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April 25, 2013

Comments

ESB

Thank you, once again, for your clarity and courage. You're getting to the heart of this issue and it's a scary place, but it's one where we need to be if we're going to see real change. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for confronting this head-on and not shying away.

Lizzie

Thank you again for your thoughts, Shannon. I don't think that those of us who expressed disagreement really disagree with you as much as you think we do. :D My worry was having that definition of consent (enthusiastic, etc.) be the legal definition of rape--which could have serious legal ramifications. But you are absolutely right; should that be the definition we are teaching in schools, teaching kids, etc? YES!! I completely agree.

Only one other concern--which again is only because I agree with everything else you said--the idea that loving sex always has to be enthusiastic. I know a lot of women who struggle with sex, even in their very healthy, committed relationships. I feel truly fortunate and blessed to not have that struggle--but it is a very real one for a lot of women (even those who don't have a history of rape or such). These women have trouble feeling enthusiastic about sex EVER. They still participate in sex willing with their partner because they love them, and want to work to make sex work well for both of them, but they're just not there yet. Do they and we hope that they will find a way to make sex enjoyable for them (perhaps through counseling, perhaps not)? Absolutely! Does it necessarily mean that their relationship is unhealthy and unloving? I personally don't think so.

C.

I work in a police department and I've cheered aloud at all of these last few posts because we DO need to talk about sex and rape culture. And I agree heartily that making proactive and enthusiastic consent the priority is the solution to so many problems - I can tell you how many cases I've assisted in where the accused is shocked he is being charged with rape because, in his own words, "But she didn't say no!"

Lack of a no is NOT the same thing as a positive yes.

Thanks for bringing up this topic.

Mary Lou Hart

Again such a good post. Consent really is an important part of the discussion and I don't think it is the murky grey area it is being made out to be. I am reminded of a story from a girl friend who in high school told a boy ''Yes" to having sex. Then as it got down to the last moments she was more scared then excited, he noticed asked a second time "Are you sure you wanna do this?" and she said No. His response was to say okay and take her home. Years later she told me "He could have continued on, I wouldn't have fought him and I wouldn't have felt I could claim rape because I had said yes in the beginning. But the fact that he respected me enough to listen and ask made a huge impact on me. I was no longer an object with which he wanted to interact for his own pleasure. My pleasure matter too." This is what we need to get to. Where either party can say no, at any point, and be listened to as a person and respected.

rockinlibrarian

As everyone's said, thank you for this series. My life has never really been touched by rape, that I know of, and I've never been one of those "slut-shaming" types either. But just as almost an outside observer, I didn't realize ...well, I DID realize it was such a foggy issue, trying to figure out what made some sex "bad" and some "good" -- I was confused by what the world was showing me. You have totally cleared up the fog, and I feel much more confident about the entire topic of sexuality, just by the way you have so clearly drawn the line about it. (And this is after 10 years of marriage and 2 kids-- goodness knows how reading this or hearing this as a naive teenager would have helped me). You are definitely saying something that should have been obvious, but instead clearly needs to be said more often.

Savagediana

Mary: Great story! That's the kind of world we want to live in!

Amelia Loken

Thank you, Shannon for continuing this discussion and clarifying. <3

Maggie

My largest question with this entire conversation is: How would we, as a society, go about educating against rape culture?

I recently finished health class in school. Even thought the topic of sexual abuse was disscused I didn't feel that the class was really engaged in the material. It was ackward... not because of the topic, but because of the people I had to discuss it with. They were not people I was remotely comfortable with (with the exeption of 2 good friends in the class). And that got me thinking... Is health class an effective tool or is it just a require credit?

Of course it will differ from person to person. I for one feel I have learned more from talking to my mother and my other close friends and family members.

Everyone I talk to seems to write off health class as an easy A with a lot of busy work. I've learned more from Shannon's posts then I have in over 2 months of health class. So I just wanted to know... what was your experience with the topic of sexual abuse in health class? Was it anything like mine? And how can we fix this problem?

