Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rescripting sex.

Life has scripts.  Little socially-agreed plays that we enact rather than trying to figure out all our interactions from scratch every time.  Many of them are very simple.  There's the script you follow when you're checking out at a store ("have a nice day"), the script for talking to someone who's sad ("I'm so sorry"), and of course the script for talking to a dog ("WHOOZAGOODBOY").

And there's scripts for sex.  Unfortunately, the most common script out there sucks.
Script: Consent Roulette 
Active partner (generally male) and receptive partner (generally female) are alone together.  They're chatting, drinking, or watching a movie.  Active partner detects (or wishful-thinks) the whiff of romance/lust in the air.  Active partner gradually increases his physical closeness to receptive partner and makes some sexual innuendos.  Eventually A goes ahead and kisses R.  If she doesn't object, A leads R to a bed or sofa and lies her down.  A kisses R more and gropes her.  If she doesn't object, A then puts on a condom and R is expected to spread her legs and stuff.  Intercourse happens.
The above script is, let me be clear, not rape.  That's not what I'm saying.  What I'm saying is that it's crappy.  It doesn't give people the chance to have any sex besides kissing->groping->intercourse, it doesn't have any emotional component except A's uncertainty how far R will go, and it's just not all that fun.  Even if A is female and R is male, all that does is ease the man's anxiety a bit; it doesn't fundamentally change the story.

And it's "roulette" because it makes consent all about luck.  If you have this kind of sex with a woman and it turns out she wanted it, then yay--by sheer luck, you're not a rapist!  On the other hand, if she doesn't want it, now she has to play roulette--if she says "stop," will he stop, or will he start holding her down?

This isn't just a first-time-sex script, either.  I've had relationships where every time was kinda like this.  It gets abbreviated and informalized a little with familiarity, but it's the same basic scene: guy senses "the mood" is right and guy starts doing his thing unless girl says "stop."  After a while, even if it's totally consensual, it's just boring.

A big problem with getting people to break that script is that they think you're trying to get them to do this one.
Hypothetical Script: Robot Lawyers Consenting To One (1) Act Of Intercourse 
Active partner and receptive partner are alone together.  They're chatting, drinking, or watching a movie.  Active partner detects (or wishful-thinks) the whiff of romance/lust in the air.  A breaks into the conversation and asks R, "may I kiss you?" If she says yes, they kiss, although he is careful not to place his hands anywhere not specifically pre-approved.  A breaks off the kiss, ceases all physical contact, stares politely into the middle distance, and asks R, "may I touch your left breast? may I touch your right breast also?" If she says yes, he touches her breasts.  After some silent, tentative, arms-length touching he breaks off again and composes himself before asking, "would you like to have sex?"  If R responds positively, he clarifies: "with me?"
No question, that shit is dull and awkward and probably would work excellently as Vagina Repellent in an emergency vagina-attack situation.  (I'm overstating my case.  I've totally had sex with guys like that. But I'm kinda charmed by awkwardness.)

But the problem with it is not that it's too sex-positive.  The problem is that it's not sex-positive enough. It's still one-sided, it still treats sex like a linear progression from first base to home run, and it still doesn't give R much of a chance to say anything beyond "yes" or "no."  It may include explicit consent, but it's not a negotiation.

The other problem is that it's kind of a strawman, since explicit consent doesn't magically vaporize all your social skills.  People seem to imagine that talking about sex means talking in the dorkiest possible way, and I honestly don't know why.  Personally, I've never seen the romance in no-talking sex.  I know it's supposed to be all "swept off your feet by the heat of the moment" and shit, but in practice it always seems more clumsy and oafish, like trying to convey the concept of "Deleuze's Plane of Immanence" in Pictionary.  With your feet.  There's shit you can't just convey, you know?  Even in long-standing relationships, it's pretty goddamn hard to say "I want to gently pull your hair while we fuck and whisper sweet dirty things in your ear" with raised eyebrows and meaningful looks.

And then you end up taking a chance and just grabbing their hair when it seems like a look has been meaningful enough, and then they stop everything and go "what the hell are you doing?", and boy, you think you've seen awkward.  Even the most stilted negotiation has nothing on the awkwardness of that crushing moment when you're forced to admit you don't have Sexy ESP after all.

So the structure of this post requires me to write a good script at this point. But I'm having trouble coming up with just one, because the essence of the good script is that you're dealing with each other as humans, that you're enacting your sexuality and not some stock scene.  So I can't write you the good script.  But I'll write one possible one.
Script: Communicative Sex That Doesn't Suck 
Partners A and B are alone together.  A detects (or wishful-thinks) the whiff of romance/lust in the air.  A says to B, "You are so goddamn cute, you know that? I'd really like to make out with you."  B answers by leaning in and passionately kissing him.
B puts a finger on A's top button and asks "may I?" with a wicked grin and a raised eyebrow.  He nods and she opens his shirt, touching and kissing down his chest.  "Shall we take this to the bedroom?" she asks, looking up at him, her lips brushing his skin just above the line of his jeans.  A responds by taking her hand and leading her there.  B sits on the bed and starts undoing her clothes.  She pulls A into the bed with her.
"Do you want to have sex?" A asks.
"Oh hell yes," B says, and starts kissing A again.  She brings her hand down to the level of his zipper but hesitates, making eye contact before going further.
"Hang on," A says, "just so you know, I really don't like having my balls touched."
"Okay," B says, "but can I play with your cock?"
"Please," A replies, and she slips her hand into his pants, his answer turning to a groan as she wraps her hand around his cock and begins to stroke.
And you know, so forth.  I'm not trying to make this particular scenario a prescriptive thing.  People communicate in different ways.  What really matters is that you know rather than hope that whatever your communication style is, it's in sync--that the other person is intentionally sending all the signals that you're receiving, and vice versa.  It's also nice to get in a little more specificity, both physically and emotionally, than "sex or not sex."  Also, when you're used to this degree of extremely engaged back-and-forth, it's really obvious when something's wrong or the other person isn't really into it.

For me, this is sexy.  What I remember, what turns me on, isn't just the fact that I did stuff to someone, but that I know they wanted it.  The physical action of stroking a dick is boring, it's just rubbing my hand on some skin, whatever, I can take it or leave it.  What's exciting is stroking a dick that wants to be stroked.  It's so hot to know that for certain.  It's not the dick that makes my night; it's the "please."

This is the kind of sexual script we need.  Not necessarily one that's based in talking a lot (although that's what works for me, and you do have to talk some), but one that's based in desire and shared humanity.  One that's based not in "can I do sex to you?" but in "let's do sex together."


  1. I think it's pretty sexy when my partner asks me what I want, and then goes "now tell me what you want!!"

    as well I do the same to him. "Do you want to have sex on the couch?" "OH HELL YES"

    Since this is my first sex-having relationship i never really experienced the other kind, but I don't know how people have meaningful sexual relationships without it. Guess I'm ignorant in an okay way?

