“I read the story about Cat Person and I just didn’t get it,” I read in my Whatsapp chat window.
“Why, because it’s so normal?” I asked my friend.
“Yea, I mean I just didn’t get the point.”
I sat there reading her texts, wondering how such an uncomfortable story could have no impact. It is a story about a young woman having sex with an older man, though, according to her thoughts she didn’t really want to and didn’t enjoy.
And then I realized it.
“Have you ever had a fully good sexual experience from start to finish?”
There it was.
That’s when I realized that the recent horrible sex stories proliferating as a result of the Me Too movement, not the explicit harassment stories, but the other ones, the true stories that edge into areas of nonconsent and ignoring of physical and verbal cues during sex, might represent the majority or the ONLY sexual experiences that most young women have had.
“I think that’s true for me and all of my friends.” She wrote.
Ultimately, this is a discussion about consent. A discussion about all that we can’t possibly process in the moment to say clearly and articulately, and the help we need from partners to give us space and time to figure things out.
But first, consent. You don’t like the way he’s moving, what he just said, the angle, your view, his view, whatever, you aren’t feeling it, you just remembered your fight yesterday at the grocery store. If your body is not responding, if you go limp, you consciously or subconsciously send the message: I’m not into this. A good, engaged, and equal sexual partner notices, and responds. I’ll use the example of my last sexual partner. He was active about it, regularly asking for consent. He would feel me be unresponsive, not into what he was doing, and immediately he would sit up and say “Do you want me to stop?”
I wasn’t exactly sure, I just wasn’t feeling it. He took the lead and stopped and lied down next to me. But then it was my turn to figure out what I needed, what I wanted and share that.
If there is to be a dance of non verbal cues between two lovers, then both lovers must be aware of the other. My partner didn’t wait for me to come up with words about emotions or thoughts I was having that I myself hadn’t processed, he just wanted to know when I was in ANY WAY not okay with things. This was great because it bought me space and time. I could figure out how I felt. And then when I told him, he listened. And didn’t push me to “get on with it.” We connected more. We lied there and slowly I felt better and then I made the move and my body was warm and into it again.
He could clearly pick up on my body being into it and not. And then asked. That is perhaps the first necessity of a good, equal, conscientious lover.
And this doesn’t have to happen simply because there’s an existing relationship. On our first date, I brought him to my place. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted, but I wasn’t really ready for much yet. He made a quick move, went in for the kiss. I stopped him, our faces close, and didn’t know what to say. I barely knew him. I just stayed there, giving myself time. “I, it’s too fast, you’re going too fast.”
He sat down and I sat down on his lap. I started to cry. Not about our previous moment, but likely the intimacy opened up other things. He sat there and listened. I leaned my head against his chest, when I pulled up, this time I kissed him and he responded.
Later, in bed, I told him exactly what I wanted. And he did it. During, I would repeat, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” But it wasn’t just my words that were being clear, it was clear from my body that I was very engaged and he knew too.
But what if a woman is less of an active participant? What if it’s hard to tell the difference between her body when she’s into it and when she’s not? What if there tons of other cues, unspoken, beyond just the limp body? Does everything need to be talked about? How does he know if she is really enjoying it? What if, like in the babe.net piece, she pleasures him willingly though she doesn’t want to?
My quick answer is that if you’re connected, like two dancers on a dance floor, then you’d be able to tell she’s doing something she doesn’t want to. But a male friend tells me it’s not always so clear, and “some people don’t like talking.” I asked him about the importance of connection and he responds, “but some people want sex, not intimacy.” They don’t want connection, or communication, just sex. “Connection is exhausting.” “Intimacy is fucking scary stuff.” Is consent an intimate thing? Maybe so. Sharing what you like and don’t like is intimate. Is intimacy and ultimately, connection, too much for a one night stand? But if connection isn’t in the mix, then the silent communication and signaling that happens during sex may never really happen.
So is this really a question about intimacy and communication more than anything? Is this discussion placing a higher threshold to having sex than previously was there before? Is consensual sex harder to acheive? Maybe so. It doesn’t take deep love, or long term trust, or knowing someone well to be able to do things right. But it might take two people who can give, read, and respond to implicit and explicit communication with respect. And that might get intimate and dare I say it, vulnerable.
Which leads me back to my friend’s comments. Maybe a lot of people, men and women, don’t really want to put in all that “work.” And is that what we are really talking about after all? If all we’re after with date sex and casual sex is low communication and preferably no intimacy, then maybe this isn’t all about people not knowing what to do, or how to do it, but mostly about not wanting to do it.