?" - That would be me. >_> Good blog post though. I followed a link here.

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  71. mapoftheproblemati, having sex with someone while they're drunk is rape.

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  72. Dec 5 anon
    Well thats not always true, if you're equally impared then neither party has the power nessasary to take advantage and make it rape, however if person A got person B drunk with the intention of coersing them into sex then it would be rape even if person B then got drunk themselves...

    Anyway I found this entire thread quite interesting, while I am still relitivly young at a spry age of 21 I've only had one sexual partner and that was my ex of 2 years, and while we did have sex it was never mindblowing for me, she quite enjoyed it and that was a confidence booster but it was always meh for me, being a man one of the sexual problems you see everywhere is premature ejaculation, but my problem was just the opposite, I couldn't come, I can quite easily while masturbating and we we're able to talk pretty openly about sex and what we liked and all that, so I'm not really sure where that falls... everyone was sharing I thought I might add a bit...

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