Just something to think about.

Chuck

I don't disagree with the point you are making in this post and I didn't disagree with the larger point of your previous post. I just think it is very important to make the distinction between using Diane Anderson's definition as a wise working definition of consent that people should adopt in their personal behavior and teach to their kids and using Anderson's definition to define rape. I was objecting to the latter.

Your previous post talks about the very clear distinction between rape and sex, going as far as to say that they are nothing alike and not related. In my opinion, Anderson's definition muddies those waters. Heck by Anderson's definition, a person could sign and have notarized a consent form and still not be giving consent if they weren't enthusiastic about it, that would make the sex non-consensual or rape. That of course is ridiculous. Consent is clear, positive, uncoerced assent.

Yes, the ideal is enthusiastic assent and sex where each partner is more concerned with the other's pleasure than their own, but those who fall short of that aren't rapists.

To your larger point that adopting Anderson's definition would go a long way towards maintaining healthy physical relationships and destroying the rape culture, I could not agree more.

Lauren Ritz

Think about some (very) basic parts of our world culture:

Bullying is considered commonplace and "part of life"
A female is responsible for any action against herself (Think "What was she wearing? Why was she there? Why didn't she...")
“She made him do it” is an acceptable excuse
Negative behavior is excused as “Boys will be boys”

Until adults/media/peers stop teaching these things (even without intending it), this kind of behavior will continue.

The other side of this is that until we start teaching girls that a clear and unequivocal NO is allowed and acceptable (which it currently is not), there will always be concerns about ambiguity.

Someone's Wife

I want to respond to Lizzie's comment that there are women who wouldn't want to have sex EVER if they had to give their consent enthusiastically before they did it.

My big question is, why don't those women want to have sex? Is it because women innately don't like sex and men innately do like it? I don't think so, because in other cultures, trends are different. In some cultures, and I'm especially thinking of some things I learned about from the Renaissance, women are seen as the sexual predators and men as the sex that has to protect themselves from the other sex's advances.

Here's my story. When I first got married, I gave my consent willingly AND enthusiastically in the beginning. But over time, my husband started to pressure me to do it when I didn't want to, to the point that I actually felt like I was being raped at times, but I told myself I was being crazy or too sensitive because I never really told him NO, so it couldn't be rape, right?

But over time, as that happened more and more, my enthusiasm for the whole thing really waned. Now, I only do it when I'm feeling really guilty because it's been a long time, but I'm never enthusiastic about it.

I can't say for sure what would have happened if my husband had accepted that I didn't want to do it /all the time/ and not pressured me back in the beginning, but I suspect that we never would have gotten to this point if he had done what the boy in Mary's story did - if he had cared as much about my feelings as he did his own and not pressured me.

I think he was afraid that if he didn't pressure me, I'd never want to do it. But that couldn't be further from the truth. I wanted to do it, I just wanted to feel like I mattered when we were doing it.

But the culture we're in right now shaped the way my husband and I related to each other from the beginning. It says that if you don't have sex whenever your husband wants it, he's going to find it somewhere else. A counselor even told my husband that if I didn't have sex with him whenever he wanted it, or at least twice a week, he would be a lot more susceptible to having an affair or looking at pornography. What kind of counselor does that? One who thinks that men have to have sex a certain number of times a week or else they just won't be able to help acting out those desires with someone else.

How much of that is true biology, and how much is shaped by our culture? I certainly don't know the conclusive answer to that, but I think a lot more of it is culture than we generally think it is.

Lizzie

Sorry, another comment. I'm not usually this vocal or prolific of a commenter, but this conversation has really got me thinking.

Shannon asked what it was we were worried about. Let me illustrate. And by all means, please tell me if this is not the kind of thing that is ever really happening. Maybe when it comes down to it, it's always a lot more clear-cut than this. But what about this scenario:

A boy and girl that like each other are alone together. The boy asks the girl if she "wants to." She shyly shrugs her shoulder. He proceeds, thinking that maybe she's just being shy and will warm up. She still seems unsure, and he wonders if she is nervous or maybe this is her first time. He still hopes she'll warm up. But then he's done, and the disappointment hits. She never really warmed up or seemed like she enjoyed herself. He leaves sad. Maybe he didn't do a good job, maybe she didn't ever really like him all that much.