    1. Most of the women I've been with have loved the "surprise sex". She may be standing in the kitchen reading a paper or doing something else, I come and give her a hug from behind, kiss her neck, kiss a little more, caress her breasts, finger her, slip her panties down, bend her over the kitchen bench and take her from behind.

      No questions asked, no comments made, just actions.

      This isn't to say that this approach is welcome all the time. But adults have the ability to say "oh not now hun, not really in the mood right now". And that is completely acceptable. I've never been with a girl who didn't like "surprise sex". Maybe not always, but quite often it's very well received.

    2. Anon - That's a dangerous game you're playing. Is the joy of skipping a quick "may I?" soooo good that you're willing to take the risk that one of your partners doesn't say no, not because they want it, but because they're afraid you'll get angry instead of stopping?

      "Adult" or no, it shouldn't be your partners' job to keep you not-a-rapist.

    3. That response makes sense in a new relationship, but I find it to be overly dramatic.

      If my partner initiated sex and I didn't say no because I was afraid that he'd get angry instead of stopping - it's obviously not a safe relationship.

      If my partner initiated sex and I didn't say no because I was afraid he'd be upset, though I knew he'd stop - that's really my problem and not his and I'd have no right to claim rape on that one.

      I find it ridiculous that people feel like a guy always has to ask permission. If my guy did that every time I'd just start finding it annoying and be less in the mood. We know each other well enough to tell pretty quickly if the other person is receptive - even if we didn't communicate so well. These kinds of conversations should take place pretty early on as far as what acceptable conduct toward each other is when initiating.

      In a new relationship sure - it's always good to check in. When your relationship is established you should be comfortable enough to stop each other if need be.

      I LOVE surprise sex. It turns me on faster than most anything else. Sometimes he initiates sex, sometimes I initiate sex, we've both had to say "Not now honey" on occasion. Adults should be able to say that to each other. Adult relationships should be able to take that. Adults should know enough about each other's preferences to know if it would be okay within that relationship or if you need to ask every time. Every relationship is different.

      Just because you might not enjoy it, doesn't mean other people fell that way. Please don't pretend that your preferences apply with every person, relationship and situation.

      Sometimes I think people have gone too far past consideration, basic human decency and equality and into the realm of walking on egg shells around each other and making your partner feel grateful for every bone you throw him.

  2. The Robot Lawyers are, indeed, charmingly awkward. I'd go for that - as long as the script become more communicative/co-operative once I'd assured the poor lad that yes, I really AM interested.

    1. I think I'd just start giggling hysterically midway through-the robot-lawyer interaction... that's a plus, by the way.

  3. Can we make this required reading in every sex-ed class in the country? This is a perfect distillation of some really basic but crucial concepts that our society is terrible at teaching.

    "it's pretty goddamn hard to say 'I want to gently pull your hair while we fuck and whisper sweet dirty things in your ear' with raised eyebrows and meaningful looks."

    ^I want to print that out and frame it.

    (I've done my share of robot lawyer too, and honestly, even that is better than consent roulette.)

  4. You know what would be cool? If there was an irc channel or live chat where people could just discuss this sort of thing together. 'Cos I'd love to meet you all irl but I'm just too damn far away.

    Achteheelweit here, but for some reason openID won't verify...

  5. Here's one definition spreading the robot-lawyer idea... http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=consent%20culture

    I voted thumbs down.

    1. Why the author chose to include computer code I can't possibly fathom, but if it makes you feel better that example won't compile. Syntax error on the second line.

    2. It does make me feel better, for various geekly reasons. Thanks :-)

    3. Hahaha it also makes me feel better that it won't compile. I'm actually especially amused by this because my boy is a programmer who has on multiple occasions been accused of being a robot - and he's still way better than that.

  6. I've (thankfully) never had the crappy script experience. Not even with my crappy ex.

    Is that the way people seriously interact? 'cause I thought that was just a sitcom thing..

  7. "I'm not trying to make this particular scenario a prescriptive thing. People communicate in different ways. What really matters is that you know rather than hope that whatever your communication style is, it's in sync--that the other person is intentionally sending all the signals that you're receiving, and vice versa."

    Thank you for this. You took the words out of my mouth. "Too prescriptive" was my exact critique of the original Consent Culture piece, but this cleared up so many of my original problems and made the whole idea much more accessible.

  8. So true. The best thing about sex is knowing your partner wants it. Badly. Right now.

  9. "The above script is, let me be clear, not rape."

    It is absolutely not intrinsically rape, but some scenarios that look like that are rape, and I think that needs to be recognized.

  10. "What's exciting is stroking a dick that wants to be stroked. It's so hot to know that for certain. It's not the dick that makes my night, it's the please."

    This, so much. I had a kind of funny experience along those lines; I totally get off on giving oral but am actually not that into receiving, and I once had a FWB who also much preferred giving oral to receiving. And it just wasn't nearly as enjoyable with him. There were a number of extraneous reasons why it very quickly became clear we weren't going to work together, but that definitely factored into it.

    It's strange how easily people's minds jump to robot lawyers when consent culture and communicative sex are brought up. I only just now realized how much I've done it myself, caught myself thinking that explicitly asking every time sounded lame and unsexy. But thinking back I now see how much it's already present in my interactions with my boy. Admittedly we lean towards less talking in general and more communicating through body language and use of pre-existing arrangements - but then we know each other really well by this point so we have the ability to do that. And there's still a lot explicitly said - for instance, our exchange of texts before he came over this afternoon ("I keep having trouble concentrating on my work because I can't stop fantasizing about you" "I might know of a solution to that ;)" "It appears that I don't have any roommates for the afternoon" "Sweet. Want me to come over?" "Yes, please"), and I paused before unzipping his jeans to say "I've been thinking, it's been far too long since I've had your cock in my mouth", and he replied, "I've had similar thoughts".

    1. Yeah... definitely wish that I was no too shy to say things like that... but I totally am. And it makes me incredibly tongue tied and flustered when people say things like that to me.... so yeah, fastest way to shut me up is to get explicit.
      Funny thing is.. now I'm dating a guy who is equally shy.... but we manage to have these kinds of conversations over IM or text.... but then we get to the part where we are in person and we don't act on what we were talking about! Like... all of that was just hypothetical. But, I think even having those conversations in a text based scenario does a lot to help us communicate what we want, and develop and understanding so that when we are together we really know what the other wants.
      Another bonus.... we really do have this amazing ability to read each other's body language... there are times where I am thinking words as he is saying them out loud. Blows. My. Mind. And... we have spectacular sexual compatibility. So, yeah... while we kind of have some two way conversation going... it is mostly comprised of meaningful glances....

  11. I completely agree. This is exactly what my sex life needs. I just wish I was not so shy and tongue-tied in sexual situations. It's something I really have to work on, and also I need to work up the courage to talk to my partner about expressing what he wants more in the bedroom too.

