Just Because I'm Drinking, It Doesn't Mean I Want to Have Sex With You
Both male and female
freshmen confidently stated that if a woman kisses a man, she has consented to
have sex with him; if a woman goes back to someone's room or apartment, she has
consented to have sex with that person; and that once a man starts to have some
kind of sexual contact, he is unable to stop, even if his partner wants him to.
While some of these answers can be attributed to the fact that,
developmentally, 17- and 18-year-old students are still very much in a stage of
black-and-white, non-nuanced thinking (which we hope they will grow out of
during their time in college), I find it to be a sad and striking commentary
about sexual communication in our society.
Forty years after the
second wave of feminism, we still seem to view male sexuality as an
uncontrollable force that must be kept in check by female gatekeepers. These
young men and women believe that women who put themselves in any kind of sexual
situation are "asking for it" and that women are the ones who must
firmly establish sexual boundaries with men who are, apparently, wild animals
unable to understand tools of modern communication like words and body
language. These tired stereotypes do a disservice to both men and women by
putting them both in tiny boxes that allow for only a very narrow, highly
policed range of sexual expression.
What's even more
interesting to me is how we are still unable to talk directly and clearly about
sex. Our young people have been taught to do a carefully choreographed but
ultimately confusing dance to communicate sexual intentions. If a woman drinks
alcohol, it means she wants to get laid (or it could just mean that she had a
stressful week and wants to blow off steam). If a woman flirts, it means she
wants sex (or it could mean that she wants some external validation of her
attractiveness). If a woman dresses sexily, it means she's looking for action
(or she could have gotten dressed up with a big group of her girlfriends who
are all in the mood to primp). If a woman kisses someone, she wants to have sex
with that person right now (or it could mean that she's potentially interested
in the person, and wants to let him or her know she's interested, but isn't
sure about the sex part yet).
Sometimes we drink,
dress up, flirt and make out just to have fun, not as a prelude to any kind of
sexual activity. Sometimes we do these things because we do want to have sex.
But because we have no language to talk about sex, no role modeling for telling
someone that we find them attractive and directly asking what they might like
to do with us sexually, we are left to interpret these vague actions as
invitations to sex, whether they really are or not. Even worse, predatory
people can take advantage of this ambiguity to commit sexual assault and then
blame the women or men who were assaulted for "bringing it on" with
their own behavior.
For decades, we have
tried sexual assault cases by asking victims, "When did you say no?"
We need to turn this around by asking accused assailants, "When did you
hear yes?" The responsibility for getting clear consent for any kind of
sexual activity should be placed on the person who's initiating that activity.
It's not enough to assume that a particular action indicates consent. Men
should be free to say "no" to sexual activity without having their
masculinity called into question, and women should be free to enthusiastically
say "yes" to sex without being slut-shamed. When we make it OK to
talk directly about sex, we will be freed from the burden of constantly
policing our own behavior, and rapists will not be able to hide behind victim-blaming
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Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.