Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rape Culture: Against The Door.

Wow, the "Rape Culture Two" post is taking forever to write. In the meantime to keep the theme alive, here's a scenario that's happened to me many times, and has never been rape, but nonetheless stands as an excellent example of rape culture.

Trigger warning? Probably yeah, trigger warning.

You're a woman. You're out at a public place and you meet a guy and get to talking. He seems awfully attractive, and you're single, and frankly, you're interested. He invites you back to his apartment on some lame pretense like "want to come up and see my platinum record?" (Benny had a platinum record. Not that he'd earned it or anything. He just bought it on eBay from someone. Apparently when an album goes platinum the record label makes a ton of those things and a lot of "assistant to the lead marketing team" type people get them and don't necessarily care. Anyway.) You nervously say yes and follow him to his home. On the way there, all you talk about is tense little nothings.

The instant you get to his apartment, he closes the door behind you, pushes you up against the door, and starts kissing you forcefully. His hands are wandering all over your body and he pulls up your shirt and drags your bra out of the way to grab your breast. He grinds on you and you can feel his erection pressing against your groin. (Or stomach, if you have Holly Pervocracy proportions.)

At this point, things can go three ways.

1. You moan and grind back.
This is awesome! It's passionate and spontaneous and you're powerfully turned on. Hot sex ensues.

2. You go "whoa whoa whoa" and push him off.
This isn't what you wanted. You really did just want to check out the platinum record. Or you really needed a chance to sit down and relax and talk to him for a bit first. Or you don't even know exactly what you wanted, but this isn't it.

And then he:

2a. Apologizes, backs off, and lets you catch your breath before asking what you want to happen next.
2b. Backs off, opens the door, and shows you out, not getting your number.
2c. Doesn't stop.

3. You go cold and don't get into it, but don't push him off.
This isn't what you wanted. But you're painfully aware of option 2c up there. He's a big guy. This is unfamiliar turf. And you realize that you really don't know him at all. If you're getting fucked either way, at least if you go along with it you won't get hurt.

Or maybe it's subtler than that. Maybe what's on your mind is just 2b--can you really trust your own desires here? You agreed to this, sorta kinda; isn't being not-into-it now just fickle? Do you want to be a mean bitch and completely alienate someone who likes you? Sure you're not hot for him and you're not into this, but you're just not steeled for the step of shoving him off you and treating him like a rapist. I'm not sure if this scenario is rape but I think we can agree it's not sexy.

And the solution is so, so simple. The solution is that instead of inviting people up with "want to come up and see my platinum record?", you ask "want to come up and see my penis?"

Alright, it's more complicated than that. But not much. The heart of it is communication. You can't be afraid to ask for what you really mean, and you also can't be afraid to agree to what you really mean. People who agree to the platinum record, tee hee, nudge nudge, but balk at the explicit mention of sex, but really do want to have sex, are also a big part of the problem here. In a world where saying you want to have sex is a taboo that makes men creepy and women slutty, people have to speak in oblique hints--and not everyone can take a hint.

Sex is way too important to go without saying. Platinum records are really boring to look at anyway. Don't ask people if they want to have sex any way other than "do you want to have sex?" and don't agree to have sex any way other than "oh yes I want to have sex."


  1. I dunno, sometimes it can be hella awkward to say "want to come up to my room for sexytimes?"

    Of course, both my boyfriend and I are anal about asking "do you want to have sex?" before having sex with anyone, even in a relationship, so. (Or its many variants of "would you like me to go down on you?", "can I finger you?", "would you like to go shower together?" and "I would very much like to be fucked, if you don't mind." And that was just TODAY.)

  2. It is awkward! I just wish it weren't. Or at least I wish it were less awkward than starting sexytimes presumptively.

  3. Hmm, this might be one of those signaling things...I intellectually totally get the honesty approach and can even argue for its superiority now. But when I was single, I would most likely have been put off by that approach. Something about being suspicious about the kind of person who would do that. (As has been discussed in Yes Means Yes blog recently about the famous casual sex offer study.) Maybe some people can pull it off smoothly.

