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

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

Photo credit: sasint from pixabay

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.

How we got into that situation and how we got out of it are both stories for another time (though I have written about our experience of sex therapy as a Christian couple). 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?

Lovers silhouetted against sunset with the words: But if I have not consent... A poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8. Workthegreymatter.com

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

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)

Still of Zazie Beetz and David Schwimmer from the short film "The Boss" directed by Sigal Avin.

#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
Essay on consent; red text is what I didn't know when I married

Sex and consent: everything I didn’t know when I married

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!

The full post is on Ashley’s blog here: Sex and consent: How does that work in marriage? and reposted (with very minor edits) on my blog here: Sex and Consent: How does that work in a long-term relationship?

I changed the title because I haven’t written just about consent in marriage, though I do acknowledge that as the context from which I’m writing.

Beast vs Christian Grey: The dark art of grooming

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

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 chooses to 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.

Continue reading Beast vs Christian Grey: The dark art of grooming
Close up of a couple holding each other's hands. Text: To the evangelical couple considering sex therapy.

To the evangelical couple considering sex therapy

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.)

Continue reading To the evangelical couple considering sex therapy
Sex: not just about giving

On the receiving end of sex – why it’s not just about giving

Photo credit: Toa Hefitba, Unsplash.com

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.

To explain, I’ll need to tell you about some of my sexual history. Deep breath. Continue reading On the receiving end of sex – why it’s not just about giving

About the “steamy action” in 50-Shades-the-film

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

A message to Muslim teens on 50 Shades

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]

That said, what she makes a number of excellent and concise points. You can read them here: What Muslim teens need to know

Did you find this post by clicking on a pingback on the MuslimMatters site? You might be interested in this review of the film of 50 Shades of Grey from a Christian(ity) angle.