The Slippery Slope of Sexual Consent (part 1)
This is such an incredibly complex topic.
Part of me doesn’t know why I’m even attempting to wrestle with it.
Except that it’s a conversation we so desperately need to keep having.
Because when it comes to sexual consent, there are some massive gaps in the way we talk about it.
And it’s hurting us.
It’s hurting the victims of sexual assault. It’s hurting the relationship and trust between men and women.
There’s very few people this doesn’t affect in some deep and personal way.
So here’s the uncomfortable question then – how are we all, as men AND women, contributing to ‘rape culture’?
This takes more than just scapegoating the issue onto ‘evil men who don’t know how to control their urges’. We really need to be asking ourselves:
What are we teaching – or not teaching – that makes this such a problem right now?
There’s obviously a lot of complexities that contribute to sexual assault and rape. Entitlement. Ignorance. Trauma. Psychological Illness. Misogyny. Misandry. Homophobia. All the Flavours of Hate.
This 2-part post is not intended as a blanket cure-all. Nor is it an attempt to simplify the issue and ‘blame’ one single aspect.
This is an offering to continue a much needed discussion. One that I hope will empower us all to take more responsibility for ourselves, and to empower the people around us to do the same.
And yes, it’s a (loving) challenge. A challenge to look at the uncomfortable ways we might be side stepping some of the important issues. And how seemingly innocuous behaviours might actually be contributing to a culture of assault and disempowerment.
All in the hope that we can step up together and create a culture of true sexual empowerment and oh-so-satisfying sex.
Dominance & Submission (but not the fun kind)
A common myth about sexuality goes something like this:
Men are the sexual ones – always up for it and always ready to go. They’re the action-takers and instigators of the interaction.
Women on the other hand aren’t that into it. They’re not naturally that sexual. They have to be persuaded, convinced even, in order to ‘give it up’. They’re the passive ones.
That men are the one’s who ‘get’, and women are the ones who ‘give’.
Whilst this isn’t on the official curriculum, when we scratch the surface, it’s a sentiment that shows up in way too many places.
The snide remark from a wife that she won’t be ‘giving’ her husband any because he’s been ‘misbehaving’ in some way…
The guy who jokes that he’s going to buy his girlfriend flowers on the way home, and that maybe he’ll ‘get’ lucky tonight…
The culture that encourages young men to get out there and ‘sow their oats’, while warning young women to be careful – don’t be be too sexual and don’t sleep around lest you be labelled a slut. ‘Cause reputation matters, and it lasts a lifetime. (Bullshit cough).
The sniggers and jokes about young men masturbating, but the complete absence of any acknowledgment that women self-pleasure too. (I’m not saying the jokes are a good thing, but at least men know they’re not the only ones).
Even the well-meaning focus on consent as men asking permission at every turn and the importance of reading our bodies for subtle signs. It all implies a sense of powerlessness in women – that we aren’t capable of speaking up or taking responsibility for ourselves. That we’re not the ones doing the fucking. That we just let sex happen to us, and that men are the only ones responsible for making sure it’s consensual.
Yep, this shit is everywhere.
Playing Cat & Mouse
This is far more complex than just ‘we’re teaching men to be strong and women to be weak’.
We’re teaching toxic beliefs about men’s and women’s sexuality itself.
This hurts us in a multitude of ways. Teaching women that they’re not sexual when they so clearly are creates a hell of a lot of shame.
And setting men up in a false dynamic where they’re the sexual ones trying to ‘get’ something from women creates layers of shame too.
But how does this contribute to a ‘rape culture’?
When we paint women as the passive, submissive, not-that-interested-in-sex-unless-someone-convinces-them-otherwise partner, it then becomes the man’s role to be active and dominant.
It sets them up as the pursuer, and women as the pursued.
This sends men the (oh-so-false) message that if you want to have a sexual encounter with a woman, you’re going to have to convince her. That she won’t be a willing participant – certainly not at first – and it’s their job to put the pressure on to persuade her.
At the same time, this teaches women that it’s not their role to speak up. That we’re not responsible for what happens to our own bodies, and it’s not OK to be direct, powerful or in charge.
It teaches us that we’re not really the drivers of our own sexuality.
This is a dangerous combination.
For how can sex ever be consensual if one of you (supposedly) doesn’t actually want it?
