[Content Advisory: Discussions of rape]
People...I love fucking. I’m also a fan of making love, having sex and screwing. I love doing it with people everywhere on the gender spectrum. I’ll have sex with people I’m physically attracted to, emotionally attracted to or intellectually attracted to. But there’s one thing I’m not into, one thing that will never turn me on; having sex with someone who isn’t consenting.
A lack of consent is rape. Let’s get the r-word out there nice and early, because it’s going to pop up quite a bit and I don't want anyone getting squeamish. Society tends to think of rape as a violent crime, perpetrated in dark alleys by strangers. And while that does happen, it is far from the most common form of sexual assault. Unfortunately none of us are ever really educated on what actually constitutes ‘consent’ and there’s a chance that some of us have committed acts of rape without actually knowing that what we did was wrong. I like to think that all of you, my dear readers, would never willingly hurt someone and would be appalled at the idea that you’d done so by mistake. So let’s take some time today to ensure that we’re never in that situation, that we always do the right thing by our sexual partners and take this as a reminder that you’re in charge of your body and your consent matters. Always.
So let’s look at the word consent for a second and get really basic about it. Consent is something that you MUST obtain from someone that you want to have sex with. Consent can come in a myriad of different ways. Your partner might give it by kissing you back and escalating the physical contact. They might simply say ‘yes, I’d love to have sex with you’. But if you’re ever unsure, if you’re even the tiniest bit unclear about whether what they’re saying is an unequivocal ‘yes, let’s fuck’, stop what you’re doing and ask. It’s far better to temporarily ruin the moment and clarify consent than to keep going when you’re not sure and end up doing something you can’t take back.
The standard for consent is that it should be enthusiastic and consistent. Enthusiasm is a pretty awesome standard to have for sex anyway. If your partner(s) aren’t clearly and visibly happy about being with you, naked, doing sexy shit, then that’s a pretty bad sign. Actually, let me rephrase that, that’s a bad sign at a dinner party. In the bedroom it’s just unacceptable. Stop what you’re doing and make sure that they’re actually consenting to what’s happening and if they are, then try communicating with them to find out what you can do to make sure they have the best possible naked time with you!
So that’s the enthusiasm part, but what does “consistent” mean? Let me ask you something. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and ordered something off the menu, knowing when you ordered that it was definitely what you wanted, but when the meal arrives you realise you actually don’t want it any more? There could be a number of reasons you no longer want your meal. You might have started feeling a little unwell in the time it took to arrive. You might have filled up on free bread rolls. Maybe you just looked at it and went “That’s not at all how I imagined that would look...I don’t think I can eat that.” You know what I’m talking about. Now, when this has happened to you, have you ever had the restaurant manager come out and forcibly feed you the meal? No? Good. It means you eat at dining establishments that understand consistent consent with regards to their meals.
Consent, much like anything that involves a decision, is able to be withdrawn or changed at any time. If you say 'yes' to sex at the start of the night and after five minutes you decide you’re not really in the mood, that’s you revoking your consent. Tell your partner and stop. Go play video games or eat some crumpets, I don’t care, but stop having sex.
A 'yes' now does not mean it’s a 'yes' for the next four hours. If you said 'yes' to having a wild, six hour fuck-fest and ten minutes in you realise that what you really want is a gentle, hair stroking love making session, stop and communicate this to your partner. If they say 'sure I could do that', you’ve changed the parameters of your consent and can continue. If they say 'no I'm not really into that', that’s them withdrawing their consent and you both need to stop the naked shenanigans and pursue a different activity that you both consent to.
If you’re with someone who has revoked their consent, it might be frustrating, or you might feel a little rejected, but you need to put yourself in their shoes. They wouldn’t have made you stop unless they seriously wanted to. You might not know their reasons, and to be honest it doesn’t matter what their reasons are. What matters is that they’re asking you to stop. If you keep going after they’ve asked you to stop, that’s rape. Unequivocally.
I shouldn’t have to say this. I really shouldn’t have to say this and I hope that all of you, my dear readers, are rolling your eyes at the obviousness of this. If a person says ‘No’ to sex, have a wild guess what that means. IT MEANS NO! They’re not being coy, they’re not playing hard to get, they’re not flirting with you, they’re saying “I do not want or desire to engage in sexual relations with you at this time”. A ‘no’ can apply to specific sexual acts as well. You might be having oral sex and you ask if you can penetrate them and they say ‘no’. This is not an invitation to try anyway. This in no way means you can’t continue to enjoy what you’re currently doing. It just means that for whatever reason, they’re not down for that at this time. Their decision might change, it might not. It doesn’t matter. It’s a ‘no’.
What should you do if a person says ‘no’? Graciously accept that it's their body, it's their choice and right now their choices regarding their body don’t involve you doing whatever the hell you want.
What should you NOT do if a person says no? Get mad about being friendzoned. Try to convince them that they’re making a mistake. Hassle or pester them until they say yes. Post pictures of them naked to public forums. Call them names. Call their mother names. Stalk to them to see if they have sex with someone else. Point out the reason they gave you for not wanting to have sex with you is false. Anything other than respecting their decision. Don’t be an asshat, be cool and accept that sometimes people don’t want sex. If you continue to do anything with that person outside of what they’ve stated they’re comfortable with, you are either raping them or sexually assaulting them.
