Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sex and consent

I believe there needs to be another word. It's not "rape" if you never say no. But is the sex actually consensual if you have never said yes? There needs to be another word.

Last night a friend came over. I'm going to call her Popcorn, because I can. She was telling me about a situation with her lover where she said no to something and it happened anyway. While she was talking I could feel my stomach explode with acid. I felt scared and upset. Honey, don't you know that when someone does things to you after you say "no" that is rape? But I didn't say anything for a few seconds. When I spoke I very calmly asked if they had a consensual non-consent relationship. She said that the deal is she puts up with what he wants to do or he walks.

We need another word.

We need another word to explain how badly we want to feel that people like us and love us and want to be around us so we tolerate things that make us feel bad. We need another word to explain the intersection of scared-little-girl-who-knows-saying-no-won't-stop-it and the adult woman who is allowed to make odd choices. I think that people are allowed to choose consensual non-consent relationships. I know people who desperately want to be in no-safeword relationships. Well, ok. If that works for you and you want it very badly, rock on. Not everyone has made that conscious decision. An awful lot of women just think there isn't a point in saying no. It won't stop what is happening and if you say no things will get worse, not better. Better to shut up and just take it. The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know.

Last night I masturbated right before going to sleep. I thought about domestic discipline stuff. I thought about what it would be like for Noah and I to come up with "rules" and for me to be held to them. I think that more than anything in the whole world I want concrete proof that someone is watching my behavior and giving me the equivalent of a gold star when I am good. It feels like no one notices or cares. I have a lot of hard days when getting through my basic list of tasks feels harder than running a marathon. I want someone to notice and comment on whether or not I have completed the tasks that make me "good" enough. I try so very hard. When I am not good enough I want someone to care enough to give me a way to earn back my goodness by submitting to correction. I want to be good enough so much it makes me cry. I don't feel like I am.

I should just tolerate whatever someone wants to do to me. I'm not really good enough to ask for things to be different. I'm not really good. My behavior isn't good. I think rebellious thoughts all day long. I want someone to know that I am feeling rebellious and tell me that they see that I am still doing the right thing even though I am struggling internally with the process. I want it so much.

Noah told me point blank that he is not willing to discuss "rules" at this stage of our life because right now I have too much pressure on me and he's not going to be the straw that breaks my back. He's a very schmott guy, that one.

I struggle with admitting to myself that I do things because I want them. I am so house proud it is kind of silly. I desperately want people to come over to my house and gasp because my garden is so pretty. Wow--I've obviously put a lot of work into it and it's lovely. It's stupid to work so hard so that phantom people who don't really care will some day give me a pat on the back. I am doing it for me. Why the lie? I have a powerful need to control the world around me.

It's all complicated, isn't it? Wanting love and approval. Yes, Popcorn, being alone is safer. But we are social animals. Being alone isn't actually safer. So many things can happen while you are alone and there is no one around to help you survive. I want you to survive. I want to survive. We are social creatures. It means different things to different people, yes; I know.

I think about these things so hard because I think about what kind of grown up I want to model being for my kids. I want my gorgeous daughters to believe that it fucking matters when they say no. I want my daughters to believe that no piece of shit man is worth putting up with if he is going to rape them. Complicated. I have some complex feelings about my sexual activity. Do I think Noah is a piece of shit man? Do I think Noah is a rapist? I think about it. I think about what the word rapist really means. Noah has had sex with me while I fought him off--because he had explicit permission in advance to do it once. He doesn't deserve punishment for doing what I negotiated with him. It was a consensual non-consent scene.

Only that shit fucks you up. That shit fucks up your brain and your body. I consented to it. Did I consent because I think piece of shit girls like me should permit anything and everything to happen to me no matter how much it hurts? I'm not sure it mattered. It was a number of years ago. I went to intensive therapy over that--two or three times a week for a while around that event. It helped me break through a lot of walls around all of the other rapes in my life. I got to find out that I'm not physically all that strong and I can fight as fucking hard as I want to and I still can't defend myself. I still can't prevent someone from raping me if they want to.

It's complicated. At this point in time Noah is very cautious with me. If he senses even mild hesitancy he pulls back and stops touching me and asks for verbal confirmation that I am ok. This man is trying as hard as he can to help me pick up the pieces of my life. This is his life too and he doesn't want to live with someone who is continually damaged and redamaged. He wanted to have an experience. He wanted to know what something felt like. We found the wall together. We found out what too far felt like. Now he's careful. I'm not sure he would be able to be careful if he hadn't found the wall. In the long run I suspect that we will have a better marriage because we shared that experience. We have learned a lot together.

Do I think other women should do it? Well... it doesn't matter what I think, right? I don't want my daughters to feel like they need to be violently raped as an adult to prove to themselves that they have no ability to defend themselves. How about if we get them into intense martial arts and self-defense classes at five. Sure, everyone can lose to someone. But let's improve their odds. Motherfucker. I want my daughters to know how to stand up straight and say, "No I don't want this" and back it up with leaving because no fucking man is worth putting up with shit that hurts. (Unless they want to consent to SM. I'm not a hypocrite. That's different.) I want my daughters to feel loved and confident and built up and like they have status and worth and they don't need a fucking man. Does that mean I want them to be alone and lonely? No. But I want them to communicate about their needs. I want them to believe that their needs are important and I want them to hang out with people who agree that their needs are important.

I like having daughters. It challenges me to think very hard about what kind of woman I want them to see. Do I want them to grow up to be brittle and delicate? I can't decide who they will be, not really. But I can decide who I want them to see. Who they eventually become is up to them. I can make sure that they do not learn from me that they should tolerate whatever someone wants to do. It's complicated.

