Blogging “Yes” Day 3: Why Checklists Are Sexy

7 04 2010

For the third day of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Beyond Yes or No: Consent As Sexual Process.”  I can’t agree more with the main idea of this essay: that consent shouldn’t just be the absence of “no,” or even a simple “yes,” but a conversation between sexual partners about desires, fear, likes, dislikes, and all the rest.  However, I did have some discomfort in parts of the essay as someone who doesn’t find it easy to ask for what she wants.

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Thoughts on communicative sexuality

15 07 2009

Note:  the below is crossposted from my book journal.  No Tati Tuesdays this week b/c I didn’t actually have much to report, though I do recommend Jon Stewart’s interview with Barney Frank on Monday.

I’m reading an anthology on date rape, edited by Leslie Francis, and I was particularly struck by the first two articles.  The first, by Lois Pineau, proposes a new communicative model of sexuality to replace the contract model frequently used in understanding sexual relations in rape cases.  According to the contract model, the idea is that if the victim consented, then a contract was established and the perpetrator did nothing wrong.  Pineau argues that this allows perpetrators (males) to get away with a lot because the evidentiary standard for showing consent is relatively low.  The alternative she suggests is a communicative model, where sexuality is thought of not as a contractual relationship but as something akin to friendship or conversation.  Under this model, the presumption would be nonconsent in the case of any noncommunicative, aggressive sexual interaction.  The defendant would then have to offer a reasonable explanation for his belief that the victim was consenting, despite the lack of communication between the two.  I like this idea, because it encourages communication and makes it more difficult to argue “I thought she was consenting.”  I also think, based on some psychological pieces I’ve read, that many men would be less likely to rape if the situation was not “blurry,” as I’ve read quite a few accounts of men who seem to honestly believe that their behavior was okay, based on certain actions or words of the victim.  In an open, honest, complete dialogue, they would have more trouble convincing themselves that it was okay to force sexual contact on the victim.

The second piece in the anthology, then, is David M. Adams’ critique of Pineau’s piece.  He has two main objections.  One is that verbal communication is not always necessary – that men might reasonably rely on other indicators such as body language and that given the difference in how the genders communicate we should not dismiss these indicia – and the other is that verbal communication is not always sufficient – in other words, a woman might say one thing and truly feel another.  I think that both these two objections could be met by a look at BDSM sexuality.

In arguing that verbal communication is not always necessarily, Adams points out that erotic communication is often complex and that a “checklist” would take away from the sexiness of it; that the most unambiguous form of expressing desires, literally writing them down and checking them off, takes all the romance out of the equation.  In fact, this isn’t true at all.  Many BDSM couples in fact use a checklist – before the fact.  This establishes some reasonable assumptions, because partners are aware of likes and dislikes in advance.  Further, the partners are not bound by these preferences – they are free to use a clear verbal communication, in the form of a safeword, to say no.  This kind of verbal system makes it very clear when non-consent is established.  The “she said no but I thought she meant yes” strategy doesn’t fly, because there is one word that means “I no longer consent, and this is not up for debate.”  Though it’s unlikely that all couples would establish a safeword, I do think a similar model of communication both before and during erotic encounters can make the experience both sexy and mutual.  I’m also bothered by Adams example of a man establishing consent based on a look in the woman’s eye versus the example of a woman deciding not to physically resist based on a look in a man’s eye that provokes fear.  He uses this example to argue that feminists can’t have it both ways – if option B is allowed, then so too option A.  I think this is absolutely ridiculous.  There’s a big difference between establishing consent based on a look in someone’s eye, and making the decision not to affirmatively ask, and feeling instinctive, gut, fear based on a look.  Any look at the way women are raised in this society, and the fears men instil in us from a young age, would prove this point.

Finally, I also think the BDSM model is instructive on Adams’ other argument, that someone can say one thing and mean another.  In any communicative system of sexuality, part of the deal is an implicit agreement to be open and honest in communication.  This may mean that things move slower, and one or both parties may have some issues to get past in developing trust and an ability to be open.  But I think such a model entails responsibilities for both partners – first, to ask questions and affirmatively establish the partner’s desire, which includes paying attention to any red flags that come up, such as discomfort in the conversation itself; second, to be open and honest about one’s own desires, and to refuse to go forward with a sexual encounter if one is unable to do so.  Of course, without such a system, the fact is that there will be cases where a person says “yes” in an affirmative, enthusiastic way, not really wanting a sexual encounter.  In such a case, it’s hard to blame the other party – and I think the communicative model accounts for this, in that when genuine communication and affirmative assent is established, there is no rape.  But I think what it means for the big picture is that as sexual partners we need to pay close attention to how our partners communicate consent, and be on the lookout for signs that it is not enthusiastic.  At the same time, as a culture, we need to work on making it easier for women, especially, to say “no,” and not make genuine feelings about sex something that women need to be embarrassed about or feel a need to keep secret.





