dating, sexy consent and a question…

I have been so happy with readers’ responses to posts on this blog. When I don’t want to have sex went off the wall, with, like, a million hits in one day (ok, that’s an exaggeration) it became clear to me that lots of other people feel pressured to be sexual or be sexual in a certain way, in order to try and fit into the queer community. Thank you so much for all your comments. You have given me much food for feminist thought. Now I would like to broaden the topic and think about pressures around sexuality which exist in every aspect of society, even if they play out in slightly different ways. And one thing that has really been getting my goat recently (great expression), is other people’s expectations of me in the context of dating.

My slight feminist obsession with gender, sex and sexuality has led me to do a lot of outreach work on these subjects with young people. In Montreal I worked with both a sexual assault centre and an LGBT organisation along the lines of Berlin’s ABqueer to talk to first-year university students about sexual consent and intimacy. I used the same workshops to adapt the government’s qualification on sexual health in the UK. Discussing sex and dating with young people in London and Canada has given me a lot of insight into the expectations we are taught to have when we go on a date or bring someone back to our place. I believe that both men and women feel an excessive pressure to have sex, to follow a dating ‘script,’ which leads them to act out of peer pressure rather than to listen to and follow their own desires.

“Kisses in the movies will lead to beautifully choreographed missionary position sex without so much as an ‘is this OK for you?'”

In the workshops I lead with teenagers, we discuss an imaginary encounter between two people in order to think about what sexual expectations we have of others. The scenario goes something like this: two people meet at a party. They are either opposite or same-sex depending on the group, and of course the gender of the two people often leads the group to interpret their behaviour accordingly. These two imaginary teenagers like each other and they go back to one of their, say the guy’s, apartment. After a little while, the other person, say the woman, says that she doesn’t want to stay the night and wants to go home. She gives the guy a goodnight kiss, which he interprets as a sign that she has changed her mind and starts to remove her clothing. One thing leads to another and they end up having sex. The next day she feels really uncomfortable. What went wrong?

The groups’ response to this scenario can vary surprisingly, but generally the following ideas come up. The group will often jump to the defense of the man, saying it’s not his fault that this happened, that she should have said ‘no.’ Or that she is ‘leading him on’ by kissing him. This immediate defensive reaction is interesting, because it implies that we, the facilitators, are trying to blame someone for what happened. In fact, the purpose of this exercise is to find out how this scenario could have been avoided. How could these two people have negotiated the situation in order to make sure this misunderstanding didn’t happen?

“What if the guy thought he should have sex because his friends would call him gay?”

I have run similar workshops with LGBT youth groups, Muslim boy groups and Jewish girl groups, from private schools to council estates in East London. With a pretty varied bunch of people, really. And the same ideas always come up. This idea that a woman should be the defender of her sexuality falls in with the stereotype of the man as the sexual actor and the woman as the sexual receiver. A man’s role is to try and get as much sex as possible, and a woman’s role is to try and defend her virginity, ‘purity,’ not be a slut, whatever. There is the assumption that the man will, naturally, want to have as much sex as possible. Even in LGBT groups, there is the assumption that we all, men, women or queers, want to have as much sex as possible and if you don’t, then it is your responsibility to say no. It’s not very often that someone in the group will bring up the possibility that maybe neither of these people wanted to have sex at all. That maybe the guy, or girl, proceeded to remove the other person’s clothing because s/he thought s/he should. Because that’s just what you do in these situations. Flirting leads to kissing and kissing leads to sex. Naturally.

I love it when some wonderful person says, but what if the guy didn’t want to have sex? What if he thought he should have sex because otherwise his friends would call him a loser, a pussy, gay? A classic example of how sexism hurts men too. Depending on the level of the group, we try to discuss why people feel a pressure to have sex, where this pressure comes from, and what we can do to make communication between lovers more clear. Because our sexual interactions rely on a lot of assumptions. There’s a script. Literally. Look at lovers on the silver screen and their kisses will lead to beautifully choreographed missionary position sex without so much as an ‘is this OK for you?’. And when we get our ideas about romance from movies is it such a surprise that our sexual communication is so fucked up? Looking at Hollywood couples you would assume that they can communicate telepathically, their kisses and moves are so in tune. And do you know why this is? It’s because they are choreographed by a team of film makers whose job is to maintain this illusion of romantic perfection.

No matter how feminist, or ‘liberated’ we think we are, we still try to follow this ideal. This Hollywood dream. No wonder our sex lives are so hard, so full of miscommunications, because we, actually, don’t really communicate. If only we did have psychic insight into our lovers’ desires. I’ll stare into your eyes and I will magically know that now you want me to kiss your neck, suck your toes, whatever… It would make this whole sex thing a lot easier!