    Thing is, going to look at the record is often a step to finding out if you want to have sex. So should the question happen after you come upstairs? Agreeing to see the record is just agreeing to spend some alone time and see how the chemistry goes, not an agreement to whatever sex one person wants, we can all agree on that. So...thinking out loud here.

  4. This might have to wait for the coming of the Sex Positive Utopia. :P Whenever I ask people outright if we can fuck, it often seems to be too much for them. I still try, tho.

    (But maybe that's just me. Hmmm...)

  5. Totally agree, what Chi said. Maybe the decision to want sex comes up after entering a flat. And after entering you can still say "Hey i just said i wanted to show you my platinum record but what i really want is to have sex with you".
    I mean, you don't have to alienate people, while still being in the cab...


  6. Not to mention how many potentially sexy passionate-door-tango situations can be ruined FOREVERMORE by the one douchemongrel who shoots for option 2b or c. Or some creepy combination thereof.

    Lack of communication: ruining the sexy since always.

  7. Alright, two-step process then. You can say "wanna come up?" if what you mean is "wanna come up?" and nothing more. But then, once they're up, "wanna fuck?" still has to be a separate question, asked in a way that allows "no" as an answer.

  8. Also, you can try the question-statement-question approach: ask the person, "Wanna come up?" If no, then problem solved, in a sense. If yes, follow up with a statement and second question -- while still out in public, at a place and time where the person can pick whatever answer said person is most comfortable with without fear of anything more than some momentary social awkwardness -- "And then we could fuck (ed. note: insert 'engage in bdsm/cuddling/group sex/whatever activity you're hoping to participate in that might frighten the horses' if you prefer) -- or watch tv, or bullshit about Bergman, or bake, or actually look at my stuffed aardvark. What works for you?"

    ...and then respond as appropriate.

  9. Two-step process FTW!
    Funny story, I once asked a girl if she'd like to come in for some coffee. She came in, I made her some actual coffee, I walked her home.
    Then she asked me if I wanted to come in. We talked loads, and ended up kissing for a really long time on the couch, but were both too awkward to say anything.

  10. First time commenter, new-ish follower.

    Knowing that you like Mythbusters (and seeing that you do infact, follow Adam Savage on twitter) I must wonder, was this in part brought on by this video that he linked: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-son3EJTrU ? If it was, there were some points about the ambiguity and preservation of relationships that I think could've been adressed.


  11. I remember numerous times when I was in college where "wanna watch a movie?" was code for "wanna watch and movie and then start making out in the middle?" and that was always fun. Less fun was when "wanna watch a movie?" was code for the sexytime fun one (or so I thought), but for the other person was obviously apparently code for "watch a movie." My life would have been made much better by understanding the idea of explicit consent earlier. At least, it would have been a less sexually frustrated and confused life, certainly.

    (Also related, my spouse and I only got involved because I asked "Can I kiss you?" and he answered "yes" and then I kissed him... follow through is key).

  12. I would love to live in a world where people asked for sex openly. I've done this before with a fair bit of success (well, not proposed sex per se because I never know 100% that I want to have sex with a new person until we're pretty far along in the makeout stage. But I've clearly stated that I'd be open to making out but probably not sex...)

    It's harder for guys to do brazenly propose sex, I think; it may come off as aggressive and scary rather than just direct. I think tone is key: you have to ask casually, like it's no big deal. Otherwise the person may feel pressured.

    But man, imagine if people had those kinds of discussions all the time! It'd be soooo much harder to blame rape victims for their raping if an explicit "I do not want sex" conversation had happened ahead of time.

  13. Been pondering a lot on whether or not there is a female privilege in making explicit offers for sex, because men, well meaning men, may be afraid that doing so will come off as creepy and scary. hopefully I'll get around to making a coherent post on it...