  12. I think the presumption that both partners are extroverted enough to make the "better script" work is flawed though. Great to have if you can get it, but the issue isn't what is said so much,IMHO but having a two way participative conversation. Remember that not every human is ( unfortunately ) a self-confident and articulate creature by nature, and while at least some of us have a better script running through our heads, what comes out of our mouths or what our partners are able to commit to is often closer to option 1. I'm not making excuses, just sayin', if everyone was as comfortable and open and articulate as S.M., we wouldn't be talking about this. Probably wouldn't have been able to stop fucking long enough to build a space shuttle either, but then, who needs the moon?

  13. I used to be really shy but honestly....the first few times you say something it's tough...you have to *force* the words out of your mouth....I had to force myself not to be shy in *every* situation. I still run into that "verbal blockage" sometimes, especially when I'm around people I don't know well, but what I'm trying to say is - it gets easier!! And it's so, so worth it. I think it gives you confidence in other areas of your life, too.

    I'm really happy with my partner now because we're open about these things. We don't *always* have the open dialogue right at the start but there's always talking throughout, checking in and asking to try new things.

  14. Like Lain, sometimes I still have to force the words out of my mouth, but practice helps, as do partners who can wait while I do that, and then get back into the right headspace after I've done that difficult thing of asking and they've said yes.

  15. I think there's an assumption there that the shy person has the option of being a passive partner. Personally, I never felt like I had that option and so gravitated to scenario 3 (once I figured out it was an option) as a better way of distributing the burden of initiation.

    In my experience the communicative script still works with shy people, just more slowly and hesitantly. The active/receptive script works poorly if at all when a shy person is expected to be the active partner. (I think this is the source of a lot of "het women have it easier than het men" resentment among shy guys.)

  16. My partner still finds saying what he wants in the heat of the moment hard. Embarrassing, you know.

    Lucky for me, we've got kinks for that. That's ONE way to eroticize communication! >:D


  17. Question: how much does this apply to new partners vs. partners who already know their lovers' style of sexual communication?

    I would think that in a long-established sexual relationship, the sorts of things that could, in theory, lead to sexual activity (kissing, touching, etc) would be so commonplace that a good part of that "activation energy" is dealt with by familiarity, leaving much more ease to either a) plan sexual activity beforehand or b) ask explicitly for what you want in the moment.

  18. if i had to physically say "yes" to sex,
    i'd probably never get laid. i have zero sex drive.
    complacency is really all i have to do with.so yes script roulette is what works for me atm. even if it is boring and lame and whatever else you're going to call it,
    after 12 yrs of it why change.

    1. should add, i think it would apply more to new relationship, much less to ones that are long term and well understood.

    2. If you have zero sex drive, why do you want to have sex?

    3. If you have no sex drive, why are you even having sex at all? Surely you can find another asexual person who'd be happy to have Platonic Romance with you?

      If I thought my partner didn't want sex, it would feel kinda crummy to have sex with them anyway, even if they said it was okay.

  19. "Zero sex drive" anon - If you have no sex drive but you want to have sex for some other reason, you can still physically say "yes" to sex. (If you really want to go for advanced-level mega communication, you could even try saying "I don't have a sex drive, but I still want to have sex with you.") Your mouth still works. This doesn't sound to me like a good reason to make your partner force you into sex.

  20. Question anon - I think the style of communication can change as you get more established in a relationship, but it still has to be there. You may get to know better what your partner's signals are, but there's still signals.

  21. Anon@3:17AM
    I have a problem with the good script too... I really hate having to talk during sex (I consider foreplay 'sex' too). I get off on being a passive recipient (in all the kinky 'degrees'), plus I have severe dysphoria about my voice, so having to talk beyond a few words here and there ("okay, stop spanking") genuinely ruins sexy time for me.

    With my long-term partner, that's not much of a problem because we know each other well enough to be able to rely on our subtle and non-verbal communication, but in a 'find a new lay' scenario, it's quite an issue.

    1. Well, you don't have to talk about that sort of thing during sex. Discussing what kinds of scenarios you enjoy during non-sexy-time, so your partner knows what to expect during sexy-time, also works well.

    2. As someone who also has some issues with my voice... perhaps hand signals, homebrewed sign language for certain things? I know it sounds silly, but my little sister has trouble talking, and during one of her tougher phases, she found it helpful to have hand signals to communicate some things.


    3. That is a good thought, actually, Rogan. It reminded me that one of the ways I tell my husband if I'm good without using my voice is a thumbs up... a really useful and widely understood gesture :). It simply never occurred to me there are more useful gestures out there one can use to communicate. Thanks for the food for thought.

    4. I have some sort of similar issues, and often I ask beforehand for partners to ask yes or no questions, so that I can just shake my head for no and nod/do something hot for yes.

  22. Ten - I think it's okay to say "I get off on being a passive recipient."

    I don't think it's okay to say nothing, and let the other person randomly guess whether you get off on being passive or you actually don't want to be doing this.

  23. Even in established relationships, it's not like sex is the same every time. If he wants me to suck his cock, what's he supposed to do, push my head down? Yuck. How am I supposed to communicate that I'd like to start PIV - just stop what I'm doing, pull away without a word, and start digging for a condom? Sometimes, yes, that might be fun, but every time? What if he doesn't want PIV?

    If people can't talk during sex to establish consent, how do they talk during sex to establish desires and likes/dislikes? The flipside of "may I go down on you?" is "I really want you to go down on me." If you don't ever say that, how do you get it? Just wait and hope they offer? I understand what some people are saying, that they have particular reasons why speaking in the moment doesn't work for them, but a) you still have to speak sometime, and b) that doesn't disprove the underlying point. I don't see how it's possible to have good sex without clear communication (where "good" includes consent as well as other measures of quality.)

  24. Okay, I'm going to get a little bit mushy here, but I need to share...
    Call me a hopeless romantic or a nutcase, or whatever, but I have a scenario in my head that goes a little something like this:
    Partner and I are all snuggly n shit just because. His fingers running up n down my arm when he asks, "Has anyone ever made love to you sweetly?" to which, I reply, "No." (There's a difference between making love, sex, and fucking, to me.) He smiles a bit and says, "Can I change that for you?" I'm inclined to think I'd say yes, and the sweetness would ensue, but if I were to say no, my partner in my head would understand and ask if I want to talk about it.
    I sound very naive here, don't I?
    Also, I have nothing against just a decent fuck, but it's all I've ever had at this point in my life. because of that, I can only hope to experience affectionate lovemaking one day.
    One more thing, I love how you keep reminding us that while some acts might be okay, others might make us or our partners less than comfy. Actually, two more things: I can't tell you how much this bit hit me: "if she says "stop," will he stop, or will he start holding her down?" I know this fear, and at the moment, I kind of want to shout from the rooftops that I'm not the only one who gets that. For this, Holly, I love you. Thank you so very much. <3

  25. Yesyesyesyes.

    Pretty much all of the sex I had followed Script #1 for the six or so years I'd been having sex. For a variety of reasons, my current partner and I put off PiV sex for a long time (a really unusually long time for me), but not other forms of sex, and as a side effect the script all but DISAPPEARED. And I cannot express how wonderful that was. I always enjoyed sex, but the level of fulfillment and pleasure I get from it now is insane - so happy that happened."

