We need more prominent men to speak out, so thank you Mr. Levy.
As a rape survivor, I couldn’t be happier that discussions about consent are now pretty common and people are trying to navigate those waters…
But I completely agree with this piece that, until women know how good sex can feel, discussions about consent are missing a critical element. After all, a “no” and a “I don’t want to, but if you want to” are not all that different…but there is a huge difference between a “no” and a “hells yes!”
We need to get to understanding that difference, and empowering women both physically and emotionally feel the difference, before we can really navigate the waters about communicating that “hells yes!” and the various ways that can be communicated.
Because 23 years ago on Halloween, I was raped. I was in college, went to a Halloween party, made out with a guy (a swimmer in town for a competition) and went to a room for some privacy. When I told him I didn’t want to have sex, he insisted. When I said I would scream, he said no one would hear me. And that’s how I lost my virginity. If one wants to count “date” rape as one’s first time.
I’m sure that’s shaped how I view sex. I was in denial for awhile about what happened and did stupid things with random guys. And then when it dawned on me what had really happened, the first guy I told, someone I considered a friend, asked if I’d give him a blow job. So I did. Because he was hot, and a friend, and I was confused. That certainly didn’t help my relationship with sex.
Fortunately, by the time I was 22 or 23, I could have “normal” sex with a boyfriend (what is “normal”? I don’t know…but I could enjoy sex and I didn’t have to overcome very real physical and emotional issues preventing sex that I know some women deal with after being raped). But since I had done stupid things with random guys as a way of dealing with my denial about rape, and I knew that was bad, I ended up feeling like casual sex was inherently bad, at least for me. Of course, I also followed this, 3-5 dates in to a dating situation, sex was ok, approach. And that’s not exactly unrandom. I guess I was looking for rules that “normal” people followed for sex.
Then in 2009, I was in my first really loving relationship. And one night I had sort of a PTSD flashback of being forced to have sex. And that, combined with some other issues, convinced me I needed to go to therapy to deal with my past. It was a lot of work. Over years. To unravel rape from sex and sex from love and to recognize that the act of fingers or mouths or genitals involved with other genitals could have as much (or little) meaning as I wanted it to have. That’s a simple idea…that sex has no inherent meaning and its meaning is derived from the participants to an act. But it’s one that I don’t feel is emphasized enough. Or even recognized. When we learn someone has a lot of partners, we assume that person has some kind of issue (if a male, he’s unwilling to grow up. if a female, she has self-esteem issues, for instance). If a person is “too old” to be a virgin (or has had too few partners over too long a period of time), we assume that person hates sex, or has other issues with their sexual identity or being afraid of sex. We even assume we can tell someone who has been sexually assaulted under the law how she or he should feel about that. And, of course, I don’t mean to suggest that the law should change or that people don’t deny the impact of a sexual assault to their own detriment. Laws, if anything, should be strengthened and we have to recognize that denial can be a big part of sexual assault.
But I spent a lot of my life sorting through all these competing messages. And as a survivor of rape (and at least one other incident that I would call, unequivocally, a sexual assault), I had to sort through how I was “supposed” to feel about sex from a position with a lot of expectations on me — a woman AND a rape victim. Sheesh. I couldn’t be too easy, I couldn’t be too frigid, I couldn’t be too kinky. Ugh.
So, I decided to follow what I knew I wanted. I wanted to have more sex in my life. And I have some kinkier interests. And I wanted to be in control of the terms of sex. And casual sex with FWBs has allowed me to do all this. Fortunately, I haven’t had a bad experience (unless inept sex counts as “bad”…to me, “bad” means that someone isn’t respectful and either crosses the line or threatens to cross the line between consensual sexual acts and non-consensual sexual acts). I think I’ve had to rely on gut instinct a lot when choosing who to meet. So, maybe that warning voice in my head is doing an ok job. But not being raped (so far, again) is also a lot of luck. And anyone who believes otherwise (unless they never leave the house and live in a fortress) is kidding themselves. But knowing I can say to myself “This person has said everything ‘right’, but something isn’t sitting right with me. I’m not going to meet him” or “I’m not comfortable with that thing you’re doing” (in the midst of other sexual acts) or “Here’s my line about x” (and have it honored) has allowed me to fully know that the act of inserting a penis into a vagina is generally a fun thing for me. Sex IS fun. As long as everyone is on board with what is going down.
This is a topic, I’m sure I’ll revisit. It’s both simple and extremely complex in our society. For both women and men. But seeing a college-age woman dressed very similarly to how I dressed that Halloween 23 years ago last night…well, I felt like there was a reason I saw her, a reason I posted my first blog post, and a reason why I am where I am.*
*Note: I am not saying I am into casual sex because I was raped. But I can’t deny that taking back the fun and control that should be part of all sex isn’t more pronounced in me because my early sexual life was marred by something that took away the fun and control relating to a sexual act.