It’s not only teenagers who feel the pressure to follow a sexual script. This idea that ‘one thing leads to another’ came up in my life quite recently, much to my surprise. It turns out even super awesome feminist youth workers like myself aren’t immune to breakdowns in sexual communication! A few months ago, I was flirting at a party with a cute person and I kissed her, in a spirit of spontaneity. I didn’t want to go home with her, I didn’t want to see her again, I just wanted to kiss her. So I did (And I asked first). I was criticised the next day by someone else for leading the other person on. Sending mixed signals. Being a bitch, because I had told this cute person that I didn’t want to see her again. And this really hurt me. It turned out that, apparently, I wasn’t allowed to be in control of my sexuality. I wasn’t allowed to do what I wanted. I had to follow someone else’s idea of what a kiss means, and ignore my own desires. I had deviated from the sexual script, and boy was I punished for it.

“Would you like to step into my boudoir…?”

Worried whether my behaviour really had been all that bad, I asked the girl I kissed if that had been OK for her. And she said, yeah, it was totally fine. No problem. So, neither of the two people involved in ‘the kiss’ had any problem with it all just stopping there. It was actually an observer who had nothing to do with it at all who found the whole sexual interaction offensive.

So, it’s not just the teenagers in the scenario who feel peer pressure to have sex, it’s queers like myself too. It’s pretty much everyone, actually.

These days I am exploring how I can communicate with my lovers to reduce the number of miscommunications that happen. The workshops I run always finish with a discussion about consent. How you have to talk with a lover in order to express what you want, ask what the other person wants, and to negotiate something that you are both happy with. That relying on telepathic Hollywood brainwaves really doesn’t work. Now this might all be a bit Sexual Consent 101 to some of you readers out there, but as my own experiences have shown me, consent is necessary in every actively sexual person’s lives (unless you’re having sex with yourself, in which case you can communicate telepathically what you want!).

And now, in the interest of improving all our sex lives, I have a question. Who can think of some sexy consent questions? I am always trying to think of cute new ways to ask for a kiss, a fuck etc. and sometimes my attempts are called sweet or endearing, but rarely hot. It would be awesome if you could leave your ideas in the comments below. Maybe together we’ll be able to think of some awesome new phrases… Can I jiggle your schizzle (I have no idea what this means)? Would you like to step into my boudoir and check out my awesome new selection of ticklers? See, I’m not very good at this… Help me!

7 thoughts on “dating, sexy consent and a question…

  1. Kim

    Hi, interesting points but why should we only ask if the guy actually wanted to have sex? Why not also ask why the women didn’t want to have sex? If there’s social pressure for the guy seeking to have it, can’t there be also social pressure for the women to prevent it, even if she wants to? Isn’t the term “slut” with its meaning and usage a huge indication for that?

    And about your kissing experience: You openly expressed your desires to the other person – who happened to be a girl. Did you ever did the same to a guy? How many female friends do you know who also ever did so?

    I know only about very few women expressing their sexual wishes openly to men as I do. And I really wonder why this is apparently no issue for many feminists. I don’t know about any feminist writing encouraging women to express actively their sexual desires to men.

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Hi Kim, thanks for your comment. In response to your question, I was using a male/female example and people’s heteronormative responses to it in order to start a conversation about our assumptions regarding what it means when we take someone home, kiss them or flirt with them. And to explore social pressures which make people feel like they have to behave in a certain way sexually. I agree that women also feel pressure to be the defenders of their sexuality, as I say later on in the post. Men are expected to be the sexual aggressors and women and supposed to defend themselves against this ‘unwanted’ approach. I say ‘unwanted’ because of the false myth that women don’t want sex as much as men! Slut shaming must be a factor in some women’s decision to have, or not have, sex.

      I would love to write about other assumptions around male and female sexuality, and people’s different responses to same-sex scenarios, but there just wasn’t space above. It really is the tip of the iceberg!

      And in response to your last point, I agree that talking, or not talking about sex and our sexual desires is a HUUUGE issue for feminists! As someone who has worked in a sexual assault centre and as an outreach worker on sexual relationships with young people, I know a lot of feminists who think it’s really important that we communicate openly with our sexual partners. I try to say what I want, to both men and women, which is a really hard, vulnerable thing to do. I would love to live in a world in which talking about our sexual desires with our partners was more encouraged. Maybe we can think about some fun, hot ways to do this. To obtain sexy consent!

      If you would like to share, I would love to know how you express your sexual wishes to your partners! Do you have any tips for us on a sexy way to do this?!

  2. Kim

    Hi, ok, nice to hear that there’s also an awareness of the women’s role as the “eternal defender” of their sexuality. Maybe you know some good feminist writings on that to share?

    I agree, there’s a lot of texts on the need of talking about sex and our sexual desires. However, they seem mostly focussed on the need to say what we DON’T want than want we want – as you were reminded of your work in the sexual assault centre while writing this.

    Obviously, it’s a much worse experience to have sex when you don’t want it than to not have sex when you want it. So I understand that focus. However, in the “long run” it can also be harmful to not express openly what you want and play the role of the defender, even if you actually want to get laid: Guys get the experience that women can’t express their desires, so they will start “assuming” it. They will believe women “need help” on breaking their defender role. Some will end up not taking a “No” seriously.