    1. For a variety of reasons, my current partner and I put off PiV sex for a long time (a really unusually long time for me), but not other forms of sex, and as a side effect the script all but DISAPPEARED.

      I had a boyfriend in college who wouldn't do PiV for ethical reasons. (He was personally anti-abortion, though pro-choice, and refused to take any risk of pregnancy -- this is not a solution that could be scaled up very well, but for a complete Mr.-Consistency type like him, it worked. I suspect he's had a vasectomy since.) It was awesome.

    2. This happened for me too. We're both progressive, open feminist types (although he is less kinky than I am) and it was really difficult to ditch the script until we had to ditch PIV for a while. We have always been communicative, but the Kiss->Grope->PIV or Kiss->Grope->Cunnilingus->PIV railroad was hard to shake.

  26. You see now, I like the original script. What I would have given to have kissing leads to groping leads to intercourse with my man the first time, building passion from kissing onward, instead of, walking into the room and he immediately takes off his clothes, gestures for me to take mine off too, has me suck him for a minute, and then without any foreplay or lube spends ten minutes trying to get it into my unused for ten years vagina.

    Yes, I like the first scenario. I'm always annoyed when I'm watching a TV show, and there's a peck of a kiss, and then the woman goes into the bathroom to change into something more comfortable, the man undresses while she's gone, and then they meet in bed. When did they get turned on enough to want to have sex with each other?

    Sex without the build up is like a doctor's visit.

  27. t1klish - communicating properly does not in any way precludes building passion with kissing and groping. It just means you make sure your partner wants what is happening, and telling [partner] what you yourself want.

    And, for me at least, communicating really doesn't make sex awkward, we're not talking "consent signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, signed again"*. As Holly points out it can be as simple as "May I" and gesturing.

    *Unless of course you have a lawyer fetish, which is fine of course, just not something I'm into.

  28. Utterly fantastic post, thank you!!

  29. We don't have to argue about that scenario three is really hot and preferable. But I wonder whether there are deeper reasons why it does not happen that way.

    My hunch is: In the American culture you avoid more than in a lot of other cultures to directly say "no" to a question. As a consequence you also avoid direct questions and communication is much more indirect. Now add to this that a lot of people are anyway reluctant to talk about sex and it is no wander that you end up with scenario one.

  30. "What I remember, what turns me on, isn't just the fact that I did stuff to someone, but that I know they wanted it."

    To try to express what Holly expresses so well here, I created a fetish on Fetlife so I could list myself as into it. "Volition". Perhaps it sounds like what a robot lawyer might say, but I'm a nerd and I like precise vocabulary. That's what I want more than anything with a partner, and words show it.

    To all the people who say they like scenario 1; thank you for your bravery in admitting it, I think that's almost as scary as admitting to your partner that you want to have sex with them.

    But when I ask about your ideas on sexual communication, and I always do, please do not pretend you're open. We make a miserable match, I'll always feel rejected and you'll always feel unwanted because I will pretty much NEVER TOUCH YOU.

  31. Your recent posts about consent are very interesting and I think our prevailing attitudes towards how sex should happen say a great deal about so much of the rest of our society. We are told that we should be grateful for what we have/get, but rarely are we encouraged to ask for what we really want. Oh sure, people ask it sometimes, but I percieve that if I were to answer with anything beyond a superficial or virtuous answer I would be told I'm being selfish. I notice this in myself a great deal. I have trouble telling other people what I want or expect from them and then fume silently when I don't get it. Of course I don't. People around me aren't psychic.

    Breaking the script is hard though. As social creatures, I think we are to an extent programed to avoid or minimise confrontation. We know that saying, 'I don't mind that you can't do that thing you said you would' when someone lets us down, because it smoothes the path for future interactions. If we were to say instead, 'It's something you're responsible for so, you need to see it done or find someone (who isn't me) to do it for you,' words like demanding bitch get trotted out. And the job *still* doesn't get done.

    There is so much weight to what is not said explicitly in all aspects of our lives. I know better negotiating would make my life better, but I don't seem to be able to make the time to hash it out with the people around me. Silent expectation often leads to disappointment at home, at work and in bed.

    Or maybe it's just me being meek and wondering why I haven't inherited the world...


  32. Lol

    I actually though the robot-lawyer version felt less awkward than the "suave" version.

  33. Perhaps it is that I am in a rather sore emotional state right now, that this all and comments in particular is coming off as one enormous shy-shaming fest. I really, REALLY hate being "put on the spot" by a partner's insistance that I tell him what I want to do to him (preferably with a "dirty" slant). This being a LTR, at that.

    I generally like this blog, just not this once and especially not the way that the shy ones are ignored and frankly put down.

    1. The sore emotional spot I'm in is the fact that "shy" and "doesn't want to have sex" can look the same on the surface. You have to do something to make that distinction clear for your partner. That may be in a way that's not "sexy" and it may not be during the sex itself. It just has to be something clearer than "not stopping them."

    2. I do agree, though, that putting someone on the spot with "tell me what to do to you" can be tremendously intimidating/embarrassing.

      I think "let's just have some fun/see where it goes/other vaguely positive comment and I'll let you know if anything's wrong" is a totally fair answer to that. (Or a fair thing to say before sex, if saying that during sex is difficult.) I'm just concerned about the ambiguity left by saying nothing at all.

    3. While I think it can work for a shy person and a not-shy person to expect one partner to initiate activity, my relationship has two shy people, and if we're each waiting for the other to initiate and set the agenda, we don't wind up having sex. This is a good relationship, but we've had sex like twice in the last seven years because we're so shy! So for me, this post is less about shyness-shaming than recognizing that the Consent Roulette model is flawed--and especially flawed for shy people like me!

  34. I think it would be good to take a leaf from BDSM best practise, because that's designed to handle the case of "one partner wants to be passively receptive", which does seem to be an issue. Things like:

    - Discussing your longer term limits well ahead of time. This avoids running into any mood-killing "eew, you want to do what, that's disgusting?".

    - Negotiating beforehand. "I'm going to do A and then B, and totally do C to you." followed by a discussion where the receptive partner says "I can't handle C today, but can we do more B?" or what have you. This is not ultra-detail, it's an outline.

    - Having a stopping agreement. For regular sex, just recognizing "no" and "wait" and so forth might be enough. BSDM generally has a special safe word so you can pretend to say "no" as part of the play, but that isn't essential to the principle, which is just: have a way to clearly stop.

    - Checking in throughout. "You like that?", "want more?", etc.

