Wednesday, October 08, 2014

There's Nothing Sexier Than Having to Talk Somebody into Sex, I Guess

Guys, at some place called "Reason" there is a nightmare of a blog written by some lady named Shikha Dalmia: "California's Sexual Consent Law Will Ruin Good Sex for Women. (And it won't stop rape)." Go look at it. (Or don't.) Stab something non-living. Then come back and spend some time with me. Here are some of my initial responses:






This is how all of this makes me feel.
Guys, California has a new law! If a college student accuses another student of sexual assault, the disciplinary board of the college or university must apply a standard of affirmative consent to their investigation. "Did (s)he want to have sex?" (new standard) vs. the traditional question of "Did s/he say 'no' out loud?" This is a good development because of how lots of time people (mostly ladies) are taught to be polite and use nonverbal cues or redirection or other methods besides outright refusing a Man. This is also good because even if that issue is not in play or a very minor concern, people who are being assaulted often know or suspect that if they do say "no," things will not go well for them. It can be easier (and even safer!) sometimes to give in. Or, say, you may be unconscious and never even get the chance.

Many rapists don't think that they are rapists, even if they know the things they do aren't okay, so they continue to believe and/or at least argue that the out-loud word "no" is the Gold Standard of All Consent. Or they argue that "She only said no at first" or "She said no to that one thing, so I did this other thing" or "She said yes to some stuff early on, so any other words afterwards I couldn't hear because of how I didn't want to" are legitimate claims to make. These are not legitimate claims to make. The new law does not require that consent necessarily be verbal, but it does have to be "affirmative, conscious, and voluntary" and given at every stage of the sexual encounter. This is like when you are making out with somebody and it's getting hot and heavy and you're pretty sure you both want to have sex, but you are not a mind reader, so you say, "Do you want to have sex now?" And then they say yes or no, and if they say yes, you get out a condom and do it. If they say no, you negotiate whether to keep making out and only making out or to stop and do something else. It is very easy and it even works on strangers (who are not rapists). Even if you are both drunk (I should know)! Shikha Dalmia seems to be confused about a lot of these things, like how rapists and rape culture operate. Perhaps even more troubling (for her personally, anyway), she doesn't seem to understand what "good sex" might actually look like.

Here, I plucked some Choice Passages to yell at on the internet. I will try not to recap her entire terrible essay to you, but there were a lot of bad parts. (Hint: all of it.)

Gem #1: "To the extent that the law works, it will actually ruin both good men and good sex." 

This is a thing that makes no sense and also is not true. And she never argues how it will supposedly ruin "good men," just FYI. I'm pretty sure good men are just, like, good, and aren't rapists anyway, so...?

Gem #2: "The obvious problem with the law — which many other states are considering as well — is that it assumes that sexual assault, already a crime under multiple laws, is the result of miscommunication. The assumption is that somehow one partner (and let's be honest, it is overwhelmingly the one with a Y chromosome) didn't ask or realize that the other wasn't into it. But the fact is: Most assaulters know exactly what they are doing. The vast majority of campus rapes are committed by a small minority of repeat offenders who give not a damn about what the woman wants. And if they can threaten violence, they can also lie about obtaining consent."

L;KJAREGPOIAGNJKAG;KAGJKDG. Oh my god, the idea that sexual assault is just "one big misunderstanding OOPS how'd my dick get in there?" is a rape culture myth, not something that feminists/anti-sexual assault activists promote or buy into. Yes, most rapists* are repeat offenders (though they don't like to use the icky "R-word" to describe their actions) who don't care about what women want. Yes, criminals and exploiters can, do, and will lie about what really happened. The thing is, they are now going to have to make a better argument than "I never actually heard the word 'no.'" The point of the law is to kick one of the legs out from under rapists' arguments. They will have to explain how they knew their partner was actively consenting. "She stiffened up and wouldn't make eye contact" or "She said, 'I don't think we should' but not 'no'" or "She asked me to at least use a condom" or "She was pretty drunk, but I could just tell she wanted it" are no longer good arguments either! Those actions do not say "yes."

Maybe the new law won't scare most rapists at all. But knowing that the legal (at least on campus) requirement is affirmative consent is good for everybody! Like, if there is a sweet boy who is shy about talking about sex, but gets scared when he is fooling around with his girlfriend that she is not that into what they are doing right now and he doesn't want to be a rapist, so he forces himself to ask her out loud if it is okay, THAT IS A GOOD THING. More communication is always positive. If she says, "Yes, it feels good!" Yea! If she says, "It's fine," maybe he should ask her more questions about what she would like better. If she says, "I don't really like this, " then he should stop that immediately and also ask more questions about what she would like better. That is how sex works. Good sex, anyway. And I'm not just being reverse sexist! She should ask him the same things. Same goes for partners of any gender/orientation/number. If your partner(s) doesn't seem engaged physically, then use your words. It's called adulting. Like, a good relationship allows for you to be honest that not every sex position or strange Pinterest recipe your partner tries is your jam. Only assholes will be mad that you told the truth.

Gem #3: "So how will the law change anything? But by effectively changing the assumption from 'presumed innocent' to 'presumed guilty,' this new standard will inevitably snag some guys who earnestly meant no harm. Over time, of course, an industry will emerge to coach the accused on how to game the law and get away. "

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT? No. No. No. If a guy "earnestly" thinks fucking a girl who clearly isn't actually into it will do "no harm," then he needs to learn that it is NOT OKAY. It is not worse to be accused of assault than to be a victim of it. Go fucking read Mallory Ortberg's opus on victims and what "counts" as a crime and then come back and finish this shit.

