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My Bad Sex Wasn’t Rape

The outcry over a recent "Girls" episode startled me. What happened to a woman's sexual agency?

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It was quite a week in feminism, but every week is quite a week in feminism. I believe we should live our feminism every day, and not just around the sensational cases.

It’s important to individually adopt the practice of enthusiastic consent and then teach it to others so it can become a standard value. To do so would be to render what happened in the Steubenville trial impossible.

It would shift the focus when someone is raped from whether or not she effectively said “No” to “ What did you do to make sure she wanted to have sex?

Today I’ve been hearing that any extended discussion of the plight of the rapists in Steubenville is wrong.  I think that if we want to teach men not to rape, showing the consequences of punishment is a good thing.  I keep hearing that to explore rape prevention strategies for women is wrong, though we teach people how to prevent crime all the time (lock your windows, don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket, turn your lights on when you go out of town, etc.). That statistics from within the rape crisis movement about lesbians being raped are not possible (but we’d better not question statistics about how many women are assaulted –  that would be paternalistic!).

It is, of course, vitally important to work against sexism, but trying to hang on to sexual violence as something that only men do to only women is not going to help in that struggle. We can honor the victim and still feel empathy for teenagers convicted of the rape. We can put responsibility on men not to rape and still discuss prevention strategies with women. We can acknowledge that women are perpetrators, too, and we can make room for the fact that men are sexually assaulted in vast numbers (primarily by other men).

Twenty years ago, it was argued by some inside the rape crisis movement that estimates of prison rape and of boys being sexually abused were wrong and that it was merely a diversionary tactic to move attention from women. Of course, now we know those numbers were far too low. We should look at how we’ve evolved over the last 40 years and acknowledge that we will evolve over the next 40.

We need to work toward the day where we can talk about sex openly and where the morning after is neither blame nor condemnation, nor anger or shame. A day when both the rape that happened in Steubenville and the way the victim has been treated would seem bizarre. That would be a great thing for everyone, wouldn’t it?

For me, I had sex that night in the park for all the wrong reasons – to keep the attentions of a boy I liked, to seem cool, to seem older. I didn’t like the sex but I don’t regret the decision. The two boys in the park were friends of a sort, and remained friends of mine into adulthood. From that event I learned an awful lot about good reasons and bad reasons to have sex and while I can’t say that I never had sex to please someone else again, I will say that I extricated myself from a lot of future sexual pressure in various situations because I learned, early, that sometimes the thing you do in the moment sexually makes you feel bad after the fact.

Sometimes, that’s the cost of having the power to say yes.

 

 
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