  35. Holly, either I'm missing something or I have a problem with your choice of words. Calling one part in your script "active" and the other "receptive" seems to reenforce the idea that the enveloping part is passive...And frankly, I don't know what "active" means in yours scenario, unless it means "being enveloped", which leads to the same problem.
    I've had a lot of discussions on this with my gay male friends and often I run into the "you are a humorless feminist" response, but I really think that language influences our view of things. And linking "inserting something" to active and "enveloping something" to passive relies on (and in my opinion only works because of) the belief that what is seen as female sexuality is inherently something more passive, powerless, vulnerable, undesiring than male sexuality.
    Plus, it makes communication messy: How can we distinguish between a person who wants be passive and receiving and someone who wants to fuck the hell out of their partner with their orifice without making a lot of extra words?
    I have the same issue with the use of "fucking someone/getting fucked" and some other language, and I think we are not going to get far in stopping slut shaming and empowering women in their sexuality if we stick to viewing receiving as passive.

    Just to be clear: Nothing's wrong with being passive, and nothing is wrong with being dominated or powerless in play scenes - but not as the default option for enveloping someone.

    Cheers, Symm

    1. Sorry for the not-answering-the-question (only Holly can do that), but I am really uncomfortable with your 'enveloping' language. To me, it implies that sex is by default and definition penetrative, which has always been a really problematic assumption by society because it devalues any non-penetrative sex as 'not real sex'.

    2. Can't speak for Holly, but I assumed she used 'active' to mean the partner that initiates. IE, if I suggest sex to my partner, that makes me the active partner, regardless of who penetrates whom (if anyone is indeed penetrated, which as Ten said, doesn't have to be the case).

      I do find it a bit odd that in all three scenarios listed a man is active and a woman is passive, given that Holly normally mixes stuff up more. I suppose the first one is going by the Unwritten Rules (which do unfortunately mean the man usually initiates ['the man' since, you know, this is also the script of unquestioned hetero-ness]), and the 2nd one is a parody of consent culture as conceived by the same (heterocentric) worldview.

    3. Ten, thank you a thousand times! I think you just answered my question, and the answer is indeed that I missed something. I am used to people meaning "enveloping" when saying "receptive" and assumed that since Holly was referring to one part as "usually male" and one as "usually female" she was talking about the standard hetero script for PIV sex. This is exactly why I was uncomfortable with naming one part "active". But thanks to your response I realized that this was a fail on my part and that "receiving" meant receiving attention or touch or pleasure or...Strange enough, I didn't participate in penetrative sex myself for years because of the social link to passiveness I wrote about above, and still it didn't occur to me that "receptive" might have this other meaning.

      I am really sorry for obviously not thinking enough and for causing you discomfort and othering certain experiences. Thank you sincerely for taking the time to speak up! I obviously to reexamine my subconcious assumptions with regard to this subject.

      Cheers and apologies, Symm

  36. This post is fabulous in all ways and the paragraph about sex without talking is possibly the most brilliant thing ever written about sex, especially the comparison to Pictionary.

  37. People seem to imagine that talking about sex means talking in the dorkiest possible way, and I honestly don't know why.

    Either they're deliberately creating a strawman ("you humorless feminists want to take all the mystery and romance out of sex, which should be rapey!") or they're dorks.

  38. In my case how much verbal communication depends partly upon how complicated we intend to get on that occasion. Some things involve words before and during and for others, nudges and suggestive looks can convey nearly anything we want since we know each other so well. I don't have the restrictive script that you described above though, sounds dreadful.
    I know exactly what you mean about the worry about what might might happen if I said no, but my current partner I trust to watch my back in a firefight; that I might be in danger *from* him is the dead last thing I would ever worry about.

  39. I thought of this post a couple of nights ago, when our couples therapist (who is trying to help us through a really rough time with out child) said, "Well, if you're too tired and worn in the late evening to have a good conversation, how about sex?"

    We had to explain--and I thought it was cute how mutual the explanation was--that if we are too tired and worn to have a good conversation, we're not going to have sex, because both of us like our sex kinky in a VERY verbal way.

    I will say, my partner is a shy person. He had to learn to be verbal during sex, but once he realized it turned me on, he was interested and made the effort. It can be done, and you don't have to be super eloquent. (Also we make love very asymmetrically, with one person giving and the other receiving--it's really hard to be verbal if you yourself are having an orgasm, so better to stagger those. We just take turns.)

  40. Happy sounding ideas. But I'm noticing a theme where commenters are saying "that sounds nice, but what's really nice is when they can read my signals without me having to be explicit about it". And if A in the Consent Roulette example is any good at all, he's gong to be constantly reading R's signals and adjusting based on them. Which leads us to exactly where we are right now.

    1. I don't get it.

      Because of course I love my husband being in tune with my nonverbal signals. That's great. But y'know, he HAD TO LEARN THEM. Which means that yes, I had to talk, or sign, or use semaphore, or some unambiguous form of communication. And I still have to use my big-people words because sometimes, my nonverbal signals are still ambiguous, and my husband isn't fucking omniscient. So we have to check in with each other.

      Seriously, what the hell. You can DO BOTH. It's not like you can ONLY do nonverbal or ONLY robolawyer talk, eesh.


  41. "(Also we make love very asymmetrically, with one person giving and the other receiving--it's really hard to be verbal if you yourself are having an orgasm, so better to stagger those. We just take turns.)"

    I have found that four times out of five I greatly prefer sex this way (both kinky and vanilla).

  42. +1 to this whole post. Wow.

    "What's exciting is stroking a dick that wants to be stroked"

    You know, it's funny. As a bit of a sadist (sometimes), I *love* the idea of making my partner do something they don't want to do. But what's really hot is that I know they're getting off on it, that they *want* to be forced. If that's not clear upfront, then it's not sexy, it's just disturbing. BDSM is full of paradoxes and fine distinctions.

    This post also struck me as important outside of sex, in all the other parts of my life. Communication and negotiating consent is something I've always been shy about. In sex, I've been motivated enough to start to figure it out. But it's just as applicable to business relationships, or friendship, or any relationship. Working on negotiating consent in every area has been really valuable to me.

    "Your back's sore? Would you like a backrub?"

    "I'm so sorry he dumped you. I could come over and play video games with you and let you vent. Or would you rather have some time alone?"

    "We just got the quarterly report in, and I'd like to get your thoughts. Do you have a moment?"

    (Which reminds me of my all-time favorite consent-kata, when starting any scheduled call with someone: "Is this still a good time?")

  43. Read this and loved it like usual, Holly. I have a story to share, actually. And this would almost be funny if not for how horrible it is.

    I was hanging out with a room full of my friends when we stumbled on this article written for college males looking for advice on "how to fuck a girl" http://collegeflirt.net/howtofuckagirl/

    The article is terrible, making sweeping generalizations and all but ignoring the concept of communication between sexual partners.

    We actually ended up leaving a comment criticizing it and included a link to this post so they could see what communication can bring to sex that randomly choking her, pulling her hair, and spontaneously changing position without telling her can't.

    So we thought we'd link back to it here. Our comment is awaiting moderation, and is fairly long, so I won't repost it here unless you all want to see it, but I thought it would be interesting to hear what you thought.