But SRSLY, UGGGGGHHHH. Defense lawyers and rape apologists will always be around, this law will just make it harder for them to argue the encounter was consensual. This is the main reason why sexual assault cases aren't pursued/punished: the issue of consent is supposedly "unclear." If there was no consent, it was a crime. These new guidelines make the definition of consent narrower, meaning it's HARDER to slip out of. (And also a college disciplinary committee is not the same as a court of law, so maybe let's not completely conflate the two?) I don't give a fuck how earnest you are if your partner didn't want it. Also, we don't avoid making laws because some people will find away to get around them. That is not how legal codes work, Shikha Dalmia.

Then the really revealing part happens.

Gem #4: "The truth is that, except in the first flush of infatuation, both partners are rarely equally excited... What's more, whether due to nurture or nature, there is usually a difference in tempo between men and women, with women generally requiring more 'convincing.' And someone who requires convincing is not yet in a position to offer 'affirmative' much less 'enthusiastic' consent... initially one has to be coaxed out of one's comfort zone. Affirmative consent would criminalize that."

NO. Negotiating a disparity in desire and sexual coercion are NOT THE SAME THING. Let us discuss how. It is true that rarely are two people exactly in sync as far as desire goes, especially over the course of many years. These things ebb and flow for various reasons, many beyond our control. And what Dalmia is talking about here, the need to be "convinced," seems to be (I'm taking this in good faith) a reference to what amazingly smart and awesome sex educator/scientist Emily Nagoski refers to as "responsive desire." GO HERE NOW READ ALL THE THINGS. Those people who generally experience responsive desire (and it does seem to be more common in women) don't usually want to have sex just spontaneously. Their desire is heavily context-dependent and comes in response (see?) to sexy stimuli. Some of us have always been like, or at least sometimes feel, "It is a Day, I want to bang." But many others sometimes or usually feel like, "I am stressed out or tired or kind of sick or just doing this other thing and I can't imagine feeling sexy right now how could you possibly want to bang at this moment?" This is a great post where Nagoski talks about how to ETHICALLY initiate sex with a partner who experiences responsive desire. It's about creating an environment in which s/he will not just begrudgingly agree, but actually WANT sex. It's also not quid pro quo, though. Just because you did the laundry for your over-stressed partner when it was her turn doesn't mean her underwear is just going to fall off next time she sees you. "Convincing" both in this context and in Dalmia's description has an awfully coercive feel to it.

Responsive partners may not be actively feeling horny, but if they are feeling "open" to sex because you've helped put them in the right frame of mind, then you are working together to make it happen. They will not necessarily feel like having sex until the sexy is already happening sometimes, but that still has to be consensual. Like totally consensual kissing! Eventually, if things are not progressing beyond that on their own, you may want to ask your partner if s/he is still into this. If they're still just warming up, great! If they decide that's all they've got in them for now, that sucks, but that is that. And if your partner is not in the mood, s/he is not in the mood, so maybe ask them what you might be able to do to create the right mood and LISTEN and DO IT WITHOUT EXPECTATION OR IMPLIED OBLIGATION, don't just grope them until they give in. This is just good relationship advice. And as Jill Filipovic pointed out on Twitter earlier, if it's your personal jam to be nagged into sex with guilt, then that's your thing, and is presumably a consensual, pre-agreed-upon kink you've worked out with your partner and is therefore also not rape. If what Dalmia means by "convincing" is actually foreplay, then well, I'm just saddened that she doesn't consider that part of the fun. One still has the ability to consent to particular acts and/or whether things will go further at any point. Still so much not-rape.

Gem #5: "The reality is that much of sex is not consensual — but it is also not non-consensual. It resides in a gray area in between, where sexual experimentation and discovery happen."

No. If many of your sexual encounters are "gray" or not-NOT-consensual, then maybe you should reevaluate your life choices.

Gem #6: Obligatory reference to women's "sexual liberation" and then, "It won't help their sexual actualization now to enchain their partners in ill-advised lines that limit their moves."

ENCHAIN? How dare we venture to SHACKLE THE DICKS OF AMERICA'S COLLEGE MEN? Kill me now. SRSLY. If women and men are all sexually liberated, then anybody can initiate sex or particular sexual moves, so why do we have to worry about "limiting" dudes? For the sake of the Sexy Gay Jesus, lady, "limiting" men (and women! All people!) to sexual conduct that is consensual and therefore legal is not a real limitation, anyway. It is what a civilized society does to protect its citizens from exploitation. How does making exploitation harder hurt anyone? Oh boo hoo hoo, it's not cool for a dude to just "accidentally slip it in"! Have we destroyed experimentation by having to ask first? No. Even scientists have to ask first before they do an experiment. Mostly for funding, but the analogy stands. If you're sexing with other humans, their needs and desires are no less important than your own. Why would you want to have sex with somebody who doesn't want to have sex with you anyway? (Unless you are an actual rapist, in which case, go to hell, and I hope we're making your business more difficult.) Agreeing to fuck is great! Let's all do it!

*Here's some stats and facts from Science about sex offenders.

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