I originally wrote this post for abuse advocate Ashley Easter and you can find it on her blog. This post is long (5,500 words!) and that’s because I try to go beyond the basics. It’s aimed to help people work out what good consent might look like in their sex life together. Because when I first started having sex, I didn’t have much of a clue.
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.
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.
I recently had the privilege of being able to guest post on the blog of Ashley Easter. She asked me to write about how I understand consent – what it is and what it isn’t. Over 5,500 words later (and more hours than I counted) the essay was complete. I hadn’t meant for it to be that long, but it roughly breaks down into three segments:
Understanding sex and consent in context
Giving and receiving consent
Bad consent and withdrawing consent
I will repost the contents of it on this blog in a few months time, but meanwhile I wanted to post this picture. It’s a zoomed-out version of the full essay and everything highlighted in red is something my husband and I didn’t know when we married. Seriously!
This Valentine’s Day Forget the past And slip into something A shade darker — Fifty Shades Darker – Official Trailer 1 (Universal Pictures)
I’m starting with a slightly different quote this time. Not because I’m in any way thrilled that Fifty Shades Darker will come out in February 2017, but because it’s relevant to what I want to explore in this post.
In a redemption story, the redeemer purposefully choosesto act. In my previous post I talked about how they have privilege; this means they aren’t forced into their choice. In this post, I want to talk about how they don’t “slip into” their actions either.
In other words, I want to talk about grooming – a process that makes it look like someone’s making free choices, when actually they’re not. I’ll be comparing Christian’s tactics with Beast’s. Grab a cup of tea or make a bookmark, this post is longer than usual.
CONTENT NOTE: This post makes general references to parts of the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey, including non-consent and BDSM.
I recently wrote a post in which I mentioned that my husband and I went for psychosexual therapy (you can find it here: On the receiving end of sex – why it’s not just about giving). Much to my surprise, I was soon contacted by someone asking about the therapy – because they and their spouse were also thinking about it. Our correspondence was only brief, but in that time I learned that they, like my husband and me, were Christians and that they came from an evangelical background. Now, I don’t currently identify as an evangelical, but evangelicalism certainly influenced how I was brought up and how I thought about sex. So perhaps it was unsurprising that I felt for this person and ached to tell them something that would be of benefit to them. So I went away, thought about it, and wrote this (quite long) collection of thoughts. (If you’re after something short and sweet on what sex is about in the first place, try this: The key to lifelong sex? Get the right advice.)
EDIT: this post is aimed at people who feel guilty about being pleasured. If you want to read about consent and negotiating for mutual enjoyment as part of a long-term sex relationship, I recommend this post on Ashley Easter’s blog.
The ‘always be giving’ myth
Every now and then I read something that suggests that if you’re not on the giving end of sex, you’re doing it wrong. The argument follows a few leaps of logic:
It is better to give than to receive;
Therefore, to desire your own pleasure is to put yourself before your intimate partner;
Therefore, if you’re not giving, you’re abusing.
If you’re in a sexual relationship and you’re never or rarely at the giving end of sex (or not nearly as often as your intimate partner), then that points to an imbalance and imbalances raise questions about the overall health of the relationship.
But I cannot reconcile myself to a model of sex where the expectation is that you must always be giving. Or, to put it another way: I cannot reconcile myself to the idea that a healthy sexual relationship means you should always be contributing to the pleasure of your intimate partner.
OK, I want to throw my two cents in when it comes to the portrayal of sex in the film of 50 Shades of Grey. This is partly in response to the rather sarcastic indictment of the film offered by the Honest trailer for it (here if you’re interested), in that the “steamy action” includes contracts, negotiation, clauses, conditions, emails, texting, non-disclosure agreements…Continue reading About the “steamy action” in 50-Shades-the-film→
As I consider myself to be a person of faith, I’m often interested in how other people apply their beliefs to sex. I recently read a post by a Muslim writer and mother who says:
I cannot discuss all the points in the book thoroughly in just one article. However, to highlight some major issues, I want to tell my dear teenage daughters…
My only caveat on this article is that the author criticises a particular practice that labels itself “Christian” in the Christianity sense. Her criticism of the practice is justifiable in my view, though it seems strange to me that her single reference to a religion other than her own picks this out – particularly when a great many Christians, including me, would describe the practice as anything but Christian. [Edit: you can read her response to this below]
This post is about a problem I have in chapter 8 of 50 Shades of Grey, which is that it is unrealistic to portray virginal Ana as responsive as she is. Yeah, OK, so this is meant to be erotica and/or fantasy, and lack of realism in those genres is often not a problem. BUT… Continue reading Touched like a virgin→
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