    - A room full of college girls who appreciate communication in their sexual encounters

    1. Wow that website hurt my brain....
      And yeah, I'm not surprised that your comment wasn't published.

  44. It's interesting to see how Hollywood romanticises script #1 so much. For instance, I was watching the movie 'Friends With Benefits' the other day - the premise is that these two friends start having sex for fun and end up falling in love later (the sex=love trope isn't dead yet, I guess). The sex they have when they're just friends follows script #3 - they actually comment on how nice it is to be able to talk to a partner, not feel bad about their bodies, and say what they'd actually like to do. The sex scenes for this part of the movie are sweet and the most true-to-life that I've seen in a rom com like this - 'don't touch me there, I'm ticklish', 'you're terrible at going down on a woman, do it more like this', etc. Then, THEN, they fall in love and you can tell they've fallen in love because their sex is now wordless. No talking whatsoever, just some romantic song playing in the background. Completely reverts to script #1. It really disappointed me, because I thought the message of the movie was going to be that you should treat your sex partner like a friend and not be afraid to talk and to laugh about mistakes and the general wonder/silliness that is sex.

  45. Yes yes yes to the original post. I've long been uncomfortable with Scenario 1, which I call the Romantic Narrative. Anonymous at 6:18 is right that it is ubiquitous in Hollywood movies, but I'd go farther to say that it pervades 20th century American culture. I didn't even watch that much TV or movies growing up, but a few Disney movies and bits and pieces of TV shows were enough; when I started thinking seriously about sex, that narrative was already in my head. It wasn't until I began to think outside of it that sex started to seem like a fun idea.

  46. Anon 6:18 That is so sad. The first part of that sounds great and then they go spoil it? ARGH!

    On "How to fuck a girl." Even the title shows you what is wrong with it. Um yeah, *a* girl, (probably not the one you are in bed with), if she happens to be in a certain mood at the moment. Words people, is it so difficult?
    And grabbing someone by the throat without asking, AIEEEEEEE! nonononononono! You are doing it wrong! Holy crap you should check before *kissing* someone's neck(and other parts) for the first time. Just one more reason that I love the original post so much, not only does everyone get to have fun, you never look like you might be trying to kill someone. And I don't want anyone handling my 'waste' in bed thanks;)

  47. Here's the problem I see with all this enthusiastic consent stuff: It all comes easy and natural if one has found someone with whom one feels a mutual attraction, and both feel ready to have that relationship. The hard part is finding that someone, and getting to the point where both are ready and realize that the other is too. You've basically skipped over that hard part. Without those prerequisites, the 'suave' scenario will be just as awkward as the others.

    It's as if you've described a football play as "Run (or pass) the ball down field, avoiding the defensive players, and score", without any mention of getting the ball past the line of scrimmage and through the defensive line.

    1. This is meant to come after meeting someone you feel a mutual attraction to, yeah. I just didn't cover that part.

      But I also don't think you should be having sex until you've got that mutual attraction (or at least mutual willingness) anyway. If your partner feels more like a defensive lineman than a new friend, you've got no business having sex with them.

    2. My comment only used football as an analogy to describing the second, and easier half, of a process. I could have used that old joke about How To Become A Millionaire: First, acquire a million dollars......

    3. Okay, but that's not what this post is about. As far as this post is concerned, meeting someone willing to have sex with you is your own problem. This is just about what happens afterward.

    4. I'm not sure you can separate 'what happens afterward' from 'what comes before'.

      If consent is a problem, that's oftentimes because people aren't straightforward about what it is they're looking for in the first place. Folks into BDSM(for example) tend to be honest and upfront right about what they're into right from the first, and that makes negotiation and consent less problematic: it's easier to negotiate when everyone has laid their cards face up on the table. On the other hand, most 'vanilla' heterosexuals tend to be kind of guarded about what it is they want, and consequently, they necessarily end up guessing what partners, and potential partners want.

    5. Gotta agree. People end up playing Consent Roulette they and the people they interact aren't sure what they want, or what the other person wants. Lack of communication all the way through.

  48. It just struck me what sits wrong about the whole "enthusiastic consent" discussion. It's not actually about enthusiasm.

    I can wordlessly pick out a random friend, go up to them, and kiss them. It will be crystal clear within a second whether they freeze up, or whether they kiss back. Enthusiasm has been expressed without a single word, and things can progress - or not - from there. That's not the hard part.

    (Most people can usually gauge interest through body language and other nonexplicit clues. Script one, if watched by a body language expert, would be rich in communication.)

    Your big theme is the explicit communication of consent. We can discuss later why implicit communication is so ubiquitous, and why pure explicit communication falls so much into robot lawyer mode. But for the sake of clarity, let's stop conflating explicitness with enthusiasm. The two don't necessarily have anything to do with each other,

    1. I can wordlessly pick out a random friend, go up to them, and kiss them. It will be crystal clear within a second whether they freeze up, or whether they kiss back.

      If a stranger kissed me I'd be able to flinch/shove them away (I think?) but if it's an actual friend, my version of "freezing up" is kissing back - pretty lackluster-ly and limply, but still. A person who doesn't know how feisty and aggressive I usually am during makeouts might mistake my "OMGWTF I need to buy some time while I figure out what to do" reflexive kissing for actual interest.

      Lots of women limply go along with sexual stuff instead of outright "freezing up". And most guys can't conceive of this because they haven't been socialized for their whole fucking lives to be nice, never make a scene, and automatically blame themselves for any unwanted advances. Therefore, guys tend to assume it's all cool and blithely keep on going.

      The difference between "Yes please!" and "Ack!" may not be as obvious as you think, is what I'm saying. Which is why it's good to ask.

    2. Wordless communication CAN be explicit. The trouble is when people think they've been explicit (wordlessly) and they HAVEN'T. And actually, back in the day, I had guys do the lackluster kissing-back thing as well, when I was the one to make the first move, and then say something like hey, this is nice of you, but I'm not sure I'm ready for this, or whatever.

      The vast, vast majority of people would benefit from more words, not fewer, I think. It doesn't have to be a lot of words, just more than none.

      I suspect part of the problem is dualistic mind/body thinking, where people feel that if they're verbalizing they're not fully in their bodies. When I realized it was actually the opposite, that I was going non-verbal out of my fear of being too open and vulnerable, putting things into words became a huge rush.

    3. "Explicit" can still be unenthusiastic. If we're alone, and you're my only ride home, and you're pressuring me emotionally and psychologically, I might tell you "yes" - explicit consent - but I'm sure as hell not going to be enthusiastic about it. But if you're leveraging my emotions and your power over me to get that "yes," you probably don't give a fuck about whether I'm enthusiastically consenting or not.

    4. ...which is why "explicit, enthusiastic consent" is how the catchphrase goes. No one ever said that the two words meant the same thing. That's why they both need to be there.

    5. "I can wordlessly pick out a random friend, go up to them, and kiss them. It will be crystal clear within a second whether they freeze up, or whether they kiss back."
      NO! Because if they "freeze up" or are uncomfortable however they display that, you have ALREADY done an unwanted (non-consensual) sexual thing. You've ALREADY sexually assaulted them. You did something sexual that was unwanted = sexual assault. Asking FIRST is the only way to know if it's wanted and therefor =/= sexual assault.

