Banishing Blurred Lines
“She was on her stomach and I realized about half way through that she fell asleep,” a peer confided in me, recounting having sex with his girlfriend the weekend before. “So, I finished and talked to her about it in the morning. Like, am I that boring? She says she just had a long day at work and was exhausted. She apologized. But man, wasn’t great for the ego.” I stared at him as we sat in an uncomfortable silence. Surely, he just heard himself? He must know, I thought.
“You do realize… that’s rape,” I said. His eyebrows rose and he started stuttering. “Jesus, no. I didn’t rape her.” How many conversations have I had like this? Where people talk about unconsensual sex without viewing it as sexual assault?
Rape is more than a stranger jumping out of a bush. According to RAINN, 70% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. My question then, is how many rapists actually realize what they are?
In 2014, a study was done to look at rape without using the “R-word”. In this survey, 32% of men said that in a consequence-free situation, they would force a woman to have sex. 17% said they would rape a woman. Simply by omitting the word rape, nearly double the participants said they would commit the crime.
Now… is this because there is a lack of understanding around what constitutes rape? Or simply that they don’t want to view themselves as rapists? I believe the answer is both, but as a society we need to tackle the false understandings around consent.
For example, if one hundred people read this and answered the following questions, we should have the same results across the board.
Is it rape if you have sex with a person after s/he:
- Was grinding on you, but said no to a sexual act (Y/N)
- Wanted sex on Tuesday, but not on Thursday (Y/N)
- Said s/he had a headache and wasn’t feeling up to it, but didn’t actively say no (Y/N)
- Pleasured you, but didn’t seem interested in anything done to him/her (Y/N)
- Was in a monogamous relationship with you but didn’t feel up for sex (Y/N)
- Let you have sex with him/her without stopping you, but didn’t engage or reciprocate in the act (Y/N)
- Fell asleep (Y/N)
Talk about it with some friends, do these questions stir debate? Spark different ‘what if’ scenarios? If so, this is an alignment issue.
No point made above was an example of consensual sex. Consensual sex occurs between two adults who enthusiastically agree to participate. Let’s break that down:
- Age: Of course, having sex with a minor cannot be consensual by the eyes of the law.
- Enthusiasm: Is your partner engaged or just going through the motions? Do they actively want to do this; are they excited? In other words, is it a sure or a hell yeah!!
- Agreement: Did they say yes? Are they able to communicate at all?
Now, you may be thinking of a number of sexual encounters that didn’t fit the above description. Are all of those instances rape? Perhaps you have been with a partner for years and don’t ask for verbal consent each time, but you each read off of each other’s enthusiasm as you move forward. In instances such as this, talk to your partner. Agree on what works between you two and the boundaries of your relationship. Ensure you have a space where each of you feel safe and supported in this conversation, able to be fully honest.
The point is: don’t make assumptions. Consenting on a prior day does not guarantee consent for all the days following. Consent earlier in the evening can change later that night. Consent for one sexual act doesn’t mean they will consent to a different one.
Communication is everything. If your partner doesn’t seem excited, ask them if they still want to have sex or not. If you are unsure of their boundaries, ask. Come from a place of care where s/he can answer honestly without concern for repercussions. Once you are on the same page, knock your socks off!
Also published on Medium.