Consent means… *communicating* if something’s not going to plan (in a context of mutual trust)

When it comes to sex, I’m not a believer that consensual = no mistakes.

Sure, consensual means no big, life-changing mistakes and no clearly and easily avoidable mistakes. It means avoiding all the nasty stuff like:

  • penetration without an active ‘yes’, or
  • lack of regard for risks or consequences, or
  • sex without an easy, agreed, recognisable way to withdraw consent, or
  • negotiation where a hard limit is discussed like it’s a soft limit or a preference.

People talk about “active, informed and enthusiastic” consent because it goes a long way to prevent the above.

But even when you stay well clear of those mistakes, even when your partner is a decent human being who would never want to violate or harm you — that doesn’t mean everything always goes to plan. Maybe an unwelcome memory rears its ugly head. Maybe your body starts feeling wildly uncomfortable when you didn’t think it would. Maybe you didn’t shut the door and the cat walks in.

Mistakes will happen; the question is, what do you when you realise it’s not working? And do you learn from your mistakes? Continue reading Consent means… *communicating* if something’s not going to plan (in a context of mutual trust)

Sex and Consent: How does that work in a long-term relationship?

Picture of a man and woman lying next to each other in bed, half-hiding under duvet, looking at each other excited, with the words: sex and consent: how does that work in a long-term relationship? workthegreymatter.com

Photo credit: sasint from pixabay

I originally wrote this post for abuse advocate Ashley Easter and you can find it on her blog. I’m re-posting here with a few minor edits to smooth over the language, but you’ll see it’s largely unchanged. It’s long (5,500 words) so have a think about when you might read it, but feedback seems to show it’s been very useful for people – whether Christian or not, married or not.


To this day, my husband and I are still unsure if some of our early sexual encounters with each other were consensual. Seriously. Make no mistake, we have a mutually fun and consensual sex life now and I believe we have loved each other deeply for as long as we’ve been sexually active with each other. But we didn’t always understand consent. Or sex. And I used to have some pretty messed up ideas about my place in the relationship. How we got into that situation and how we got out of it are both stories for another time. Right now, I want to tell you about how we’ve come to understand consent. Continue reading Sex and Consent: How does that work in a long-term relationship?

On telling wives and girlfriends about their partner’s misogyny – please be careful

Picture of woman looking at her phone, not smiling, with the words: He sent you a lewd message. Now you want to tell his wife. OK... but please be careful. workthegreymatter.com

Photo credit: rawpixel on Pixabay

The thought of getting your own back feels great. Some random guy sent you a lewd unsolicited message and a quick flick through his timeline shows that you’re probably not the first woman he’s tried this with. His comments ooze with ego and a grossly misplaced sense of entitlement. You see it. You’re fed up with it.

And after a little digging you’ve found out who his wife, girlfriend or play-partner is.

You relish the thought of busting this guy and seeing this woman triumph over him in a blaze of fury.

But as satisfying as the thought is, is it realistic? Continue reading On telling wives and girlfriends about their partner’s misogyny – please be careful

But if I have not consent… (a poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8)

Two lovers standing facing each other, silhouetted against sunset with the words: If I have not love... a poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 workthegreymatter.com

And now I will show you the most the most excellent way.

If I speak in compliments, or confessions of undying love,

but have not consent,

then my words are mere noise and intrusive.

 

If I have sexual prowess,

and know all of a person’s bodily responses,

if I can give orgasm after orgasm,

but have not consent — I’m no lover at all.

 

Continue reading But if I have not consent… (a poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8)

Endless Second: a brilliant and much-needed play about consent and reconciliation

Review of Endless Second play by Theo Toksvig-Stewart

So, I recently went to see a play called “Endless Second.”

As with much theatre, especially niche works from emerging writers and artists, there’s a good chance that most people who read this review won’t actually get to see this play. Which is a shame, given how good it was.

Still, I want to share my thoughts, because it’s a fantastic example of creative story-telling that shows sex and consent at their best. It also shows non-consent at its most misunderstood and offers a narrative for how abusers might take responsibility for their actions.

CONTENT WARNING for discussion of rape (and spoilers). Continue reading Endless Second: a brilliant and much-needed play about consent and reconciliation

Let’s talk about that Deuteronomy 22 law where a girl marries her rapist. Because it’s not about marriage or sex.

Juliet from 1996 20th Century Fox adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, with quote "Proud can I never be of what I hate" and text "Let's talk about that Old Testament law where a girl marries her rapist"
Background picture of Claire Danes, taken from the 20th Century Fox 1996 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet.

CONTENT NOTE: This post has general discussion of murder, rape, parent-perpetrated domestic violence, forced marriage and child marriage.  