    But, I like Jack's suggestion. I think for most people, a literal "Do you wanna fuck?" is too intense. But a more gentle, "I would like to continue spending time with you right now, how about coming up to my apartment?" followed by a "Would you be interested in [making out/fooling around/sexy times/whatever]" is a perfectly acceptable solution.

    ...I mean, hell, sometimes I freeze up too, and usually just have to kick myself to blurt out the uncomfortableness or risk being a hypocrite.

  14. I remember some of the conversation that occurred when Mike Tyson was accused of rape. Several people asked why the young woman would go to his room if she didn't want sex. It was implied that if she was telling the truth that she deserved to be raped. at the time, I was shocked.

    The first night I met my husband, we went to his room and just talked. We sat on the edge of his bed and kissed a little but nothing more. Now I realize that if he had ignored my assurances that I just wanted to talk there are some people who would have thought that I deserved to be attacked. That is scary.

  15. Ari--

    I think women may have that 'privilege', but only in the sense that very few men expect to get sexually assaulted by a female date, and a pretty significant number of women take the possibility into account as a matter of course when they're out with a man.

    So I'm not so sure you could really call it a privilege...

  16. I definitely think the scenario Holly wrote about is boundercrossing and sexual harrasment. I mean, going upstairs and kissing someone forcefully the moment the door is closed? Ughh...You can definitely check out if someone wants to kiss you before the person is in your appartment and feels trapped, and although I get the point of feeling awkward when asking for sex while sitting in the restaurant, saying "I would love to kiss you, how about you?" on the way home is no big deal.

    In fact, for me kissing should require explicit consent with anyone you are not really familiar with. So whatever happens next in Hollys scenario, I already find it disturbing.

  17. Today, I read this post and it made this video much more interesting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iSlPoQm2XY

  18. If yes, follow up with a statement and second question -- while still out in public, at a place and time where the person can pick whatever answer said person is most comfortable with without fear of anything more than some momentary social awkwardness -- "And then we could fuck (ed. note: insert 'engage in bdsm/cuddling/group sex/whatever activity you're hoping to participate in that might frighten the horses' if you prefer) -- or watch tv, or bullshit about Bergman, or bake, or actually look at my stuffed aardvark. What works for you?"

    I understand that this is probably the platonic ideal (ha HA!) of how to handle this situation, but... damn if I just don't have a strange sense of propriety that feels as though asking such an explicit question in public is impolite.

    But I've also never done the door thing either, so... I dunno. Heh. In fact, I have on occasion annoyed women by asking too much permission before incrementing to the next level of making out. Doh.

    I suppose my thought would be that the result of such explicitness in public would be as the result of the "Casual Sex Study", but perhaps those were all cold offers? I might simply be wrong about the idea that saying to a woman I've been flirting with at a bar (and therefore, not just a straight cold out of the blue "hey, wanna fuck?" offer) would react poorly to a more explicit "Would you like to come back to my place and see where things go?" or even a flat out "Would you like to come back to my place and make sweet, sweet love?" :)

  19. You just need to take things slowly. It's perfectly okay to ask someone to hang out with you and hope that they will want to have sex, as long as it is a hope, not an expectation. Taking things very slowly and not physically restraining your partner help avoid inadvertently pressuring or scaring them. For example, you can make eye contact then slowly lean over for a kiss, without grabbing your partner. This can work for people who are very aware of social signals, but if you are ever in a situation where you aren't sure, it really is best to just ask. You can just ask to make out if you aren't comfortable asking about sex (yet).
    Personal story - a few years ago, I was sitting in my car with a close friend (sober) after a party and he asked if I'd "want to have sex sometime." It wasn't creepy at all - he didn't demand that I have sex with him, he asked. I knew that I could say no, because he wasn't in my personal space or acting entitled to anything.
    But I didn't say no, I said yes. Asking directly shows respect, and people who are respectful and direct tend to make better partners :-D.

