Thursday, 19 June 2014

What it Means when She says 'Yes'

I struggled to write this post. When I first had the idea, I tried to find another one that I wanted to write about, but this is the one on my mind so I'm going to talk about it, but it wasn't easy. See, I consider myself quite open-minded and carefree, and I like to carry myself with an air of a suave, debonair literato; however, when it comes to sex - as in actual sex, not orientation, gender or sexism, but the actual "birds and bees" of it all - I can't help but revert to a blushing schoolboy, struggling to express my thoughts with genteelism, nervous awkwardness & giggling embarrassment. And sex is indeed the topic I want to talk about today, so I've had to stifle my giggles and act all serious-like.
The second reason I struggled with this blog post is because I am technically a virgin (I'm not inexperienced, but let's not go into detail) so trying to speak with any authority about sexual intercourse means that I'm speaking with the stifled authority of a loungechair scholar - all theory, no prac' - which means that there's a grand likelihood I might be ignored by those that think me ill experienced to talk about this subject. But please, hear me out, this isn't about the ins and outs of sex - if you'll forgive that terrible, terrible pun - but rather the notion of consent, which is something I am quite experienced in talking about.
The Word of the Day is: 'CONSENT'

Consent /kən'sent/ v.i. 1. To agree; assent; yield (followed by to or infinitive). ♦n. 2. Permission; assent; acquiescence; compliance. 3. Agreement in feeling, opinion, course of action, etc.: By common consent. 4. Age of Consent, the age at which consent to certain acts, especially sexual intercourse and marriage, is valid in law.

See, the reason I want to talk about consent and sex is because, it seems to me, that there aren't enough people that understand consensual sex. I know this because of the way I hear people talk about it, on the internet, in real life and on TV and the way people talk about men and women and sex. On the internet, I have seen my fair share of discussions about rape, and one thing that often comes up is the question of consent. For instance, something that is often brought up is what I call the "drunk girl" issue.
Basically, if a man picks up a woman at a bar while she's drunk and they go back home to have sex together, only for her to wake up the next morning and regret that act, is that rape?
Now, many, many feminists say "Yes", which is a point of contention and arguments against feminism because many other people say "No". The arguments for yes are complicated. Because it's about whether or not the consent is informed, there's question of capability and culpability & of course, there's the issue of violation, is it right if someone feels used and powerless?
The arguments against are generally simple: "But she said Yes, so it was consensual!"

Personally, I think the real issue is one of semantics and proof, and it should be taken on a case by case basis, because "having sex while drunk" is not really that different from having sex while sober, and regret alone isn't grounds for accusation.
However, this is just semantics because people often misunderstand 'regret'. Those that disagree with the rape accusations believe that, in this case, it means "oh, I wish I hadn't said yes"; when in this context, what it really means is "that's not what I asked for". And in that instance, it is rape.

I have a perfect example of it, however this is a true story about sexual assault, and it can be quite triggering (as it recounts, in detail, a sexual assault; and I'm going to talk about this, skip to the next block of text if you want to skip this.) but it's worth discussing in detail, because I believe it brings to light the major issues with consensual sex. In response to one man believing rape is a "privilege", one woman recounted her story of consenting to sex with a long-time friend, and being sexually assaulted as a result. It's a painful story, but the point is, this is a case of a woman that consented to sex with a man, and as a result he took advantage of her. During the act, she fell unconscious, and while she was unconscious her partner hurt her to the point of serious bleeding; she had to go to hospital for surgery, nearly lost her life and was permanently scarred as a result.
Now, in this instance, while the woman said 'yes', it's undeniable that she was assaulted, because she was devastatingly hurt from the experience. Although she said 'yes', she never said 'I would like to fall unconscious and almost bleed to death'. Sure, she consented to sex, but she didn't consent to what happened to her, she didn't consent to aggravated sexual assault, hospitalization, trauma, fear & inner scars.