In this situation, was there the absence of a positive yes? Definitely. Should the boy have proceeded? No, he shouldn't have. But then, on top of the disappointment and rejection he already feels, should he be slammed with the title of rapist? I have a hard time making that stretch.

The component that would change that situation is if he understood that without that positive yes he could be charged/labeled as a rapist. Which is maybe where we need to go with this. But I hope that we would teach people that, or it just doesn't seem fair. Kids need to know that a clear yes is essential.

Again, I agree with Chuck. I don't think we can use Anderson's definition to legally define rape, but we should be teaching it and it would help change the rape culture. But, like Maggie, I wonder how exactly that is to be done. My health class sex ed. was utterly ineffective. I won't even go into the things I actually remember from that class. :)

I also agree with Lauren. It would be a great thing if girls--and guys--understood that it is totally okay to say no. My husband works as a pediatrician, and he has run into this several times. They don't feel like it's acceptable to say no. I hope that's something that can change too.

Tessa

Thank you for this post, Shannon.

Maggie,

I agree that health class is an ineffective way to teach important things like this. I think that as a culture, we need to stop assigning just one person (currently the health teacher) to educate kids about sex and move that responsibility to everyone, especially parents. Will that lead to some people saying things we don't agree with? Yes. But the media and kids' uneducated peers are already talking about it. If we made consent education everybody's responsibility, I think people would understand it better. We need more people like Shannon who are willing to start and facilitate conversations like these.

Lizzie

Someone's Wife--

Wow. I'm sorry. That's not the kind of example I was talking about at all. I'm sorry you're in that situation.

No, I definitely don't think it's because women are innately less sexual. I think there are just many woman who do struggle with it. From the women I've talked to about it there are various reasons. Sometimes it is because of miscarriages, infertility or other factors that take the joy out of sex for them. Sometimes it is just...I don't know...they think it's gross; kind of a scatological aversion to it. I definitely don't know all the reasons. But in these relationships I know, the husband tries to be very sensitive to his wife. They definitely don't ever force. I doubt they ever pressure. They probably do hope and request, and the wife often reciprocates--sadly, not because she really feels like it, but because she loves her husband and knows it's important to him.

Here's a news article I recently read that might interest you. Not that I'm necessarily endorsing everything said in it, but I found this couple's story very very interesting. Maybe it has something in it that would be helpful to you.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324874204578438713861797052.html?mod=wsj_valetbottom_email

Megan Whalen Turner

Tessa, I would argue that a good health class is exactly the place for this stuff to be taught. But educational standards in this country are set by local communities and that means that health classes are all over the map. I know in my school district all seventh and eighth graders have a class on abusive partners, that in response to the tragic murder of a young woman by her ex-boyfriend.

I'd really like to see more comprehensive sex education in schools.

Jenn

When I talked to my 14-year-old daughter recently about rape (inspired by Shannon's posts - thanks, Shannon!) she said that her health teacher taught them that if they don't say YES (not just if they do say no), then it's rape. I don't know the entire curriculum they are teaching, but at least they're getting that part right.

Someone's Wife

Lizzie, unfortunately, I don't think my story is totally unique either, though. I've only talked to one friend in great detail about the subject, and I don't have sisters to talk to. Anyway, my friend started having problems immediately after marrying her very nice, Mormon boyfriend in the temple. They went into marriage with totally different expectations about sex and immediately, before their honeymoon was even over, they were fighting about it. Their whole first few years were terrible, with him wanting it all the time and her fighting back against his pressure. It took them years to work out a frequency that they could both live with, but last I heard from her, neither of them has ever been really happy about it. It's more like a truce that they're both living with. They both love each other and they seem pretty happy, so I was surprised when she told me all of that. She said she wishes she could be more enthusiastic about it, but she just isn't. I can't help but wonder, if he hadn't pressured her so much from the beginning, maybe it wouldn't be so hard for her to enjoy it now? But I don't know.

