Our heads; your tale

February 23, 2012

Careful about (sexual) consent

Hi Ava,

I just listened to your week 1 of the Seven Step Dating Transformation (and am about to listen to week 2 to get caught up) and I love it so far — I’m excited to get out there this weekend and utilise what I’m learning from you and Barry.

There is one thing that caught my ear, though, at the end of Week 1 that concerned me because of my past experience. You mentioned something to the effect of “Women want to give you the kind of sex you want as much as you do.” The reason this caught my ear is because this is the exact mindset I had this past summer when I had managed to gain a lot of confidence for various reasons. And with this mindset and confidence, I was able to find a particularly special woman where she and I completely exploded into a passionate relationship, and we ended up having sex on our third date (which was quick by both of our standards), but based on our romantic development and the fact that she had her hands on me as much I mine were on her, I presumed that she wanted to have sex as badly as I did. However, as we’re laying in bed 3 months later, she told me that that day, she wasn’t ready to have sex with me, didn’t want to have sex with me, and wishes I wouldn’t have instigated it, and feels that, since I didn’t ask her, I had raped her (even though she had never said “no”). My confidence had gone too far and my assumptions were too broad, and I ended up hurting someone that I loved with every ounce of my being.

Many women who are more confident would argue that it was her fault because she felt comfortable enough to lay naked with and touch me, but never said “no” when the situation of sex arose — but I’ve been finding out, through many of my female friends, that most of them have been put in this situation, where they had sex with someone because they were afraid to say “no”, or felt obligated to, and felt violated afterward.

I’m not sure if, because of your high confidence level, you’ve ever experienced something like this, and I’m guessing that you associate with people with generally higher confidence…so I’m telling you this because, for all I know, you may not know that these situations exist. But they do. And to a startling degree. So I urge you to be careful of how you phrase things of this nature, especially in regards to sex, or to at least take a few minutes some week to really push and solidify the importance of very obvious consent (e.g. bluntly asking, “Do you want to have sex?” even if the answer seems apparent). I would absolutely hate for any men listening to your podcasts to be put in the same situation I was, or any women that they pick up to be in the corresponding situation.

Thank you so much for reading my extremely wordy email. I hope you understand my reasons and purpose for it and, hopefully, took some of it to heart. I’m looking forward to listening to week 3. Keep up the great work, Ava, and thanks again!



Cydian says:

Hi KJ,

I am going to let Ava answer most of this, I just wanted to say a couple things:

1. Never ever ever ever ever ever ever ask,“do you want to have sex?”  Ever.

You didn’t have a problem because you failed to secure her consent.  I think you already know the reason you had your problem.  You say it right in your message: she “felt obligated to [have sex], and felt violated afterward.”  We call this phenomenon the Not-Okay No Effect (NONE).  It’s when a person feels they cannot say no, and so does not want to say yes.

Can you think of a better way to make her feel obligated than by asking her “Do you want to have sex,” and getting a “yes?”  I am not actually saying you did this on purpose, nor am I agreeing that you raped her.  But your proposed solution of asking a blunt question makes things worse.

Check out my blog post on it here.

What you actually did wrong was to give her the impression that you would be upset or disappointed if she said “no” to sex.  Only you know how that happened, all I can tell you is that it did.

2. So, what do you do next time?

Every step of seduction, from the first glance to the first night together, should be like a game of chess. You make your move, and then you wait for her to make hers.

Making love follows all the laws of attraction that got you there in the first place.  You should be pulling away, teasing, taking long pauses, and gently pushing buttons.  It should be obvious by how you go about it that you would be fine with it ending at any time.

Because the truth is that it IS okay for a sexual encounter to end at any time.  You’ve got to get out of any kind of scarcity mindset that tells you that it’s now or never.  And anticipation is a beautiful thing; make peace with it and learn how to use it to your advantage and you won’t have this problem again.



Ava says:

Dear KJ,

First off, thank you for bringing up this incredibly important topic. Consent is one of the most misconstrued, misunderstood, and generally under-discussed topics out there. And for good reason: the question of consent is a veritable landmine field of unproductive blaming and shaming. So I’m just going to go ahead and step right in it by saying that BOTH PARTIES have a shared responsibility when it comes to establishing consent or non-consent. Always.

Now, that should not be taken to mean that it’s okay to blame victims of date rape for not saying no, or not saying it forcefully enough, or for waiting too long to say it, or for sending mixed signals, or what have you. Nor does it mean that we should lynch every dude who didn’t explicitly ask permission before he penetrated someone who later expressed a lack of readiness. It means that we need to empower everyone, of all genders and orientations, to feel comfortable setting boundaries and stopping or slowing down sexual encounters if something feels off.

In your letter, KJ, you wonder if I have “ever experienced anything like this.” To answer your question: I was date raped at the age of 16 by a 24 year old French douchebag named Stephane. And like the woman in your story, the word “no” never came out of my mouth. At first I blamed myself entirely. I felt like I must have led him on, and hated myself for not even attempting to stop him. Later, I blamed him entirely. He was older, he knew better. He saw that I wasn’t enjoying myself, but he did it anyway, and that made him a rapist. In the fullness of time, though, I have come to recognize the truth of the matter: that we were both responsible for what happened that day. I shouldn’t have remained silent, and he shouldn’t have taken advantage of my silence.

To return to your letter, KJ, It’s hard to know exactly what happened in the situation you describe here, but with the limited information I have, I would have to agree with Rake’s assessment that she was suffering from the “Not-Okay No Effect.”  She did want to have sex with you, but then she felt obligated to, and therefore didn’t want to anymore, but she was too fill-in-the-adjective to say so. So, the morning after, she regretted having done it, and resented you for not having picked up on her subtle signals of reticence.

You are both responsible, and you both have the power to keep such a thing from happening ever again. But since you’re the one who wrote, I will focus on what you can do differently next time.

I stand by my statement that women want sex just as much as men do. But here’s the rub: they often want it on a different time schedule, or in a different way than most men are hoping. To quote the great and wise Dex from The Tao of Steve,

“Girls want it fifteen minutes later than guys, so if you hold out for twenty, she’ll be chasing you for five.”

Conveniently, this coincides with a  universal rule of attraction: when one person pushes, the other has a tendency to withdraw, and vice versa. The best way to assure that someone is on board with what is happening, or even to get them on board, is to stop pushing and actually pull back. Then watch what happens.

To use your example: you and this girl are all over each other. The sexual tension is palpable. You haven’t explicitly asked for consent (and just so you hear it directly from a woman: Rake is absolutely right that no woman wants the pressure of having to answer such a direct question, especially in the middle of a sexual encounter!), but she seems to be sending signals that indicate a desire for intercourse.

Now, instead of pushing forward to see if she will stop you, try stopping to see if she will encourage you to start again. Stop touching her, but remain physically close, say with your lips very close to hers, to see if she will initiate more kissing, etc. Let her take the lead for a while; relax and enjoy the ride. This is effective on two levels: it clarifies for you whether she is genuinely into this or if she was simply going along with it to please you, and it actually increases her desire. It also gives you a break from always being the one at the wheel.

And if she doesn’t re-initiate, or encourage you to continue? Then she isn’t ready, and you’ve just given her a graceful “out.”