    So I think, also in order to prevent sexual assaults, saying ACTIVELY and CLEARLY what you want is as much important as expressing what you don’t want.

    Like you write, this is a really hard, vulnerable thing to do. And your question about “fun, hot ways” to do that actually shows this. Maybe I’m assuming too much, so please don’t get offended 🙂 – but I believe your question is motivated less by curiosity and more by seeking a way how to “stay safe”, how to avoid awkward situations and getting rejected. In short: How to avoid making yourself vulnerable. (Because otherwise, why wouldn’t you use try-and-error to find your ways, as you probably do in most other situations of your life?)

    So I think, it’s the willingness to be vulnerable that is to learn. To learn directly. Become willing to get rejected, to find yourself in awkward situations. The best to learn this is to actually experience such situations – and then experience how you got out of them and the world still existed. Maybe also to experience how an awkward situation became pleasant – because you turned it into such one.

    And in fact, there’s nothing big to loose. If people reject you, mostly they will reject you friendly. If not, and you have been friendly to them, then it’s obviously their problem, not yours. And if you’re living in a big city, most of the people you meet in clubs, coffee shops or on the street you won’t see again.

    But there’s a lot to win. Showing your interests and desires actively, literally ends making you feel like an object. You become a subject of yourself.

    And this probably will also shine into other aspects of your life. Not (or at least less) being afraid of failures allows you to take more risks in you career. Maybe this is also a (one!) reason why men do better here: they’re less afraid of failing, also fail often – but then also succeed more often.

    OK, this comment became quite long now, so I add just this link about awkwardness – it’s from a guys perspective as the whole blog but it’s such a great writing, definitely worth to read more there.

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Hey Kim,

      This is turning into an epic comment session so I will try to be as brief as possible! In response to the idea that men will not take women’s expression of their desires, including their ‘no’, seriously, my answer is two-fold: Firstly, There is a social myth that women are naturally frigid. I think this is fundamentally untrue. I (unsurprisingly, perhaps) think about sex all the time and I think women can have very strong sexualities. Maybe you do have a point that this myth encourages men to take the lead in bed – men are told that they have to go out there and be the sexual predators, to get the girl, while the girl is supposed to passively wait for them. I think open communication about desires is great and may help to break down this destructive dynamic.

      However, when you suggest that it is women’s responsibility to state ‘actively and clearly what they want’ ‘in order to prevent sexual assaults’ I start to disagree. I will never agree that responsibility for sexual assault against women lies with the woman assaulted. As the recent Slut Walks have said in their campaigns; no matter what I wear, no matter what I do or don’t say, I do not deserve to get raped. I am never ‘asking for it.’ Responsibility for sexual violence lies unconditionally with the perpetrator. (And let us not forget that women can assault men and sexual violence exists between people of the same sex too.)

      On a less serious note, I don’t think that my desire to brainstorm sexy consent is purely a desire to improve my own sex life! I genuinely do want to hear how other people handle the awkwardness of talking about sex with their partners and asking for what they want in bed. Although if that helps me along the way, that’s great too 😉 I think I am quite willing to make myself vulnerable by talking about sex and I think sex always involves funny, awkward bits which we should laugh at. But I also believe that we are taught that talking about sex is both unnecessary and unsexy. I think it is necessary and therefore am invested in finding ways to make it sexy!

      Anyways, happy festivities and thanks for giving me lots to think about!

      1. Kim

        Hi, I will also be very brief as the most important things have already been said.

        You’re absolutely right, the responsibility for an assault always lies with the perpetrator. What I wanted to say is maybe well described by the following analogy: When I am getting robbed, no matter in what situation, no matter how careless I was – it’s always the resposibility of the robber. However, as a member of society, especially as a priviledged one, I should use my powers and means for a just society where everybody has a chance to pursue happiness, i.e. a good education system, a working welfare system and so on. Evidently, in such societies there’s much less crime.

        In the same way I think about “sexual culture”. Where I have the power to create and encourage openness about sexuality – and, like you said, fight the “social myth that women are naturally frigid”, I should do so.

        Wish you happy festivities, too! 🙂

  3. m. m.

    I actually think it’s hot when somebody asks me in plain words what I would like to do or if I would like to do a specific thing. It’s hot when I am able to say yes, also when I’m able to say no, but not so much if I’m not sure if I want something or what I want. So hotness comes from being sure, at least for me.

    But maybe you were asking for the more difficult situations. I don’t know how to manoeuvre through “I’m not sure”-situations. It’s always awkward. Maybe one way to deal with this could be to just admit that it’s awkward hoping the other person(s) also feel(s) awkward and we can feel less awkward because of that 🙂

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Thanks m.m. – it’s nice to hear that being frank about your desires is hot for you! Even a no 🙂 And, oh, awkwardness. Oh my God, awkwardness is just so, like, awkward!

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