Perhaps this is why the discussion around consent seems to fall on so many deaf ears.
At the very least, we’re telling men that they’re responsible for the entire sexual encounter (pressure much?), and that women aren’t in control of what happens (patronising much?)
Which is how we end up with men behaving like ‘no’ means ‘keep going until I give in’. And women who are too scared to say what they want sexually.
The ‘Exceptions’ To The Rule
For those of us women who actually have sexual desires (yeah, that’s most of us) this paradigm makes us think we’re different. Unusual. Often dirty. Usually shameful.
As a sexuality coach, I deal with the fallout of this myth – All. The. Time.
It also teaches men that our overt sexual interest or natural sensuality means we’re different. And that we should be treated differently too.
We get labelled a ‘slut’ (a word we’re increasingly reclaiming as a badge of honour), with some men assuming we’re always up for it. No matter what we say.
‘Cause that’s another tragic outcome of teaching men that they’re the sexual ones. It makes the sexual women amongst us seem like some kind of strange exception. (Umm, yeah, no. Besides those women who self-identify as asexual, we’re all sexual creatures.)
Not to mention the complete lack of acknowledgement that men don’t ALWAYS want sex either. They have an equal right to say no as well. Because yes, men are the victims of sexual assault too.
Changing The Way We Educate
There’s so much buzz around ‘teach men not to rape’. That no means no, and it’s wrong to pressure someone into sex they don’t want to have.
Yep, absolutely true. An important message, no doubt.
But most educated men already know this. And yet educated men still end up pressuring women into sex they don’t really want. (Uncomfortable #TruthBomb for you).
Because as previously mentioned, we’re ALSO teaching men that they’re the ones responsible for making sex happen. That if someone’s not that into it, it’s OK to try and persuade them. It’s actually their ROLE to try and persuade them. That you’ll ALWAYS have to persuade women into having sex.
And that line between persuasion/seduction and coercion is dangerously fine.
We need to teach more than just “Don’t rape”. We need to take a closer look at what we teach men and women about their sexuality itself.
Stepping Up As Women
Here’s another uncomfortable truth:
As women, we support this toxic culture too.
Hell, I know I’ve been guilty of this.
When I’ve expected my sex partner to read my mind. When I’ve expected him to initiate. When I’ve waited for him to take the lead and make things happen.
But I haven’t actually told him that. Oops.
This is how women feed the idea that men have to take charge. That they’re the one’s responsible for sex. That we’re the responsive ones, and he just needs to keep going until we tell him where to draw the line.
That’s not a healthy model. And it ends up creating all kinds of complications.
The truth is, as women we find it hard to speak up. SO much of the work I do with my 1:1 clients is about helping them to find their voice – inside and outside of the bedroom. Yes, even with the most empowered and sexually confident women. Almost all of us struggle.
The reasons are many. We feel ‘bad’. Guilty. We don’t want to let our partner’s down. We worry what they’ll think of us. We worry they’ll laugh at our suggestions or reject our advances. We just don’t know the ‘right things to say’.
And it’s on us to change that.
There’s obviously a multitude of other reasons we don’t speak up. Genuine, well founded fear. The threat of violence. Previous trauma and assault. The reasons are complex, absolutely, and not all require the same approach.
But the cultural conditioning women receive around what it means to be a woman? There’s plenty we can do to shake that up.
We don’t have to wait till he asks permission. We can say no or yes whenever we like.
We have the power to initiate. And the power to make it stop. We have the power to speak up. And we’re the ones who have to claim that power.
We don’t need men to be responsible for our sexual interactions. We just need them to respect us and our voice. (And vice-versa.)
Obviously, against force, a women’s empowered No isn’t going to do much. Or when he just plain won’t listen. That’s a seperate issue – and yes, one we also need to talk about as a society.
But when we’re creating respectful, mutual, pleasure-filled sexual interactions – an empowered No goes a long way. It’s actually part of how we create that interaction in the first place.
Which brings us to the best part – women’s sexual empowerment is an integral part of shifting this culture.
When we break apart the myth that men are the sexual ones and women aren’t, we encourage women to have a sexual voice, and we free men of having to take the responsibility all the time.
And we all end up having much better sex because of it.
Viva la revolution, ladies.