‘Proud can I never be of what I hate’
– Juliet

Juliet’s words sum up the reaction of many women when they read a certain law in Deuteronomy 22.

The law I’m thinking of is this one:

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
– Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (NIVUK)

In a world even remotely aware of consent and women’s bodily agency, this law makes no apparent sense. How, how, how can it be good for a woman to have to marry – and have sex with – a man who raped her? How can a law be good when it means women – often children – are forced to marry? How can a marriage be good, when its origin was an act of violence?

Or, to take Juliet’s words, how can a woman expect to be proud of being married to someone she hates?

You might have heard the apologist arguments before: it was a different culture, virginity in a woman was a big deal, no one else would marry a raped woman, sex was thought to constitute marriage.

Well, guess again. Because I don’t think this law is about marriage or about sex.

To explain what I’m talking about, let’s have a look at the scene in William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, where this quote comes from.

(Grab a cuppa, this post is 3,000 words long – or over 4,000 if you read all the footnotes.)

Continue reading Let’s talk about that Deuteronomy 22 law where a girl marries her rapist. Because it’s not about marriage or sex.

Dear Judge (a poem about Brett Kavanaugh)

Wordcloud of words in the poem Dear Judge with blue and red text in the shape of the USA

This poem draws on the story of David and Bathsheba, which is detailed in 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12. A commentary on the poem, what inspired me to write it, and what I’m trying to say with it, is available here.

Dear Judge

Dear Judge,
You who discern right from wrong,
You who weigh the conduct of others,
You who interpret and write the law,
You who sit,
You who rule,
Listen – I’m talking to you. Continue reading Dear Judge (a poem about Brett Kavanaugh)

David’s story is no defence for male impunity (and Kavanaugh apologists need to know this)

Word cloud in red and blue about David and Bathsheba with the post’s title

 

With all that has been written about Dr Christine Ford and US Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh over the last few weeks, I’ve asked myself what I might be able to contribute that wasn’t already being said.

One of the best pieces I read was a post on Slate.com titled ‘Men are more afraid than ever.’

It lays out how one argument in defence of Kavanaugh is essentially the idea that if a man sexually assaults a woman then he should have impunity. Perhaps he might be taken out of the public eye for a few months, but if so, then his time out should not be long:

They grew up in a world that taught them they “get to” do the things they did. They feel, accordingly, that they have been unjustly penalized. They believe they’re suffering greatly.

As I reflected on the article, it struck me that one of the biggest drivers behind this toxic mentality might be a modern Christian (mis)understanding of David and Bathsheba. If so, then perhaps what people need to hear, is something that undercuts poor interpretation of this story.  Continue reading David’s story is no defence for male impunity (and Kavanaugh apologists need to know this)

The lying abusers who pose as victims: lessons from Mr Wickham

The lying abusers who pose as victims: lessons from Mr Wickham

Photo credit Julie Johnson on Unsplash

Having recently grown in admiration for Jane Austen as an author, my husband and I are rewatching the BBC’s 1995 six-hour adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. That’s the one where Colin Firth plays Mr Darcy. *swoon*

Anyway, we watched the scene where Mr Wickham (who later turns out to be the villain of the piece) introduces himself to Lizzy (the heroine).

From a #metoo and #churchtoo perspective, this scene is fascinating. We’re in a world where abuse victims are routinely disbelieved and it’s far too easy to say, ‘What about false accusations?’ What we have with Wickham though is an illustration of how an abuser can lie and claim to be a victim. It’s worth studying. Continue reading The lying abusers who pose as victims: lessons from Mr Wickham

10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman’s statement on sexual harassment

10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman's statement on sexual harassment

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the #MeToo movement, a story broke recently where eight women accused Morgan Freeman of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment.

His initial response was:

Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.

Still, the story didn’t go away and a few days later he issued a second statement.

His words illustrate uncomfortable realities about sexual harassment, power imbalances and how our society responds to these cases. And I have some thoughts about all that.  Continue reading 10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman’s statement on sexual harassment

Holding someone by the throat: abusive strangulation or consensual play?

Following the allegations against Eric Schneiderman, I saw a cluster of articles a couple of weeks ago revolving around the topic of someone’s breathing by putting pressure on their throat. Some talked about this as an act of violence, others as an act of erotic play.

The articles were not always helpful – and I want to talk about this.

I’ll start with a CONTENT WARNING: this post contains stuff about sex, BDSM and sexualised violence. The links from this post have explicit content.

If phrases like “BDSM,” “s-type”, and “kink” are unfamiliar for you, you might want to check out my Dictionary page. I’ve also written separately about why I write about BDSM and why I write about 50 Shades. Continue reading Holding someone by the throat: abusive strangulation or consensual play?