See, this is the thing that bugs the hell out of me. People don't get it. When a woman consents to having sex, she's not surrendering the 'keys to the kingdom'; she's not saying "my body is yours now, do with it what you want". When a woman says "yes", she is generally saying: "I think it would be enjoyable for us to have sex, and I would like to try that together."
Now, I say "woman" because that's the issue at hand, that's the scenario that's often brought up and as a straight man, this is what I understand from my experience. However, I believe the same is true of men, and I believe it's true of every sexuality, such as gay, straight or bi. When people say they want to have sex, it's because they want to enjoy it, we want to do that with someone to experience that pleasure.
So I don't understand this disconnect. Why would any person believe that they want to have sex for pleasure, but their partner doesn't need that? Why would men believe that a woman having an unpleasant experience, one they can't remember and would not have consented to sober, is something that's okay?
And most importantly, why would anyone believe that having sex is more important than having informed consent?

I have honestly heard the argument "For men, sex is a release, they need that release, because it's a biological imperative, so they can't be blamed for going too far."
I don't want to go into a whole rant here (although I easily could), but the matter is simple: That is just sexist, and 'getting off' is not more important than consent. The fact of the matter is, a desire to experience orgasm does not and will never give anyone the right to circumvent another person's rights.
If you don't understand that, try having a jerk instead of being one.
This is what feminists mean when we talk about "sexual entitlement". This is a prime example of Rape Culture (or what I prefer to call Complicit Culture), and it's why I believe that we need to have better sexual education.

In that same post about Complicit Culture, I said that we needed to educate people about sex better, as well as educate people about relationships, because currently, we don't have that. And we keep getting it wrong.
In so many movies movies, when people fall in love, they have sex not long after. For most romance movies or romance sub-plots, the climax - if you'll forgive the terrible, terrible pun - of the storyline is when the loving couple has sex. It happens all the time:
In Mr & Mrs Smith, we know the main characters are on the same side because they have sex mid-action scene; in Titanic, despite only knowing one another for three days total, we “know” Rose truly loved Jack because they did it in the car & even in the award-winning sci-fi romance Her, the relationship between the main characters is considered legitimate only after the two have a sexual encounter.
It's not portrayed as a next step towards intimacy or a way of becoming closer - it's presented as the only way to legitimize love, and the stepping stone between friends and lovers.
I understand why they do it, it's a mixture of old-fashioned "consummate the marriage" values, confused with "sex sells", but it portrays a skewed ideal of love.

Another example of this is with "the baseball system". You may have heard some iteration; the version I heard was, "First Base" is kissing and cuddling, "Second Base" is fondling (under the shirt), "Third Base" is heavy petting (under the knickers) and "All the Way" is sex itself. I like the notion of this, in that there's a gradual progression towards sex that goes slowly, it's a nice idea. However, this isn't treated as a guide to going slow, rather it's treated like a scorecard.
  "Second base! I am only two steps away from sex!"
So I think the attitudes are wrong. Because sex shouldn't be a goal. I know that's a bit of a shocking statement to some people, so allow me to repeat it: Sex shouldn't be a goal.
I prefer to think of sex as a way of expressing intimacy and trust. Because yes, people in love have sex. But it's not because they're in love, it's because they are attracted to one another, and each trusts the other to provide them with intimacy and pleasure.

Maybe it's a little old-fashioned, but I think that sex is meant for two people in love. That's not to say that I disapprove of people that have casual sex with multiple partners without any of the lovey-dovey stuff. It's not wrong, so long as it's safe, fun, healthy & consensual.
But when we're talking about sex between partners (or potential partners), love or no, trust in each participant is more important than anything else. So, the three keys to good sex are: communicate, communicate, communicate.
Love and intimacy are about knowing your partner, so the rules of sex for everyone are very simple.
"If you can't talk to your partner about sex, honestly, then you shouldn't have it."
- The Absurd Word Nerd
The biggest reason why people get taken advantage of, or have regret or have unpleasant sexual experiences is because people don't know what they're doing. They don't know what they want and they don't know what their partner wants and so they make assumptions. Or, they have no respect for the person they're with, so they don't bother to find out what to do, they just don't care.
But with a simple shift in attitude, rather than treating sex as the goal, all you have to do is talk to your partner beforehand, the goal should be to bond with your partner. Or, if you're going the casual route, the goal is the mutual satisfaction of both parties, so either way, communication is key.