Biology & Sexual Consent
There is also a biological element here that can complicate things further. It has to do with female arousal.
Research has shown that as a generalisation, yes – women tend to have responsive desire and men tend to have spontaneous desire.
What the hell does that mean?
Well, women tend to need more time to get warmed up before they’re fully aroused and sexually excited. We tend to get interested in sex once they sexy stuff starts happening. Not spontaneously, out of the blue, like men tend to.
Does that mean we need to be convinced to have sex?
Even when we’re not aroused, we’re still capable of deciding what we want sexually. (Yes, I know. It sounds so painfully obvious, but this needs to be said).
I might need my man to help arouse me, but I’ll let him know if that’s the case. I don’t need him to convince me.
When we’re not feeling aroused enough to know whether or not we want to have sex (or oral, or whatever the sexual menu item is) – we can still give consent as a, ‘Yes, I would like to play and see where this takes me. I’m open to becoming aroused, so let’s start with a little _____. (fill in the blank).
And just ’cause I’ve said yes to ‘arouse me’ doesn’t mean I’m up for everything.
Because consent is not a blanket permission slip. One yes to one things does not mean yes to everything.
But I digress.
As women, it’s crucial that we know how our own sexuality works. That yes, sometimes we’re going to need some warming up. But that doesn’t mean we’re saying yes to everything, and we can just as readily speak up the moment we’re feeling a no.
Say yes to what you like, and no to what you don’t.
We’re in the drivers seat – even when we pass the ‘controls’ over to someone else.
You Can’t Always Trust Your Body
So while we’re talking about biology, there’s another little known fact about men and women’s sexuality that wants to be mentioned.
Just because our body is responding, doesn’t mean we’re into it. (And just because our body ISN’T responding, doesn’t mean that we’re not. Yeah, bodies are tricky like that).
We can have the common physical signs of arousal – a wet pussy, a hard cock – but not be mentally or emotionally aroused, or wanting sex.
It’s called non-concordance, and it’s another reason why we need to find our voice and communicate what we do and don’t want. Leaving it up to our partner to read our bodily cues just ain’t gonna cut it.
Know your body and mind. Trust yourself and speak up.
So How Do We Change The Culture?
In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be a matter of gender. But the truth is, we have taught men and women different things about sex. So the lessons we each need to learn to rectify it are subtly different. Having said that, these are truths we ALL need to hear. (Don’t be skipping any bits here)
For the men –
Women love sex just as much as you do. They’re fully capable of saying yes, and of saying no.
They don’t need to be convinced to have sex. (Nor do you.) It’s not your job to ‘make it happen’. Instead, if they want it, they’ll tell you.
They’ll tell you with their words. They’ll tell you with their whole body and the way they eagerly respond to you.
It’s not your job to be in control (unless you’ve been given that honour explicitly).
Your only essential ‘job’ is to listen and to respect.
But if you’re unsure, don’t assume. Just ask.
For the women –
It’s OK to love, want and enjoy sex – and all the pleasure-ly delights that come along with it.
It’s natural to be a sexual creature – and natural not to be. Either way, your choice.
Give yourself permission to own what you want and voice it. If you want someone to go down on you, you don’t need to wait till they think of it. Go ahead and speak up.
You don’t need to be convinced to have sex (or to do anything else for that matter).
And if you’re not aroused but think you’d like to be – and you want who ever you’re with to help you get there – then go ahead and speak that too.
Know that you can always change your mind. At any time. No matter what.
And finally – your yes AND your no deserve to be listened to. Anything less is disrespect, and you’d be best to get the hell outta’ there.
(Ready for part 2? Click here. In the next edition, I go going deeper into what consent actually looks like (and what it doesn’t), whilst calling out some unhelpful things we teach about giving and receiving consent.)
Finding Your Sexual Voice
Speaking up can be hard – especially in the culture we live in. Stating our desires, asking for what we want, giving feedback when things just ain’t working for us – these aren’t things us women are taught how to do..
But you can learn, and it’s a journey that will change your life. In every way. From the bedroom to how you show up as woman in your everyday life, sexual empowerment is where it’s at.
Want to find out how you can start on this journey? Let’s have a chat. Click here to apply for a free discovery session with me, Jodie. No obligation, just straight up connection, exploration and discovery.