The key issues for me in adult consensual sex ad relationships have to do with confidence and communication. Sex is a lifelong experiment and an ironic one particularly if you are Sexing While Feminist. By the time we get old and confident enough to unleash our sexual prowess, we simultaneously become more selective about the people we want to do this with.
At the risk of exposing my age and how long ago I lived in Ghana, allow me to tell you a story.
One of the first sexual experiences I had that really stuck in my memory involved a private cinema house in Labone, a number of which had been popping up in Accra as the latest big thing. Basically, it was a series of rooms with a cinema screen and optionally, a bed or a couch that could be rented for a couple or groups and have a great Friday night (Or if you were an aimless student, any time or day of the week). Needless to say, it became a notorious make out spot for couples. I was around 15, and at the time seeing F who was a couple of years older and whom I thought I was in love with; the way only a 15 year old can be. F invited me out to said cinema ‘to watch a movie’ and while I was naïve, even by my own evaluation, I knew what that meant. I was excited, exhilarated and admittedly inexperienced. After checking in, with the receptionists looking at me askance (naturally, as I was the girl and I should have known better), we made our way to the room and before the lights were off and the initial credits rolled, we were already all over each other. We made out for a while and then F suggested moving on to the bed. I hesitated but agreed but as soon as he started unzipping my jeans, I panicked and asked to leave. He laughed at me for being a prude but did not insist; we broke up shortly after. That scenario left me confused, embarrassed and frustrated and it was a while until I put the pieces together.
I did not actually become sexually active until 20, simply because I did not feel ready. I had self-confidence and body issues and I at least wanted to be comfortable with the person I was with if not fully with my own body. My first experience in hindsight was a bit meh but to me, what made it comfortable is that I chose how, when, where and with whom I wanted to have sex and I had control of the process. And while that relationship eventually faded, I saw it as a personal victory; I chose my partner, we both consented enthusiastically throughout the entire process and that made the experience enjoyable. It also made sex with him subsequently amazing and he was instrumental in making me appreciate and start to love my body, love handles and all.
Anyway fast forward a few years, I now live in UK and while the location has changed, attitudes haven’t and my experiences have been mixed both in and out of relationships. I have heard many a story from friends about unfortunate sexual encounters were intelligent, strong women have felt indebted to a man and were coerced into sleeping with him even when they didn’t really feel like it or had changed their minds before or during the act. I personally have had partners who wanted to have sex before I was ready to take that step, perhaps felt too inebriated or had asked me to perform / for them to perform acts on me that I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with. While this may seem harmless, particularly as young people experiment all the time with sex and sexuality, there is a single unifying theme – consent, or lack thereof.
We should all be familiar with Yes Means Yes by now but what if there is no clear ‘yes’ and no clear ‘no’? What if one of the parties is consenting up until a certain point and then decides they do not want to go further? What if they wish to stop altogether? What about Yes means yes until I say no and then I may change my mind and say yes again?
The difference between sexual assault and just bad sex is a lot more nuanced than we would like to think. Consent is not enough. Also, lack of resistance or silence is not consent. I believe in enthusiastic fluid consent. This essentially means not only does there need to be agreement from both parties, this has to be enthusiastic (obviously) and be in constant review. You don’t just need to check in with your partner to find out if it is ok to go ahead but also whether it’s ok to continue. And keep doing so.
Most of the people who agree that rape is wrong would at this point be sitting with pursed lips, eyebrows furrowed, waiting to burst out with a counter-argument. The main ones being that constantly seeking permission kills the mood, or stopping mid-way is unfair because of blue-balls and so on. Also, why tempt someone if you don’t intend to continue? First of all, that’s too bad, I’ll give you permission to knock one out while I watch, and perhaps that will get me in the mood again. Secondly, the worst thing you can do is to guilt someone into having sex because things have ‘progressed too far’. Just because someone is not obviously distressed doesn’t mean they are happy with the situation.
How about turning sex into a conversation? A conversation that can be had with questions and answers whispered seductively into each other’s ears, or even taking the time to observe non-verbal cues to determine if your partner is as into the act(s) as you are? This makes the process fluid, a clear system of seeking approval is established and it is seductive even. Would you not want to prolong a session, where your partner is looking deep into your eyes while slowly and deliberately experimenting with different things to see what you like? This applies to both long and short term relationships by the way. It is obviously easier with a long-term partner as you have a better understanding of each other’s bodies and preferences but can be just as enjoyable with a short-term partner or even if you are exploring kinks and other fantasies.
So what is your take on this? How well do you communicate your preferences? Would you feel bad for stopping someone if you weren’t enjoying the sex yourself?