Akiko from Japan

Hi Shannon.
I read what you wrote though I'm not good at English. (I'm a Japanese.)

They are difficult for me, but I understood you have given us a chanse to think about rape, and I think it's important.

Your someone says "Lack of a no is NOT the same thing as a positive yes", I'm very very agree with her.

I learned a lot with you. Thank you.

Megan Whalen Turner

Lizzie, I understand, I think, what you are trying to say, but I'd ask you to stop and think about the young woman in that situation. Why didn't she say no? Was it because she was afraid he'd be mad? Was it because she was afraid that even if she said no he wouldn't stop and she can't face that? Will she live the rest of her life afraid to trust people, afraid to be intimate with a man? Tomorrow when she goes to school is there going to be a unpleasant word scrawled on her locker? Will her classmates feel it's okay to mock and humiliate her? Will she be emotionally abused until the point she kills herself?

I think our culture has conditioned us to worry about the boy and not enough about the girl.

One way we can protect that girl is by making sure boys know that they will be held responsible if they make a mistake, so they better be careful not to make one. As it stands now, it's the girls who pay for mistakes, very rarely the boys.

We could teach the girl, with reassurance and reinforcement that she can and should speak her mind in this and every other situation where she is uncomfortable. If women's voices are silenced in public, they will be silenced in private, too.

We can stop trying to shame women for their sexual behavior. Because it is our culture's idea that sex is bad and dirty and shameful that paves the way for the sick bullying attacks on girls. As adults we need to recognize the consequences of our behavior when we see it reflected back at us in the ugly behavior of our children.

But none of that is going to happen if every time we talk about rape we spend more time worrying about the boys than the girls. It's incredibly hard to avoid doing that. That is part of what it means to live in a rape culture.

Lizzie

Thank you for considering my question, Megan. I guess in that example I was imagining that the girl just wasn't sure what she wanted, a situation I think a lot of girls fall into, but I can see what you are saying. I guess I see that a perhaps legitimate concern to protect boys from being unfairly accused is feeding into a mindset where we are thinking too much about protecting the boys and not enough about protecting the girls.

I also still hope that--somehow--we can empower both girls and boys to understand that it's okay to say no. It's okay to wait.

It's a strange dichotomy we live in in our society. I think a lot of the sex we see paraded around--the pornography, adulteries, objectifying of women,etc.--IS bad and shameful. And we don't talk about or teach the good, wonderful, lovely thing that sex can be.

Lizzie

Someone's wife,

Thank you for sharing your perspective. I think after reading your story and that news article I mentioned, I can see how you really might be right. Your story might, unfortunately, not be that unique.

It made me wonder, do you feel that if your husband stopped pressuring you for sex (or your friend's husband stopped pressuring her)--would it change things for you? I assume your husband knows how you feel? He knows that the pressuring is a huge turn-off? Does he understand that it makes you feel like he doesn't actually care about you or what you want?

Lizzie

By the way, Megan, I totally wish I could lure you out for a Latte again, but I don't live in Ohio anymore :(

AND I was totally miffed that somehow I missed going to the LTUE conference and Thiefcon in Provo. I could've found a way to be to that! Looks like it was really fun. The Sounisians posted some really fun photos of you knitting :D Any plans for a repeat??

Clairehennessy

Thanks for these posts, Shannon - have just been nodding in firm agreement with all of this.

SL

of enthusiasm waxes and wanes depending on my cycle, but my husband's remains fairly constant. Sometimes we have sex just because I love my husband and I know he would enjoy it. Sometimes my husband will agree to dress up and have a family portrait taken, or go see a musical with me (the opposite of fun, to him) for the same reason.

However, I don't think this kind of thinking should apply to teenage girls. "I'm willing because I love him and I know he would enjoy it" is not a good enough "yes" in that context.


SL

The beginning of my comment got lost somehow. It said:

Everyone is making good points in the comments. I am a wife who is sometimes willing to have sex without being excited about it. My level of enthusiasm waxes and wanes depending on my cycle, but my husband's remains fairly constant. Sometimes we have sex just because I love my husband and I know he would enjoy it. Sometimes my husband will agree to dress up and have a family portrait taken, or go see a musical with me (the opposite of fun, to him) for the same reason.

However, I don't think this kind of thinking should apply to teenage girls. "I'm willing because I love him and I know he would enjoy it" is not a good enough "yes" in that context.

Emily

Yes. I agree with this, the consent should be clear. I am teaching this to my young children now by validating the importance of what no and yes means. Recently my daughter received texts from a person who got her number without her consent. We asked him not to text her. He continued texting her. When I confronted his mother, she didn't see what the big deal was, it was just a few texts. This is where we need to be clear. Whether it's forty texts or one text if someone says no, it means no.

How then, if we don't teach our children to honor peoples requests when it is non-sexual, without all the hormones and emotions, how can we expect them to stop when they are in the throws of sexual arousal? This can start young by teaching our children how to say no to people and how to respect when others tell them no.

No means no. I will make sure that my son and my daughters understand what this means by practicing this now.

Rose

Thank you for this discussion. It is so necessary, valuable and powerful. My children are very young - 6 and 4 - but I am trying to lay the foundations now for their entire lives. I was thinking about this recently while watching the kids being ticked by their grandfather. They were having fun and laughing, but then, after a while they would say "no more". Their grandfather didn't always listen to them.

It occurred to me that this was an example of one of these complicated interactions where consent might be murky. So I decided that in our house the rule would always be, whatever the situation, that if someone is touching your body and you say "no" that the other person has to stop. NO MATTER WHAT. Then, once the interaction has stopped, it can be re-negotiated - like if you were enjoying being tickled and just needed to catch your breathe, you can tell the tickler to keep tickling - but I want every person in this house, once they are old enough to speak, to own their own body and feel like they get to dictate their own boundaries.

When I first had this thought I worried about the times when I "have" to force my children to go to bed, or get dressed, or whatever and I physically grab them and carry them to bed or force them into their clothes or whatever. I wondered if I wanted to give them the power to say "Stop touching me that way, i don't like it!" It took me a moment, but I realized that the answer was yes. If they are uncomfortable with how I am touching them, I want them to feel enough personal control of their bodies to tell me. We might have to find a different way to accomplish what I want to happen, but that is, probably, a good thing.


Someone's spouse

The reality is that there are many reasons for differences in drive, and hopeful asking by one partner is pressure to the partner who struggles with sex for one reason or another. I am approve of the contents of these posts, but my advice is different. If you have problems with sexual differences, get professional help as soon as possible! We all get embarrassed talking to doctors and counselors about something so intimate as sex between two committed individuals, but the alternatives are worse. If you experience pain during sex and repeatedly engage in unenthusiastic sex, if you don't discuss it with your partner and seek professional aid, you will years down the road be "someone's spouse," and to your horror both people are scared and scarred. Resentment will build. Neither will understand why others have sex at least a few times a month, but they struggle with managing it once every six months, and when they do it is not fulfilling. So, you avoid the whole issue and are just great roommates who love each other, but somewhere deep in your hearts have some mistrust, hatred, and wounds. It all comes to a head when one person feels that they have foregone romantic love long enough (they never cheated) and decides that leaving wouldn't be that bad. It's unfair to both to be unable to have romantic love. And she does love him, she asks him to stay. The wounds are so deep, and they begin seeing a counselor. They can get to romantic love again, but they still feel deeply confused at times. They occasionally still avoid it, but they do so because it really isn't that important anymore. If it happens, great. If not, that's okay too because their focus has changed. Each is forgetting themselves and simply loving the other.

People, please go to counselors and doctors at the first signs of trouble. If it's a doctor issue and the doctor doesn't understand our help, change doctors. Don't live with it. Brushing it under the rug has far reaching consequences. Same with the counselors.