Quick thought on manipulation

24 06 2009

I was just listening to a Savage Love podcast where a girl has a question about this guy who won’t have oral sex with her, and keeps insisting that she should be upset, and Dan pointed out that he’s terrorizing her by backing her into a corner so that she says “I’m not going to break up with you, I’m not going to break up with you” so many times that it ends up that she feels like she can’t break up with him. I realized that it sounded very familiar, though in a slightly different context. So lesson of the day: if you’re in a relationship with someone, guy or girl, doesn’t matter, and that person is insecure and you keep having to tell them “no you’re great in bed, you really are, no I don’t *need* to have orgasms,” etc. etc. blah blah blah, keep in mind that eventually you’re going to find yourself backed into a corner. So DTMFA.





A query

25 12 2008

Why is it that some women who are sexually dominant assume that they have license to make everyone they meet do as they please, or that women who are sexually submissive are expected to defer and automatically be interested in them sexually? I’m not saying that all, or most, dominant women are like this, but I encountered one casually (not in a romantic/sexual context) and it really baffled me. My understanding is that kinky relationships are something to be negotiated, based on trust. So perhaps that sort of dynamic would evolve within a relationship, and I can respect that. What I don’t understand is someone who assumes that because they take on this role they should suddenly have everyone wait on them hand and foot. That’s called arrogance.





Why is love the defining line?

20 09 2008

Now that I’ve come out of my hermitage once again, I have so many thoughts to share with you!

I was thinking about love in the shower (no, no, not like that) and I came to an interesting conclusion.  I was thinking about what the function of “I love you” is in a relationship, particularly when said for the first time.  When I was dating my college boyfriend, he said those three words after about six months.  We hadn’t been friends first – we met, we started dating, and we’d been cruising along for a while when he dropped the bomb.  I said “I love you, too” instinctively, but later in the comfort of my dorm room I started freaking out with my roommate.  Do I love him?  Do I, do I?  The next morning I decided that I did, but it was something of a foregone conclusion.

So what does love mean in such a context?  A lot of things, but two major ones come to mine.  (1) The people involved have come to a certain level of intimacy and affection.  (2) It’s a signal of commitment, possibly monogamy, that you’re in it for the long haul (or feel that way at the moment).  The reason it has to serve that double function is the assumption that you didn’t start out intimate or affectionate.  Mark and I were not friends in advance, and I never would’ve come to love him on that basis – we just aren’t that compatible.  This is why I really like my current approach, i.e., I don’t have sex with anyone I don’t consider a close friend.  The fact is, I already love my close friends.  We’ve reached that level of intimacy and affection and I already trust them.  I know that I like that individual as a person before we move into relationship (or just sexual friendship) territory.  “I love you” isn’t some huge revelation.  I already did!  We love each other, yes, and I don’t mind communicating it, but it doesn’t have to serve function (2).  It’s not some big bomb-dropping.  I think it’s best not to conflate love and commitment or love and long-term relationships because there are so many forms of love.  I could name about twenty people that I truly love, and none of them am I in a relationship with.  I like being a bit more practical about it.  If I feel that I want to be long-term with someone, then we can talk about it.  It doesn’t have to be code words that confuse everyone and require long conversations with a third party.  Communication, it’s what’s for dinner.

Off to the Iowa City Women’s Music Festival: Like Michigan, but with Shirts!

(shouldn’t that be their motto?  seriously?)





My views on monogamy

27 06 2008

I wouldn’t say they’ve come entirely full circle, but they’re definitely not what they once were.  When I was a kid, I fully bought into the whole hearts and flowers romance thing, in the traditional sense of two people, committed to each other.  I’m strongly opposed to cheating and honest to a fault.  I still feel that way – if I have an understanding with someone that our relationship is monogamous, I won’t cheat and I don’t want them to.  I’d rather be completely honest – if you’re considering cheating, then let’s talk about it and evaluate what this means for our relationship.

But aside from that, I’ve started thinking more and more about the poly option.  I’ve had poly friends since I was 18 or so, and while respecting that choice, I’ve never identified as poly.  After all, I know that I can do monogamy, and I don’t have a need to have multiple relationships or an open relationship.  But as I get older and become more and more sure of who I am and what I want, I know that my idea of a relationship does not match that of most people.  I’m very unlikely to have a live-in situation, and a relationship is unlikely to be the number one priority in my life.  Sure, it could be up there, but other things are at least equally as important.  Someone I’m with has to be okay with the fact that I could move thousands of miles away, or get wrapped up in a project, and for most people that isn’t “fair” in a traditional sort of relationship.

So, for those reasons, I’ve been thinking about other options.  Part of why I’ve been so happily single for the past few years is that I feel perfectly fulfilled by my friendships, whatever romantic encounters do come along, and my interests.  And I also am starting to realise that “relationship” is just a word we use.  Saying you’re someone’s girlfriend has different values for different people, but for me a lot of it is about rules and presentation to the rest of the world.  I may like to be in a relationship if I were to find someone compatible, but I’m very picky.  I don’t have a problem with keeping the labels and definitions away from my love life.  I also for these reasons can now see myself in a poly relationship – I would have no problem being with someone in a long-distance relationship, for example, who lives with someone else.  I don’t have a problem with relating with people as friends but feeling more romantic about them sometimes.  Maybe I’m an odd duck, but I’m starting to think that my sort of relationship philosophy may not, in many cases, be compatible with monogamy.