    6. Yes. The sentence you quoted, DancingGrapes, is totally awful. That's certainly not the right order of things.

  49. Thanks a lot for the Pervocracy link. Delicious reading. I like the third script, and I completely agree that this is a great mindset.

    After reading the post, the ENTP type aka "prick" that I am, I started debating with myself right away on the lines of my preferred debating script that I've been using for years. (If you're interested, the script goes: before the questions "what" and "how" can be addressed satisfactorily, the question "why" needs to be asked and answered.)

    I noticed the very pleasant paradigm shift where in the first two scripts, there is the active part and the passive part, and in the third script, the author refers to "partners". So we've defined the "what" -- it is, after all, the paradigm presented in script #3. We want to know "how" -- how to get there.

    But first: "why". Why is it that people stick to scenario #1 so often?

    From what I've been able to find out so far in my life, the number one reason why people stick to the number one scenario is fear of rejection.

    I can offer a hypothesis here. The socially perfectly safe social scheme for females is to grant or deny consent for sex. Denying consent is by no means stigmatizing. However, the verbal communication in the sexual context is full of many more dangers, including such that can be stigmatizing and can result in a longer-term rejection for the female. This is particularly visible when it comes to females communicating their sexual fantasies. If she says "do you want to fuck me in the ass?" or "can you grab me by the throat?", or "may I play with your cock?" (all being questions that a woman asked me at some point), she could be surprised by a sudden reaction from the male as in "shit, you're a fucking pervert!" or "you're a slut!" or whatever. That's heavy-duty stigmatizing. That can, potentially, make some rounds and then the woman faces the possibility of being "rejected socially" (i.e. not from the partner but from others in the society).

    So in the end, her fear of rejection makes her end up sticking to the "receiving partner" role, and her only tools in the dialog are, indeed, the granting or denying consent. (Obviously, I'm not going into the "she denies and he forces himself" i.e. rape scenario, because that's completely beyond the scope).

    For males, conversely, the socially perfect social scheme is to receive consent or being denied consent. Yet for the male, it is actually not the "social stigmatizing" that is the problem. It's the actual denial of consent, i.e. the rejection from the opportunity of having sex, right here, right now.

    Getting entangled into a dialog, a verbal conversation, is a factor that can, potentially, decrease the man's chances of "sticking it in", i.e. increases the chance of rejection. Because, you know, the man is not so well-versed with words, so he thinks. Or maybe it turns out that the female starts talking a lot, and the "whiff of romance/lust in the air" vaporizes and "we'll end up talking, not fucking". Oh dear. So it's "easy" to follow script #1 because the rules are, well, simple. There's less factors that can go wrong there. So the male plays the "step 1, push gently, if no objection, step 2, push gently, step 3" model.

    To be continued in my next comment :D (Yes, I tend to lecture a lot when I'm in the mood.)

  50. It is, of course, all rooted in the patriarchal social framework in which it is acceptable for men to make sexual advances and acceptable for women to "mostly deny consent". "Oh hell yes" from the lips of a woman is, as we all know, a really bad thing. Oh my god, she's a slut. "Would you like to" from a man's mouth is, on the other hand, a sign of weakness. What? He should be decisive. He cannot decide here, perhaps he won't be able to make decisions on his own in a different context. He is not a real man! (Well, he is great for conversations, so he could be our male best friend.)

    "You're so great to have conversations with, just like a girl," is another thing that a woman told me. And she was someone who was almost shocked that I've used words, and not just my body parts during our sexual encounters.

    Some people play by the old book and are afraid to change it. Some people play by the old book but would wish to change it. (Some people play by their own book and are very happy with it -- they don't need to read this blog entry at all :) ).

    So, I've exhausted my take on the "why". The other question that remains is "how".

    Since we've already largely agreed what the intended "new book" is, the simple answer for the "how" is "by changing from old to new". But since this change won't happen all by itself, we should ask the question "who". Who should change the script, or at the very least, make an effort to change it? Who will take responsibility for that effort?

    Being the ENTP "prick" type, I typically answer such "who" questions with "me". Of course I should make the effort. Give my partner the opportunity to play along, join the changing game. But I won't wait until my partner makes the effort while I'll be sitting and waiting patiently, sticking to the old book.

    So far, everything is quite simple:
    1. We know that I should make the effort to change the script. (And hope that my partners joins the game.)
    2. We know what the new script might be. (Roughly. My partner and myself will work out the details.)

    So, why hasn't this happened yet?

    Well -- we also know why I stick to the old book (I mean "I" here in a collectively representative sense for *men* -- being a man, it'd be sexist to lecture women collectively, but it's OK for me to lecture men collectively, so that's what I do).

    The reason why I stick to the old book is the said fear of rejection. The fear that if I start trying to change the rules, start mudding the water, then a possible outcome will be that my partner rejects me completely. I'll miss my opportunity to have sex, oh dear!

  51. What to do then?

    Again, a hypothetical solution:

    1. Since the man's fear of rejection is based on the fact that the woman can deny consent and then the chance of getting laid goes lost, I can level my chances with the female. I need to have (and communicate) the willingness to walk away myself. I (as a man) need to get into the mindset of "I grant or deny consent myself". Then both the female and the male have equal chances, the man doesn't feel disadvantaged and the fear of rejection is weakened.

    2. Since the woman's fear of rejection is rooted in the social stigmatization (the "she's a slut/pervert" thing), I as a man need to communicate my unwillingness to make quick judgments of character based on my difference from the other person. In other words, I need to be tolerant. I need to communicate that some people's "oddness" isn't for me the reason to run away screaming. That I don't categorize people into "normals" and "perverts".

    It's actually that simple. Here you go. You've read the blog post, and my lengthy comment, and now you know how to become happy within a day.

    End of rant. Damn, I'm so smart. ;)

  52. My lover is simultaneously very horny and very, very shy. She has quite low self-esteem and confidence, and finds it almost impossible to initiate sex. For this reason it took us ages to sleep together - I'm happy being active, but I do need an enthusiastic response before I'll continue - but I slowly learned through conversation what she wanted and how she worked. We did some negotiation (in general, would you like this to happen?) and now I'll initiate by asking her explicitly if she'd like this to happen NOW. She finds saying "yes" difficult but making her do it is actually kind of hot, in an embarrassment-play sort of way, as well as good practice.

    We've also developed a sort of code where she can signal she's feeling playful by making bratty comments with a twinkle in her eye, or by pretending to be oh-so-innocent. Obviously it's not perfect, and I still need explicit consent before I'll take her up on it, but it's a subtle set of signals that seem to be working for her.