45 reasons why the culture behind #ChurchToo fails to understand consent

Candles surrounding the cross in Norwich Cathedral

With the recent trending of the hashtag #ChurchToo, people are sharing their experiences of abuse in the church. Meanwhile, others are asking questions about whether it’s just ‘a few bad apples’ or a systemic problem.

It’s a systemic problem.

Sure, it’s easy to say it’s a matter of “bad theology” or that people who abuse aren’t “true Christians”. But that doesn’t remove responsibility from the wider church to acknowledge the structural and theological problems within the church, name them as such, and work to address them. As a practising Christian, I fervently believe that the church can be, and will be, a powerful mediator of God’s transforming power in the world. But until we name these things as wrong, or at the very least as distortions and glib practices missapplied to their context, we will not have the impetus to change them.

And we must change them if we are to fulfil our calling.

So, here’s a list of 45 practices I associate with the church and the problems they lead to when it comes to consent. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. And I don’t mean to suggest that consent is the only issue worth talking about. But it’s what I blog about.

I’ve categorised the list into issues relating to authority, sex, marriage, sin and gender.  Continue reading 45 reasons why the culture behind #ChurchToo fails to understand consent

Always reforming: 95 statements on hope, sexuality and consent

It is 500 years to the day (well, sort of, if we don’t worry about the shift to the Gregorian calendar) since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, on 31 October 1517. His actions kicked off the reformation – a movement during which the protestant denominations split away from the Roman Catholic church.

Coming from a protestant background, this seems a fitting time for me to write 95 short statements on the themes of this blog. Of course, they don’t cover everything! But you’ll find in them thoughts and theologies that either have been, or will be, very much an integral part of my writing. (And when I’m cribbing someone else’s work, I’ve put their name in brackets.) I’ve split them into ten categories:

  • personhood
  • abuse
  • God
  • sex
  • consent
  • Christian witness
  • the Bible
  • hope
  • purity
  • and me.

Continue reading Always reforming: 95 statements on hope, sexuality and consent

Rethinking virginity: yes, it is about purity, but it’s not like a silk scarf

OK, first up: caveats.

That tweet was in April. It’s now July. What I’m about to write is a mixture of theological thoughts I’ve been mulling on in the interim and talking over my husband – because he’s a fabulous deep-thinker who sometimes sees things I don’t.

When I’ve been talking to him about my ideas about virginity he’s said to me,

“OK but… this idea is like the fur of a cat. You can stroke it one way and it’s fine, but if you stroke it the wrong way, you get the cat’s back up. It’s still the same fur, but it doesn’t work. You’ve got to be careful with this.”

So, I could be on the wrong track, but even if I’m on the right track, you’ve got to look at my direction of travel here. Also, even if I’m on the right track and going in the right direction, this is a curiously complex issue. Again, it’s like cat’s fur: you can stroke a cat anywhere, but you can’t stroke a cat everywhere on its surface at the same time. (This is also called the ‘hairy ball theorem’.) In a similar way, what I’m about to say may not the have logical consistency the way we might expect at first.

But I think there’s something big here.
Continue reading Rethinking virginity: yes, it is about purity, but it’s not like a silk scarf

#ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations

With so much noise coming through my Twitter feed, and just the general busyness of life, it’s not uncommon for me to scroll past good articles and links without reading. But wow! When I saw the story about David Schwimmer (yes, Ross from Friends) making six short videos about sexual harassment, I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. They are brilliantly made, directed by Israeli-American director Sigal Avin, and achingly, shockingly real.

In the space of less than five minutes, each one illustrates a perpetrator preparing their victim for the consent violation, the violation itself, and then their tactics afterwards to rationalise their actions and prevent subsequent disclosure. They are all in a context of power imbalance. And yet, they are also all different. What’s more, they show abuse outside the obvious examples that people think of when they think of sexual abuse. In all but one, the victim is fully clothed; in all but another, the perpetrator is fully clothed. None of them involve a man forcibly grabbing a woman. None of them include one person touching another’s genitals. All of them are more subtle than that.

These are so well acted and scripted, I’m half tempted to present them without any commentary at all. However, one of the insidious things about abuse is its deceitfulness; I’ve therefore shared some of my thoughts in the hope that other people will feel more able to articulate theirs. It does mean this post is rather long, especially if you watch all six, so make a bookmark or come back when you’ve got the time. These reward close attention.

CONTENT NOTE: There are six videos here, all of which show sexual consent violations, and I discuss the coercive behaviours in detail. I’ve put notes above each video so that (if you want to) you can consider each one before you watch it, but needless to say – you might still find them difficult viewing. Continue reading #ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations