A Rape by Any Other Name
In 2015, I had mistake sex. Or that’s what I’ve been calling it up until recently. In actuality, I was raped.
I’m no stranger to bar flirtation. I’ve indulged in casual sex and one night stands. There was even a point in time that I competed with male friends for notches in my bedpost. But on this particular night, with this particular man, I said no. Repeatedly. Explicitly. And yet…
I’d seen him around the bar before. My neighborhood bar, that is. A bar as familiar to me as my own living room. Everyone there knows me. I am comfortable there. I was in a good mood. I was celebrating. I was drinking alone, as I normally do. And this guy walks in. I’d seen him around in there before. Lives and works in the area. Cute. Tall.
He sits next to me and we start chatting. Flirting a little. His body language shifts more towards me. A sign that he’s into me. I like the attention. I flirt back. But I wasn’t fully feeling it. I wasn’t in the mood. I told him, as the conversation got more flirtatious and sexual, “I’m not going to have sex with you tonight.”
“OK,” he said. I smiled and said I wasn’t kidding. “OK,” he repeated.
It became late. I don’t remember if he kissed me in the bar or not. But when I got up to leave, he offered to walk me home. I said I was fine; I didn’t live far. He insisted. I repeated my statement. I was not going to have sex with him. He said he’d just walk me home.
As we get to my front stoop, I naively believed that would be it. He kissed me. I enjoyed it. I had to stand on a step to reach him. It was cute. It was fun.
I pulled back. With a smile, “I’m not going to have sex with you. We can make out upstairs, but we’re not having sex.” I was getting anxious to get off the street. He was getting handsy.
So he comes upstairs. We go into my room. We make out a little more. I began to think about the position I was in. I have said no. Many times. But here we are half undressed in my room, making out. What next? What do I do?
I pulled out a condom.
If this was inevitable — and it was — I wanted to be safe. But I said no. I didn’t want to have sex with him. At all. I said no.
I wasn’t held down. I wasn’t physically forced. I wasn’t passed out. I wasn’t too drunk to consent. I said no. But I felt like I was in a pickle that to this day I can’t quite articulate. I’m an adult woman, capable of making my own decisions. I said no. He persisted. I said no.
The thing is, as women, we are taught to play hard to get. Make him chase you. Wait for him to come to you. Don’t show too much interest. Don’t be sexually aggressive.
And then men are trained to hunt. Conquer her. Persistence will pay off. You are entitled to her.
Right around the time that I had sex with this guy, the Washington Post published an article by Cathy Young in which she argues that women have “mistake sex” more than they are raped — that there’s this grey area where consent can be implied. I bought into this. Yeah, I mean I was drinking and flirting and kissing him. I even got a condom out. I didn’t have to fight him off. He didn’t physically overpower me. But I said no. Explicitly said no. Repeatedly said no.
Was this rape? Or just an “oops?”
I said no. It was rape.
The problem with not calling these encounters “rape” is that it gives men all of the control. It tells them that they are no longer responsible for obtaining consent. They can just take what they want, shrug their shoulders, and claim that “boys will be boys.”
Should I have called the cops and had him arrested? No. But he should have respected my choice. I said no. He should have listened.
It remains the only sexual encounter I had where I felt I lost my agency. Where I felt that my body was not my own. Where I felt that I had to give in for some reason.
I have come back to write this piece hundreds of times because I wasn’t sure how I wanted it to end. What is the takeaway? What do we learn?
The answer is that there are no answers. I am sharing this because I am guessing it is more common than not. This isn’t the rape we are taught about as young girls. Gird your loins, ladies! Protect your delicates! Don’t get too drunk! Don’t wear that! Watch out for strange men in bushes!
But I said no. It was rape.
For a long time, I questioned what I should have done differently. Should I have firmly pushed him away? Should I have yelled at him? Should I have kicked him in the balls and ran screaming?
But it’s not about what I did. I said no. He should have listened and respected that. I should be able to go to my local bar and have some drinks and good conversation without having to worry about how I’m being perceived and how the night might end. It didn’t matter that we had been flirting or drinking. I said no and I meant it.
The onus is on him. It is his mistake. Not mine.