    She's also pretty quiet in scene, so as a top I'm still learning to strike that balance between checking in enough to play safely, and not checking in so often I'm driving her nuts. I'll say "I'm about to go a bit harder, okay?" and wait for her nod, or "I'm going to give you six and then check in with you." At the weekend she did actually stop me and say she needed me to go a little lower, which was really reassuring - I felt more confident after that, because it suggested I could trust her to communicate with me when she had something to say.

    Anyway, all this is about kinky play, which is kind of a sideline to what you're talking about. This post is awesome and I've linked the crap out of it. I've also written a follow up post talking about communicative non-consent play, which you might be interested in.

  53. Your point is unclear to me because between scripts 1/2 and script 3 you vary two different variables, changing both the script and the characters. I would like to see a better "script" that would still work for the Active and Receptive characters from the first two scripts. As it stands it's easy to just read the post as "wouldn't it be great if everyone were extroverted?" (which it would in many ways, but they aren't - certainly not all the time). And then you end up with shy-shaming in the comments.

    1. The lack of an "active" and "receptive" partner in the third script was extremely intentional.

      As for shy-shaming--this may come off jerkish, but I don't think it's okay to have sex if you're so shy that sex with you is externally indistinguishable from rape.

      I'm not saying people have to be as talky as I am, nor that they have to do their talking during the sex, but I am not okay with people, regardless of shyness, having such totally passive sex that it would take a mind-reader to know whether they wanted it.

    2. Following script 1 is NOT externally indistinguishable from rape. It's not as though R just sits there and doesn't object; if at any point R doesn't kiss back, grope back, etc, A will know to back off. But at no point will R be called upon to be particularly articulate, or obliged to admit that any of it was their idea, and so can enjoy the experience without fear or guilt.

      By contrast, here's something more like how your script 3 would go:
      Partners A and R are alone together.  A detects (or wishful-thinks) the whiff of romance/lust in the air.  A says to R, "You are so goddamn cute, you know that? I'd really like to make out with you."
      R blushes, looks down awkwardly, and manages to emit an embarrassed "okay."
      If A is particularly oblivious and desperate they might proceed for a few rounds of "robot lawyers", but A will soon realise that the requests are making R uncomfortable, and back off. Both will go home feeling rejected, though neither verbalised anything of the sort.

      Another issue: "you're enacting your sexuality and not some stock scene."
      People follow "stock" scripts in these sorts of interactions for a reason: there's enough to worry and be insecure about the first time you have sex with someone without having to come up with your own original script as you go, to say nothing of laying out your sexuality for them to judge. An unfamiliar script/situation will make both parties uncomfortable. I'm optimistic that a better script than 1 or 2 could become widespread, but the participants still need to know the script in advance.

    3. Following script 1 is NOT externally indistinguishable from rape. It's not as though R just sits there and doesn't object; if at any point R doesn't kiss back, grope back, etc, A will know to back off.

      Yeah...not so much. Or at least, not always. Trust me.

    4. ...Of course, a person who'd kiss a totally unresponsive partner would never follow the more communicative script, anyway, because they flat-out don't give a shit whether their partner is enjoying themselves...

  54. Hello! I loved this entry so much I had to steal it for my own blog :)

  55. Can this please stay on the net forever? Great reference if you want to explain your ideas about sex and not start at zero.

    By the way, I also kind of like the "robot lawyer" script. And I define male and not overly shy, so there is more to it than just "cute beacause awkward".

  56. Sorry for another necropost; I recently discovered this blog and am reading kind of at random.

    I think the main advantage of script 3 is that it's not robust against small deviations, in the sense that changes in the script in the directions of coerciveness are almost immediately obvious. As pointed out, it's possible to imagine a version of script 1 in which R does not consent, but gives no external sign of having done so. I think it's hard to argue that A should be sent to jail in this situation.

    Obviously (as pointed out) this is not very realistic, but there is a continuum of scripts between this and "R kicks and screams for A to stop" in which R makes the rejection more explicit - maybe R wiggles an eyebrow or something in one, then two eyebrows in another, then mumbles inaudible for A to stop, then actually tells A to stop in a kind of semi-jokey way, etc. At some point on this continuum, A should be sent to prison, but I think it's hard to see exactly where, so long as 1 remains the default script (i.e. so long as active consent from both partners is not the norm).

  57. i haven't bothered to read all 90-some comments, so forgive this if it seems redundant, but i just wanted to address the fact that the only sexual situations you've scripted are hetero--and, obviously, not all sexual encounters are. let's all just check ourselves, and our heteronormative default mode, every now and again.

  58. Here's one of my favorite sex negotiation scenes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpqTbDiFVw0 . It's a little scary that the best model for sexual negotiation in movies is performed by two adults who are scripted as mildly developmentally disabled... but at least *someone's* showing how to do it.

    Janet Hardy

  59. Most couples (married or not) are allowed to be intimate with each other in their own bed, it's a part of being in a healthy relationship. Is it not unreasonable to assume that the man is overstepping what is allowed in their relationship when he touches her without asking? What do you expect of men, exactly? That before I touch my girlfriend anywhere, I stop and ask: “Can I touch you here now? Ok! What about here? Ok great! Can I kiss you now?” My girlfriend would lose her freaking mind. Surely anyone would. We both know that we can show affection/be intimate with each other without having to stop and ask permission each and every time.

    There's such a thing as established boundaries in a relationship, and the continuing failure to recognize this is why I oppose affirmative consent standards in practice. Because they almost inevitably fail to recognize that long-term partners can have standing ground rules for what is and is not acceptable behavior in their relationship, and no one wants to be asked for permission each and every time their partner wants to kiss them on the cheek.

    An existing relationship does not necessarily imply consent to all acts, but there can be reasonable expectations of consent in certain contexts. I'd wager that very few people find it necessary to stop and ask permission each and every time they want to touch their SO in any way. My girlfriend is also a serial rapist according to a strict interpretation of affirmative consent rules, because I've woken up to her performing oral sex on me more than a few times. These kinds of rules are appropriate for a first date or a one night stand, but they're simply unrealistic when applied to long-term intimate partnerships. A "no" must always be respected in any context, of course, but isn't it unrealistic to expect someone to always ask permission before they touch their long-term sexual partner in any way?

    1. Please re-read all the stuff about how you DON'T have to do it like Robot Lawyers, and how that's a strawman used to discount all ideas of affirmative consent.

      Of course you don't need to ask about a peck on the cheek in an established relationship. But don't use that as a reductio ad absurdum to prove that you don't need to ask before having intercourse.

      My girlfriend is also a serial rapist according to a strict interpretation of affirmative consent rules, because I've woken up to her performing oral sex on me more than a few times.
      If you had no problem with this, then she's not a rapist--she's merely a person who took the risk of being a rapist when she could have easily avoided it. Because what if you DIDN'T like it. Did she have any plan for that?

  60. I loved this post when you first wrote it. I think now's a good time to revisit it.

  61. I just came across this video and it immediately reminded me of this post of yours. It is a parody of that Blurred Lines video called "Ask First" and kind of paints a wonderful picture of what sexy consent looks like in different scenarios.

    Video is definitely NSFW: