She Said Yes: When Consent is Coerced

Apparently sex is just on my mind this week. Yesterday I shared with you a story about my personal experience of sexual assault, and today I want to talk about some of the ways that people manipulate each other in inappropriate ways into having sex. Any time you coerce someone, guilt them, or manipulate them in any way in order to get them to have sex with you, that is sex without consent. It is inappropriate and unacceptable. However from my experience and the experiences of those around me (yes, this is anecdotal, but no one has done a study on how many people say “if you loved me you’d do it), this kind of manipulation is common. So let’s take a look at some of the more common ways that people manipulate each other and what’s wrong with each of them.

1.”You must be a prude”

Let’s just say it straight out: shaming anyone for their sexual choices, whether to have sex or not have sex, is pretty much just a shitty and not ok thing to do. However if you’re trying to get someone to have sex with you just to prove that they’re cool, forward thinking, liberal, or liberated, then they’re not really consenting to sex with you: they’re consenting to a symbolic act that will keep them from being embarrassed. And what you’re really saying when you say this is that you won’t respect them if they don’t have sex with you. This is emotional manipulation, and if you coerce someone into having sex with you by convincing them that you will not respect them if they don’t, or that they have to do it to prove their liberalism, then you are not respecting their boundaries or their consent.

2.You’re punishing me.

Once again there’s a pretty basic myth underlying this statement: you are not owed sex by anyone. It is no one’s responsibility to give you sex. Therefore not giving you sex is not punishing you. It’s not taking away something that belongs to you. It is not treating you poorly in any way, shape, or form. When you say this, you imply to the other person that you require sex from them, that it’s a basic right of yours. You sound like a child throwing a temper tantrum. When someone says no to sex, it’s not about you anymore. It’s about their right to have autonomy over their own body. Their ability to say no to you doesn’t harm you. Get over it. When you say this to someone you imply to them that they owe you their body. That’s manipulative and creepy. It tells them they HAVE to say yes unless they have a really damn good reason to deny you your toy.

3.What if you never want to have sex with me again?

Oh my sweet Jesus the catastrophizing. Now first of all, someone not having sex with you ever again is still not the end of the world. It’s their right to say they don’t want to have sex with you anymore. Yes, if you’re in a relationship with that person it would suck and you would need to discuss it, but it certainly isn’t something to guilt someone over. In addition, let us repeat again that when someone says they don’t want to have sex IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU. If your partner is saying no to sex or feels uncomfortable, the needs of your penis or clitoris are not priority #1 here, your partner’s emotional well-being is. Changing the subject from whatever is making them uncomfortable, or trying to put the entire weight of your sex life on them over one incident is upping the stakes so that if they say no now, it means more and could spell the end of the relationship. It’s a veiled threat of sorts: if you don’t have sex with me now, you won’t ever want to have sex with me and I’ll be miserable forever/break up with you. Veiled threats and emotional blackmail are not acceptable ways to get someone to have sex with you.

4.Are you not attracted to me anymore?

I understand why someone would feel like this if their partner turns them down for sex. It’s highly important to remember that the vast majority of the time when someone says no to something IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. If you suggest to your partner that you’d like to go to a baseball game, and they say they don’t want to go, it probably has more to do with their feelings about baseball or how tired they are or how busy they are than it does about you. Despite the intimacy of sex, this often is the case there too. When you ask a question like this, you imply that if your partner isn’t having sex with you, they’re making a statement about you or how they feel about you. You’re implying that they should feel guilty for telling you you’re unattractive. You’re setting up a kind of false dichotomy: either you have sex with me, or you’re telling me that I’m unattractive. You’re trying to take out the possibility that it’s totally reasonable and not mean at all to say no to sex. And it’s cruel to tell someone that their perfectly reasonable choice is actually mean and disrespectful to someone they care about.

5.You’re being selfish.

This is very much akin to the previous two but takes its own special tactic of nastiness. Saying no to another person, asking them to respect your boundaries, telling someone that they should not continue doing something that upsets you or makes you unhappy, is far from selfish. Particularly when that thing involves your own body. Again, this kind of talk tells you to ignore your emotions and ignore your discomfort because your body is public property, or at least your partner’s property. And this again activates major amounts of guilt, because it tells you that you’re bad, mean, wrong, or immoral for saying no. It paints the other person as the victim, which reverses the roles so that you’re apologizing for asserting your boundaries, when in reality your partner should probably be the one apologizing if they crossed them. Defending yourself is not an aggressive action, but this kind of statement turns it into one. It’s gaslighting to the max.

6.You’re taking away something that makes me happy.

Boo frickin’ hoo. Sorry, I should probably have more sympathy because yes it does suck when you can’t have something that you want, but let’s be PERFECTLY clear here: if you are going to prioritize the happy feelings of your genitals over your partner’s crystal clear right to say no, then you are a douche. They KNOW that it would make you happy to have sex with you. And you know that they know. So by reminding them, all you’re doing is making them feel like shit. In order to try to get them to have sex with you. Look, your partner is not taking away anything by saying no to sex. Sex was not your right in the first place so there’s no way they could have taken it away. Sometimes they consent to give you a part of themselves out of the goodness of their heart and that makes you happy. YAY! But that in no way means they owe it to you in the future to continue giving it to you. Your happiness is not your partner’s responsibility, and if you think it is then you’re setting your partner up for a lot of guilt, a lot of unhappiness, and a lot of ignoring their own interests for yours.

7.Well what if we just…

Compromise is generally a good thing. If your partner shuts down one thing but you’re super into it, it’s perfectly reasonable to say something like “Ok, we absolutely don’t have to do that. I’d be really interested in trying something else. What do you feel about ___”. But there’s a difference between that and the “what about” game. This is the game where every time your partner says no you try a different question, a different version. You wear them down. You make it sound reasonable to demand a blowjob because you aren’t getting sex. You paint your request as really not a very big deal after all, in fact something your partner really shouldn’t have any issue with because it’s so minute, even though it might be a sexual act that they don’t want to perform. And you do this until they give in because they’re going crazy trying to say no to everything and feeling like a jerk for shooting everything down. Sex isn’t haggling. Someone’s body isn’t for sale and it’s not up for a bargain.

8.Why won’t you think about my feelings?

Once again, this kind of statement prioritizes your feelings over your partner’s mental health and safety, and it tells them that they should be doing the same because if they don’t they are being unsympathetic and paying no attention to their partner’s feelings. It implies that if your partner cared about you and your feelings, then there is only one decision that they would or could make: giving you what you want. It’s another way of turning yourself into the victim and implying that your partner MUST owe you sex if they care about you. Let’s be honest, your partner already knows all about your feelings because you’ve made it damn obvious that you want sex and that sex is important to you. Our whole CULTURE tells us that having a healthy sex life is SO IMPORTANT so even if they don’t know about your feelings in particular they know about the feelings that you’re expected to have and so they already know they’re being “bad” by not providing sex. So reminding them one more time? It’s petty and you’re not doing it because you think they don’t know.

9.You’ve done this before, you should be able to do it again.

This is not how consent works. If someone consented to something yesterday and then does not consent to it today, their consent from yesterday is negated. Someone is allowed to change their mind about things! CRAZY! I may have wanted chocolate yesterday and not want any today, but that doesn’t mean I HAVE to eat chocolate today. When you say this, you’re trapping someone into thinking that they are being inconsistent, irrational, and overly emotional by changing their opinion. You indicate that once they have said yes they can’t rescind their yes without being completely crazy. This really makes it hard to say no, to react to one’s emotions, to take care of oneself. It’s not cool.

10.I don’t know how to understand you love me if we don’t have sex.

This is your own god damn problem. If you can’t understand multiple ways of expressing affection, then you are a significantly stunted human being and that’s something you should probably work on. Telling your partner that they have to bend to your whim once again indicates that your inability to communicate needs to be solved with their body. It’s a special kind of guilt trip because it’s the barely logical cousin of “If you loved me you’d have sex with me”. If you want to express love, then respecting your partner’s boundaries is the best way to go. Guilting them into thinking they have to have sex to prove their love for you? Not so much.

11.I just want you to feel good.

If you wanted your partner to feel good, you would listen to what they say they want. If they say something doesn’t feel good or they don’t want it, don’t do it. What this message is ACTUALLY saying is that your partner must be CRAZY for saying no because you only want what’s best for them. They must not be thinking clearly. And not only that, but they probably should feel good because that’s what happens when people who love each other get sexy, amirite? So wrong. Your partner is allowed to not feel good, and allowed to feel good in whatever way they so choose, not the way YOU choose.

12.What about now?

When your partner says no, let them have their fucking no. This question is essentially the battering ram of emotional manipulation. It’s not very sneaky and it’s really easy to say no to…the first fifty times. But eventually most doors are going to get broken down just because your partner is so fucking tired of saying no. Do you really want your partner to say yes just because they’re sick of going through the dance? Probably not, because that’s not really consent.

  1. “If you believed in true equality, you wouldn’t be afraid of men, so you’d meet up with me & try me out” (submitted from twitter).

Really? I mean reaaaaally. This is clearly from someone who thinks they’re super sly but doesn’t realize that trying to make someone feel like they have to prove their liberalism cred is a shitty way to convince them to get with you. We all know that equality doesn’t mean you have to like everyone or go on a date with everyone, but apparently some people want to convince you that if you don’t, you’re shitty, discriminatory, and mean. Again, not a very good way to obtain consent.

The Power of Pets

This is a post about how much I fucking love my cats. I was in no way planning on writing this post today, or possibly ever. But last night my baby boy, my perfect, favorite, sweet, psycho, needy, crazy, lunatic cat Sid Vicious (Darth Siddius the Kittius) died unexpectedly. And it’s honestly the only thing I can think about, and I need to talk about it somehow, and as this is my blog I get to do what I want.

I had a friend ask me recently what the point of pets was. I thought everyone got how awesome fuzzy sweet creatures were, but that question reminded me that it’s likely not everyone understands how integral my cats are to my mental well-being.

People are scary. They require understanding. They expect things of you. They can be passive aggressive, or angry, they don’t always tell you what they want, they can be hard to read. Oftentimes they challenge you and ask you to do incredibly difficult things, especially if you have a mental illness (people ask me to eat and not to cut, which are two of the hardest things in the world for me). While people can also support and share and talk and comfort, they ask for these things in return, and they have biases, and they can be confusing. They require energy. They rarely allow you to be wholly yourself, as each person in the world has different needs and triggers and concerns which you have to be aware of when you’re around them. People have a limited supply of how much they’re willing to listen to you bitch and moan or cry or hate the world. So people are both limited in what they can offer you, and they limit you in that they have expectations and needs and frustrations. For me especially, communicating with others can be particularly difficult, and because of the sensitive nature of a lot of my problems, I don’t feel comfortable being very open around other people. Especially because people often get really uncomfortable and try to make me do things I don’t want to do when I open up to them, I’ve learned that it’s often better to not rely on others.

Pets are completely different. Some people might suggest that animals only like you cause you feed them, or that they don’t really distinguish between people, or they don’t actually care about you. Well even after I moved out, I was Sid’s special favorite. From the moment I walked in the door at my parents’ to the moment I left, he would follow me around, yelling at me to pet him or love him or pay attention to him. He liked me and my dad better than anyone else, and he had his habits with us: he’d wake my dad up first thing in the morning and have a cup of coffee with him. He was needy. He wasn’t afraid to tell you what he wanted, but he never needed that much. He screamed to tell you he wanted to be petted or to stop petting him. He purred to tell you yes please. He hated being ignored, and god forbid if you let a different cat under the blankets first. He had Personality. SERIOUS personality, and he knew who he liked and he knew who he didn’t like, and he liked his older brother and he hated the dog and he loved being cuddled and he hated being held and he loved the sun and he hated loud noises. Sure he needed things, but nothing draining. Just some love. Some cuddles. Some pets.

He was distinct. He knew who he was and he made no secret of it so you never had to guess what he wanted or needed. And best of all he didn’t give a shit what you did unless it affected him. He would love you and rub up against you and only get unhappy if you ignored him. If you were struggling or not eating or depressed, he treated you exactly the same (although his magic cat sense told him when you were sick and he’d give you extra special cuddles). He didn’t judge. He didn’t ask you to do things that were outside of your comfort zone. But he did calm me and comfort me. He was warm and soft and purred, and made me feel close to another being, a being that didn’t require me to censor my thoughts or my feelings at all. Full and complete acceptance.

And what is absolutely wonderful about this kind of acceptance, this unthinking support, is that it made me a better person. I am not usually a very nurturing person. I’m not good at patience. I’m not good at spending time trying to puzzle out what someone is saying or wants or needs. I’m generally not very mothering or very caring. But sweet baby Jesus, when I was around that cat I had the patience of a saint. I would pet him for hours. I would sit without moving until my legs were numb rather than wake him up if he was sitting on me. If he was complaining about something, I would pet him and play with him and feed him and do whatever I could to try to figure out what he wanted because he was my baby, he was my responsibility. He had no better way of telling me what he wanted than meowing, so I had to figure it out. And he brought me back to reality. All of my cats do. When I’m drifting in my mind, somewhere unpleasant and self-hating, and a cat comes by and sticks his butt in my face, there’s only so much more metaphysical musing I can engage in. The physical sensation of touching a soft cat and having them arch up into my hand and purr can do more to center me than anything else.

And so my cats make me feel stronger. They make me feel as if I can take care of something, as if something needs me, as if something loves me no matter what and doesn’t need me to change. They remind me of the good bits of the world, and they remind me that in this exact moment there is a silly, goofy, sweetheart in front of me, tickling me with his tail and begging for a good scratch. They don’t demand that I change myself or make myself better or become healthier. That’s what scares me about other people. Other people put food in front of me or take away my razors or put me in therapy. My cats just show up and tell me that they need me. And then I have to remember for myself that I need to take care of me to take care of them. They make me strong enough to do things outside of my comfort zone on my own terms. They butt into my life when I least expect it and don’t ask me to feel better…they just ask me to cuddle with them for a bit. And somehow this utter rejection of everything that’s going on in my mind makes me feel better anyway.

I love my cats for the freedom they give me. And so I will miss my Sid more than I can say. I’ll miss how if you pet him just the right way you could make him do somersaults. I’ll miss how loud and obnoxious he was. I’ll miss how you could make him go flying across the room in terror if you sneezed too loudly. I’ll miss how he always had to be at the center of everything. I’ll miss how when I left my parents house my clothes would be nearly gray from all the cat fur I had gotten on them while cuddling him. I will miss how statuesque he looked when sitting still and upright, and how he and his brother made perfect little Siamese bookends whose heads moved in synch at any noise. I’ll miss the stupid fighting under the covers when two cats tried to get in at once. I’ll miss it all. Mostly I’ll miss that my baby who loved me for nothing more than the fact that I would give him my time is gone.