I will admit, someone saying ‘maybe’ is a bit of a grey area. People can give vague responses about whether or not they’re down for sexy times. Sometimes a person might not outright say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because they themselves are uncertain of what they want. In this case, it’s important to let them make up their own mind, because if you try and change their mind you run the risk of coercion. You do not want to coerce someone into sex. Imagine you’re back in that restaurant from before and your meal has arrived. You don’t really think you want to eat it, because it looks a bit iffy, or your stomach is feeling delicate, or you don’t want to break your diet, or one of a million valid reasons you might have for not being certain about doing a thing. The restaurant manager comes out and stands over you and tries to convince you that you want to eat this meal. You’re still really not sure but they keep telling you that you should. Eventually you eat it. It makes you sick. Or it makes you fat. Or in some way you regret your decision to eat that meal. How are you going to feel about that meal and that restaurant manager now? How are you going to feel in the hours and days following? Now imagine it was sex.
Yes, if someone is uncertain about whether or not they want to have sex, you might convince them and it might be amazing, but honestly it’s not worth the risk. Because you don’t know why they’re uncertain. They might be saying ‘maybe’ because they don’t know how to say ‘no’. If you genuinely suspect that they’re saying ‘maybe’ because they want to be coy and they’re trying to flirt with you, address that. Tell them upfront, “I would really like to do X, Y and Z to you, but I’m not doing anything until I know that that’s what you want.” Having to admit that you want X, Y and Z can actually be incredibly hot! Having someone tell you that they want to hear you say “I want you, I need you” can be a huge turn on. It doesn’t have to be a mood killer. But if you don’t make sure that the ‘maybe’ is actually a ‘yes’, you could be doing something really horrific and traumatic to someone you wanted to show a good time to.
I know this might come as a surprise and possibly a source of frustration, but ‘yes’ doesn’t actually always mean ‘yes’. Sometimes a person might be saying ‘yes’ in all the wrong ways. For example, if your partner is crying and emotionally distressed, but they say ‘have sex with me’, would you still consider that a ‘yes’? I hope not. If someone is crying, they’re in a state of distress and may or may not be thinking or feeling clearly. If someone is very drunk or high and, for example, is not able to answer basic questions, do you think their ‘yes’ carries the same weight as a sober person's? Again, I hope not. Someone who isn’t in their right mind, whether that’s as a result of substances, mental illness, physical trauma or a myriad of other reasons, can't actually be properly consenting. If someone in that state came onto a car lot and attempted to purchase a vehicle, do you think a salesman would accept their contract? And if they did, how well do you think it would hold up in a court of law? If you wouldn’t sign a legal contract with a person, you shouldn’t have sex with them. And I hope I don’t have to point out that you can’t sign legal contracts with children.
Rape is rape, regardless of gender. People have a habit of making jokes about men getting raped in prison. We tend to think that when a man is raped it’s funny. We think this for a number of reasons; men are meant to be strong and we think of women as weak, and rape as a violent act, so why couldn’t he fight her off? Or a man getting raped by another man is funny because that’s gay and gay people are effeminate. Or men always want sex, so how is it possible to rape a man when they’re always up for it. These are all justifications I have heard for rape jokes. No. This is not okay. Rape is rape regardless of what genitals you have, what genitals your rapist has, or how either of you identify on the gender spectrum.
Rape is rape, regardless of arousal. This is another common defence. How can someone have been raped if they were wet/hard/orgasmed? Seriously. Why do some people laugh when you give them bad news. Why do you cry when you’re happy. Why do you laugh when you hit your elbow. Why do people salivate when they smell burning human flesh. Bodies do things without conscious thought. Arousal is a reflex, it’s not a decision. It’s why tickling can be used as a form of torture. Our bodies respond to the stimuli, not the situation. And sometimes, arousal or engagement might be a decision made to prevent violence.
Rape is rape regardless of whether you cry out. You might not scream, or shout, or fight back or cry. You might not talk about it for days, weeks, months or years after it happened. You might not alert the authorities or go for a rape kit. You might still engage with your rapist on a day to day basis. None of these things changes that it was rape. It doesn’t matter if the rapist was your husband/wife or life partner. They are not entitled to your body if you don’t consent. It doesn’t matter if you were wearing the sexiest outfit that ever sexied and were in a sex club for people who like sex. Unless you said “Can you have sex with me” you weren't asking for it. If anyone ever tells you that you deserve(d) to get raped or any variation on that idea, punch them in the face and tell them they were asking to be punched in the face because, you know they had a face and they took it out in public while your fist was around. What did they expect?
If you're in a relationship and you’re reading this thinking ‘Oh god, there have been times when I haven’t explicitly heard my partner say ‘yes’, don’t panic. There is a concept called prior or implied consent. It’s the idea that if you’re in a relationship, there will be certain situations where consent may not be given, but that it is implied by the nature of your relationship. This is NOT to be confused with people who argue rape can’t happen within a relationship or a marriage. It can. This is about understanding that if one of my partners comes home drunk and wants to have sex with me, even though they’re drunk, I can use the context of our relationship to determine whether they actually want to have sex with me or not. This can also be applied to relationships that want to play out rape fantasies. There are a large number of psychological aspects to rape that people can be attracted to and that they might want to enact within the safety of a relationship. This does NOT mean these people want to or intend to rape anyone. It does not mean they condone rape. It is a completely different scenario and is about as indicative of their desire to rape someone as your enjoyment of Die Hard is indicative of your desire to maim, mutilate and torment Germans while not wearing shoes.
If you’re still unclear, I highly recommend watching this educational video. It explains consent with far less swear words and more cups of tea than I have managed to do here.
For the first time ever, I sincerely hope that this article has informed absolutely none of you. I hope that all of you knew about everything that I’ve discussed here and that none of it has come as a surprise. I fervently hope that none of you have read this and realised that you’ve put someone or someone has put you in a position of questionable consent. I only want the best for you, dear readers, and I have written this solely because it was information I was never given whole and complete. Consent was and is an issue that many of us have had to piece together for ourselves. This should not be the case. So please, discuss consent freely and frequently, with your friends, your family and your sexual partners. Everyone deserves to be informed. No one deserves to be raped.
That is all.
You may go now.