If you’re a woman who’s spent any time dating men, you’ve been there. The fact that you may never have spoken about it is probably a combined result of how often it’s happened to you and how sexually nuanced the experience is.
I’ve heard of it happening to women who are in committed relationships, I’ve heard it described by women who barely knew the guy, and I’ve heard too many scenarios in between.
It’s that moment when you’re being asked to have sex, and you say no, but instead of hearing your ‘no’ as a NO, he dials up his seduction, and despite your physical and / or verbal attempts to make him stop, he continues to paw at you, or (if you’re in a LTR) he continues to nag you, placing you in the painfully familiar position of having to choose between expending the effort it will take to make him stop verses the effort it will take to fuck him (or blow him, which I’m told by millennials is often their poison-of-choice in this scenario).
“It’s like you do this mental cost-benefit analysis,” someone recently told me.
“Sometimes I say ‘yes’ just to be able to go to sleep. It’s faster and takes less energy than it would to have the fight from insisting on ‘no’.”
“At first, I said ‘no’ - probably half a dozen times. He slowed down every couple of ‘no’s, and at one point, he just pulled my pants down and started going down on me. Then I said ‘yes.’”
Each of these women ultimately said ‘yes.’
Which creates a twisted dynamic for men: If they can’t rely on ‘yes’ meaning ‘YES’, how do we define consent?
For the past 15+ years, we’ve taught men that they cannot rely on non-verbal signals for consent. In fact, we’ve done away with passive consent (the absence of a woman saying ‘no’ would be considered passive consent). In its stead, we say that short of a verbal ‘yes’ (affirmative consent), the answer is ‘NO’.
But what about instances like the three described above? Or the one below, from a woman in an LTR:
“We’re in bed. I’ve said ‘no’ at least twice by now, and I’m trying to sleep. I even have my back to him. And then he starts poking me with it. And now I have a decision to make: Will I get to sleep faster if I have sex with him or if I let loose on him and tell him how fucked up he’s being?”
And so, she said ‘yes.’
What these women did was NOT consent. It was relent.
So today, I coin the term sexual relent: when a woman begins with a ‘no’ and arrives at a ‘yes’.
The self-loathing that follows sexual relent is sometimes the worst part.
Until it happens to you, you’d never believe that you could fall prey to it.
Women walk away thinking it was her fault.
Everyone feels alone in her experience.
Which is why I had to write this piece.
Because all of their stories resonated with me.
Since I’ve walked in each of their shoes.
I’ve been in the LTR and had what felt like obligatory sex.
I’ve been the girl who met the guy in a bar, thought I was going back to his place to make out and engage in above-the-waist play (not because I’m some morally superior being, but because unbeknownst to me at the time, I was gay and never wanted more), only to find myself engaging in jobs that, try as I might, I cannot forget.
Moreover, I can’t forget the regret and shame that followed.
In each of my personal experiences, if the man had simply (<- I choose this word with care) remained present to my facial expressions, he would have seen that my eyes had glazed over.
I don’t expect anyone to read my mind, but I’ll say this: When I’m making love to my wife (she’s cringing reading this), you better believe I’m plugged into the look on her face, the words she’s saying (or not saying), and I’m looking for active consent every step of the way – which, quite frankly, is really hot.
I don’t think it would kill men to do the same.
In fact, I don’t even remotely understand how a person can enjoy sex when their partner isn’t into it. I’ve got a handy vibrator within arm’s reach for those occasions (sorry, Steph).
As a professional problem solver, the idea of discussing and naming an issue without offering an actionable takeaway leaves me feeling unfulfilled.
What follows is an incomplete list of scenarios which Do NOT Constitute Consent, regardless of your relationship status.
- She begins by saying ‘No’ and eventually say ‘Yes.’
- She is silent.
- She said ‘yes’ but now says ‘no.’
- She is not sober.
- She said ‘no’ to sex but ‘yes’ to a [blow, hand, you-name-it] job.
- She said ‘yes’ but does not know you have an STD.
- She said ‘yes’ but does not know that you haven’t had an STD test since your last romp.
- She said ‘yes’ based on the assumption that you’re wearing a condom – and you’re not.
- She said ‘yes’ but she’s not 18-years old – and you are at or above that age.
- She has never consented to a specific sexual act (anal sex, 3-way, or any other kind of sex) and yet you attempt the act.
- She said ‘yes’ based on a false assumption (or false representation) of your relationship status.
Final disclaimer: I’m no sexpert. I’m a shrink. A relationship expert. I’m sure I missed some points on my list. Email me your thoughts on those I missed. It takes a village: Darcysterling.firstname.lastname@example.org