I apologise in advance for the writing in this post. I'm usually careful to craft my posts; I'm picky about how my writing sounds. This time I had a rant that just needed to come out and I knew that if I tried to craft it I would just end up stifling it. So here it is in its raw, unedited form. Be kind.
I want to talk about sex. In particular, I want to talk about consent, and how it's given, or, more frequently, not given.
I want to share a quote from a training I received recently. This training was for becoming a facilitator for workshops that raised awareness of, among other things, sexual assault, and during this training there was one thing that was said that I want to share. Ready? Here it is:
'No' is an answer to a question that's almost never asked.I had never put it in those terms before, but it immediately rang true to me.
The fact is that we almost never say 'yes' to sex. Yes is considered to be the default answer, and we're expected to speak up only if the answer is no. I find this to be deeply disturbing. I think it sets us up for a situation where we are constantly risking violating each other's boundaries, and are only informed of a problem when it's already too late.
I think silence should default to 'no'. I am made exceedingly uncomfortable by people who hit on me and who take my lack of response as an invitation to push further. I am not comfortable with a dynamic that forces one person to say "back off" rather than expects the other person to say "is it okay if".
I'm not saying we can't flirt or hit on each other, or that we have to stop and ask explicit permission before each activity from eye-contact onwards (although I certainly don't think that talking deserves the bad reputation it gets). What I'm saying is that we need to be aware of each others' reactions. We need to pay attention, and if we're not getting an explicitly welcoming or inviting response we need to back the hell off and wait for one.
I've put this in gender-neutral terms because I think it is one of the few things about sex and consent that really are gender-neutral in terms of roles. I don't, however, think that it's gender-neutral in terms of context.