  20. I feel you're hitting on a snag between Ask and Guess culture here:

    I grew up in a Guess culture mentality. Being as forthright as you suggest here is unthinkable because you're making assumptions and also you're making the other person look bad - "saving face" is super important. Also, as some people have mentioned earlier, there's a rude propriety aspect to it.

    (Then again, in many of these cultures, you wouldn't be having casual sex in the first place.)

    It needs to be multi-step. You ask someone to come up, take it at face value. Both of you. I may be interested in having coffee, but I may not be into sex for any particular reason (some of which may actually have nothing to do with you). But that doesn't necessarily mean cuddling, or making out, or sleeping on the same bed, or whatever. Ask, ask, ASK. Don't assume.

    Saying that some people who go with the "guess culture" approach are part of the problem though isn't helping - there's a victim-blaming aspect to it ("oh, if only s/he ASKED OUTRIGHT then they won't be raped") but also sometimes you just can't articulate it at that moment, when it's noisy or busy or whatever.

  21. I think the part that gets lost in some of the discussions about asking outright, is that consent to any particular sexual act depends in part on the quality of other, 'lesser' sexual acts. Example: Someone kisses you for the first time. If the kiss is fabulous, up go the chances of you wanting to fool around with that person. If the kiss is awful, chances go way down. (I would say 'in my experience', but the number of times I've heard people cite whether someone's a good kisser as a key reason why they did or didn't consent to other things is pretty darn high ;)

    Same goes for everything else. Even if someone's a wonderful kisser, if they're a hurty boob squeezer, they get one warning from me. If they inflict a second painful boob squeeze, that's it; no more consent to anything. But if they know just how to handle a nipple, then even if I wasn't sure I wanted more beforehand, I tend to get very interested in fucking, right away.

    So the idea of asking whether someone wants to fuck before you've even kissed seems really weird to me. Even asking if they wanna fool around is a little presumptuous, but more acceptable... but really, why not just ask for a kiss first? And if it's great and there's clear chemistry, ask to fool around. And if that's a whole lot of fun, then ask if they wanna fuck. To me, it just seems sensible to check that the physical chemistry's there before asking that, because I don't feel like I could make an informed decision about extremely intimate physical contact before I'd even experienced light physical contact with a particular person.

    Oh yeah, and asking to fool around has the added advantage for guys, that it makes it clear that it's not all about your penis. Guys whose only concern is sticking their dick somewhere ASAP are seriously undesirable lovers, and if a male asks to fuck without exploring other activities first, it makes him seem like that kinda guy... or maybe that's just my take on it ;)

  22. This made me think of this story.

    The horrific event occurred in a small Texas town about 50 miles outside of Houston. Reports are that the town has become deeply divided with some blaming the girl and her parents. Some residents told reporters that the girl hung out with older boys at the playground, liked to dress older than her age and wore makeup. And the relevance of those claims to the crime of her being raped would be... what exactly? Perhaps she looked a little older? Say... 13?


  23. A: This reminds me once again how much I appreciate that my partner asked if he could kiss me before our first kiss, and that he's as comfortable talking openly about sexuality as I am. Come to think of it, we got one another's consent (via his sister acting as a go between) before we even started flirting, prior to our relationship.

    B: It also reminds me, unfortunately, of my first sexual experience with a man (different guy, obviously):
    We were on a canoe trip together, but we had only met the day before. We had gotten separated from our friends, and also *very* drunk, and he started kissing me. Which wasn't actually a problem; I'll make out with just about anyone if I'm drunk enough, and not regret it the next day. But next thing I know, his hands are all over me, and his face is in my crotch, under my skirt.
    Then we ended up having to share his tent and my sleeping bag, because in our drunkenness, a lot of things had gotten too wet to use that night. I had to bribe him with sex just to get him to stop kissing me and set up the damned tent, even though I was, at this point, almost dangerously hypothermic. I talked him out of actually putting his dick in me, and at least the sex warmed me up, but I was at several points terrified that he might not take no for an answer.