Regulating Sex: The New York Times and Consent


Judith Schulevitz knows what's best for your sex life. At least, she claims she does. She wrote a mind-boggling opinion piece criticizing the regulation of sex in the New York Times. (Want some context? Read the article here.)

Can we talk first about the image that accompanied the full page article? I can't tell you the amount of times a partner of mine has gotten confused because my pink and index finger were saying "no" while the twitch of my palm was screaming "yes." Oh wait, yes I can, zero. Zero times. Consent is not nearly that complicated.

Shulevitz sums up the article in the last sentence, and that's where I'll start. "Sex may become safer for some, but it will be a whole lot more anxiety-producing for others." And hell, what's "safe sex" to a few people when others might face anxiety? Heaven forbid we make anyone anxious, even at the cost of rape. Getting consent, being comfortable talking to your partner, should not be a conversation marked by nerves and anxiety. If you're not comfortable talking to your partner about sex, you probably aren't comfortable enough with them to have sex.

Let's give Judith the benefit of the doubt for a second, and assume that the anxiety she's referring to isn't coming from talking to a partner about consent, but rather, the fear of what might happen if that partner changes their mind later. After all, with the "yes means yes" rule (if you don't get a clear, freely given 'yes', sex can be considered rape) it would be theoretically easy for someone to regret sex and claim something like, "Well, I never actually said 'yes'," right?

Wrong. False reports happen, they do, I'm not denying that. But not often. First of all, it's HARD to prove someone guilty of sexual assault. Very few rapists ever serve jail time, and most people (in my experience) will dismiss and scoff at a case of "he said, she said" without any definitive evidence. And if there is any evidence (a rape kit was done, emails/texts/messages are found admitting what happened, etc), well then odds are it's more than just regret at play. Even when people do lie, the estimated rate of false or unsupported reports is only around 2%. Which, compared to other statistics, isn't unexpected at all, that's about the same number of people falsely claiming they were robbed or carjacked or something.

The redefinition of consent (if you can even call it that) won't change anything within your relationship, as Judith seems to think it will. If you and your partner normally kiss each other hello, for instance, neither one of you is going to suddenly decide that's assault. Asking for consent doesn't have to be clinical and awkward. Hell, that'd be awful. Just check in with your partner. Make sure they want what you want. Seriously. Discuss things before hand, and check in every now and then; you can ever work it into your dirty talk. Things like, "Do you like that?" or "How's this feel?" or "Is it ok if I do this?" or "Wanna try this again?" Things will vary from relationship to relationship, from person to person. Some people might LOVE waking up to head in the morning, while others might feel violated by it. So just ask your partner if thats a thing they'd like. That's all.

Obviously, it's a little harder to establish general rules like that if you're in a one-night stand situation. I've heard dozens of stories from guys terrified that the girl they take home might wake up and cry rape. Firstly, nobody just "cries rape". Secondly, don't have sex with someone who's too drunk to consent. Thirdly, if you're initiating or escalating any sort of sexual interaction or contact, just ask if it's ok. Even if you feel like you're both contributing, check in and make sure.

Consent isn't difficult. It's not a million different signals that you have to sift through, it's not a minefield that could go off when you least expect it. It's just a yes. So get that "yes", or "oh yeah" or "abso-fuckin-lutely", or "I'd love to", or "let's!". 

You might be hard, but consent isn't.

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