I strongly dislike the idea that people "shouldn't judge". Fuck you motherfucker I'm going to fucking judge all I want. I'm going to judge if things are safe or smart. I'm not going to try and control you because you have to make your own choices and live with the results. But I really should judge in my head what is going on. I should evaluate things and decide if that is something I think is a good plan or not and I should think about why. I don't need to share this process, unless people want to hear it, but I really should judge. Saying that people shouldn't judge is a good way of saying, "I'm not going to bother thinking about actions in advance and I will be a victim all my life." No thanks.

If a man tells you he doesn't care about your needs you need to believe him and get the fuck away from him. He probably won't wake up every single day and look in the mirror and have to deal with the consequences of your interactions. You will. You have to look at yourself every day for the rest of your life. Do you want to be proud of yourself or ashamed? How do you feel about yourself right now? I'm not real fond of my hair this short, I'll be honest. Overall it is getting easier to look at myself in the mirror. I know I am actually behaving in a way that is consistent with my values. I am judging the fuck out of myself and using that judgment to change my behavior and mannerisms. I'm changing how I experience my life because I want to model for my children what having a good life means. I tell them actively that people live all kinds of good lives. There isn't one blue print. But for me, I'm very serious about following a fairly distinct progressive path towards being a better person. I will fuck up along the way, but I've already come so far.

Even though I really wish I was I'm not a special snowflake. I'm not ever going to be the best. But I'm ok. Everything will be ok in the end; if it's not ok it's not the end. I have to be good enough. I have to keep my kids safe enough. We are an accident prone family and we all get a lot of small injuries. I shouldn't try to prevent that. But I am careful to ice my injuries now and talk about what things I should change and do differently in the future. I no longer sit around extensively talking about how stupid I am when I get hurt. I turned that tape off. That was a strong tape from my childhood. Only stupid people get injured. Only people who aren't good at (insert activity) get hurt doing it. Incompetent people. When I had to go see the doctor as a child for injuries I was yelled at.

I think I deserve bad treatment. I have to judge how people talk to one another and decide how I would feel about that treatment being given to me. If I don't do that I have no perspective whatsoever on what things might be like in the lives of other people. All I know is what I know and what I know is that I deserve bad treatment. I deserve to not be able to say no when someone wants to rape me.

I think we need another word. How can we talk about this rape that is not rape? How do we talk about this lack of sense of self that causes women to not even try to prevent bad things? How do we convince our girls that they should learn these self preservation skills? What does that even mean? It all feels so complicated.

I think that part of it involves learning to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. I think if you really and truly believe that you should be raped over and over again you should probably work on that. I don't care if it makes me a judgmental asshole or condescending or whatever. If you think you deserve to be raped over and over... you should work on that. If you want to play rape games with your lover but you have a safeword for when things get too intense, that's fine. In my judgmental asshole opinion. As soon as you lose the ability to say no or use your safeword then you shouldn't engage in the play. In my opinion. We need a word for that kind of sex. I don't know what it should be.

Any thoughts?


  1. What the man is doing to Popcorn is blackmail. "if you don't give me what I want (sex act she doesn't want), I'll do something bad to you (leave)." The only problem is that sexual blackmail is typically the other way around, with denial of sex being the penalty.

    And isn't your own power an important part of doing consensual non-consent scenes? That knowledge that no matter how much you negotiated beforehand that no would mean yes, that you would still be able to stop it at anytime just by saying that it was too much.

    1. I don't really want to pathologize or get into their situation too much. Shit is complicated.

      Consensual non-consent is complicated. People choose to do it in a variety of reasons in a variety of ways. Sometimes people are only allowed to say no once. That's the end of the relationship. If you want the relationship you take what you get. How much power do you still have after a while?

  2. If she hasn't said "yes", hasn't *clearly* consented, then it *is* rape. Period.

    The difference, IMO, may be more about what we do about it in differing situations.

    A beloved husband pushing himself too hard on his wife occasionally is a very different thing from one who makes a habit of it, which is also a somewhat different thing from a stranger or vastly more casual acquaintance or friend forcing himself on someone.

    As you say, consensual nonconsent is one thing, when fully and mutually agreed to. And as you have shown, it can also be a very dangerous thing, and lead to a slippery slope.

    Maybe it really is something different in the context of a relationship, if it doesn't happen often. Maybe not. Maybe it's a different thing if they actually finally back off; maybe that depends on when that happens.

    The one thing I *do* know is that we are going to have to keep on *calling it out* as rape, not just because that *really is what it is*, but because only that is going to have any hope of making more people aware that no, they do *not* have to just take it.

    I quite agree that we definitely should judge others - and perhaps many of them much more harshly than we do - We should not abandon our own moral compasses, *especially* when raising children. It is part of the parents' job to convey such moral guidelines to their children, to raise those children with a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong.

    Jenny, a lot of times that sort of blackmail isn't even fully verbalized. You just end up knowing that that's what's going on because a wide range of experiences and responses from the other party make it obvious even when it's not explicit.

  3. Replies
    1. It is absolutely coerced sex, but that still doesn't feel like the "right" term for it. I'm thinking hard. That is certainly the most obvious answer that comes up. Thank you for commenting. :)

  4. "I know people who desperately want to be in no-safeword relationships."

    Do you think those people equate 'no-safeword relationships' with LTR+BDSM?

    1. I think that those people equate 'no-safeword relationships' with LTR+BDSM+machismo. The BDSM community attracts a disproportionate number of people who want to feel like they're doing "the hardcore version of X" for many values of X -- not shocking, really.

  5. I've never used a safeword. But I've also never "played" in public. But I can totally see the hardcore mentality. My guess is that public play is very much about that. Would you agree?

    All my BDSM has been in the context of a relationship, where machismo and showing off makes little sense. Public play seems very different and should almost have it's own name.