The real issue at hand is that there's nowhere we can turn to for this kind of knowledge or advice, none that are made public anyway. Sure, we have education about the mechanics, Slat A goes in Slot B - pregnancy occurs. But sex is still so taboo, we don't give people a chance to learn how to do it right, and I'm not just talking about how to have the most fun. For starters, think about this, we don't teach homosexuals how to have sex. You can be homophobic all you want, but - just like straight teenagers - you'll never stop homosexual teens from having sex if they want to. Most of them are left out to dry, and a lack of education on sex is exactly what lead to stuff like the AIDS epidemic in the first place. And, as to consent, the topic at hand, we don't teach people how to respect their partners. All we ever get on the subject of how to treat your partner is “when a man and a woman are married and in love”, which is so outdated it's laughable.
For those that don't fit that mould we tell them “don't do it” or “just wear a condom”, but nothing else because we don't want to talk about it. We don't want to talk about the important stuff.
I know what I know about this topic because I've inferred from the negative,  I've worked backwards from hearing these tragic stories from women that feel violated - even when their partner had consent, and had no ill will towards them. I've heard stories of thousands of men complaining because their partners don't want to have sex, and not understanding why. I've seen lots of questions on forums asking when is  the best time to have sex, how to seduce someone into sex, what it means when their partner bleeds, all of that - we just don't know.
So to learn, people turn to poor advice like pornography (not a fair example of real intimacy); erotica, like Fifty Shades of Gray, which portrays an unhealthy BDSM relationship & hearsay, like the notion that “gay sex” is always sodomy, which is absolute nonsense.
Or, worst of all, we turn to other people like us. And, in the case of men, we turn to other men, and we talk from our own experiences, which are uneducated. We don't understand that our partners might feel differently towards it than us, we don't understand what they expect of us & as I've already shown, we don't always understand what “informed consent” means.

The bit that's kind of sad is that we turn everywhere for advice but inward. If you want to know how best to treat your partner, why aren't you asking your partner? If you want to know when your partner wants to have sex, ask her (or him). If you want to know what causes pain and how to be gentle; if you want to know if it's okay to try something different; if you want to know what's exciting & you feel uncomfortable about sex, talk to the one you're with.
I know it's embarrassing, it's meant to be, it's a deeply personal thing. But, if you can't talk about sex with your partner, then you don't really trust them. And if you don't trust them and you can't be honest with them, why are you with them at all?

And that's the real truth: When she says “Yes” to sex, what she means is, “I trust you”. That's a privilege, as well as a responsibility. And as I've explained already, if you're not sure what you're supposed to be doing, all you have to do is ask.

I hope that one day men and women will understand “consent” is more to do with respect than permission. Until then, I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I want to be the first to say, I am not an expert on sex, that's is why I want better education, so that you don't have to rely on people like me to teach what should be common sense.

1 comment:

  1. It is a bit weird that when a fictional character like Lisbeth Salander talks about these sort of abusive behaviors towards women and punishes men for engaging in such activity, we readers support her violent punishments. Yet in real life we don't talk about these sorts of activities and how both parties must be considered. The disconnect is quite disturbing.
    Common sense needs to become more common, and we always have to engage in the basic rule of humanity: compassion. Compassion means listening to the other party's needs and not pressuring him or her, making it a point of mutual enjoyment. Until we learn that, no one gets the so-called "keys" to the kingdom.

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