Tristi Pinkston

And sometimes there are physical reasons why a woman enjoys sex less. It's not always emotional.

Amanda

My daughter is 13, there has been a boy this year that really likes her. He wants her for his girlfriend. She doesn't want a boyfriend because she want to have lots of friends and not get into emotional messes at a young age. (Yes, that is what I have taught my kids.) She has been badgered most of the year about how she need to "prove" to him that she likes him, from both him and his friends. I love that she has great confidence and didn't feel like she needed to do anything and that the problem is with him. I told her, that she never have to prove anything to anyone, ever. He even commented that it just might be worth it to him to kiss her anyway, even though she said she wouldn't and didn't want to. That is a huge red flag for me. He is mostly a good kid, but where did he learn that a girl was something to be had? I know not from his parents, thank you society. It's really sad when a 13 year old girl has to teach boys how to behave toward girls, but I am glad that she is strong enough to do it, and I am right behind her.

Jessica

Thank you for starting this conversation, Shannon, and for everyone else who has contributed. I feel like it has helped me to better understand how rape culture has influenced me and what I can do to better change my perspective. I dated a guy in college who was convinced that I had been raped or sexually abused as a child because I refused to be physical with him. Fortunately, I have never been the victim of abuse; however, I think it is interesting that because I continued to say "no," he thought the problem was with me, and not with him (and really, there wasn't anything wrong with him. I just didn't want to be as physical as he wanted to be). For a long time after we broke up, I struggled with the idea that I was the one with the problem, and wondered why he perceived me as a victim and if other people thought of me that way as well. I think that is yet another manifestation of rape culture: if a girl says "no" simply because she doesn't want to, there must be something wrong with her (since no one in their right mind would say "no" to someone as handsome/athletic/awesome/whatever as him). I think this ties into what Megan said about our culture being overly concerned about boys. If we are too concerned about how boys will feel when they are rejected, then "no" doesn't mean "no" unless there is a good reason for it. And if there isn't a good reason for saying "no" (assuming that the boy is the one who is deciding whether or not it is a good reason), then there must be something wrong with the girl. I don't know... Maybe my viewpoint is a little skewed, but I think when we say that there should be an unequivocal yes, we should also teach that there shouldn't be a fallout for saying "no."

Heather

Shannon, did you hear about this one? http://www.xojane.com/issues/tucker-reed-outs-rapist-at-usc?utm_medium=facebook A girl is being sued for libel because she publicly outed her rapist on the internet when no one else was willing to take action. The part that bothered me the most is that they have a policy at her university that a student should be expelled for rape and they refused to expel him, although he raped her and three other girls. It makes me angry.

Becky

Oh my goodness Heather, I just read that article and almost started crying. It's absolutely despicable! How the administration at these schools could let something like that slide makes me physically sick. I hope she and all the other women and men involved in the various court cases win and bring these schools to justice for what they allowed to happen on their campuses!!

Barker Jones

I would like to add one thing to our hypothetical sex education; that boys and men can be raped, too. So many people don't seem to believe it happens, but it does, and it can be completely devastating to come through it, decide to testify, and have people say bluntly 'Didn't happen. Boys don't get raped.'

Reading these posts and the comments is fascinating, and thank you, Shannon, for bringing this into the light and giving us a safe place to talk about it.

Mayerli

What planet are you lviing on Judy? The fact is people ARE taking drugs and drinking. When you accept that fact the question is, what advice can you give them? I think this poster is doing a good job. It's not judging anybody, it's not talking down to anyone it's just saying, these are the risks that come with getting high.

Another Wife

Someone's Wife, that is unfortunately my story too. I was about to type it up after reading Shannon's post, but you have done it for me. Thank you Shannon, for opening my eyes to something that on one hand I have been someone naive about (what goes on in the world, and how important it is that I must work to educate my children about it), and on the other hand something that I have dealt with for over a decade, and not really understood just how to express my feelings about.

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