I can’t tell if I’m waking up or just going to sleep. My drunken stupor has muffled my senses, each coming in and out of focus in a kaleidoscope of sound and touch. I slowly begin to ascend the tiers of sobriety, and as I do, my senses return. There is sound. A woman breathing – no – moaning heavily. Then I feel the sliding up and down, each time the backs of her thighs landing on my hips. I like the sliding. There’s no condom. Crap. That’s okay. We must’ve talked, and made sure it was – relatively – safe. Who was this woman? Suddenly, I feel an intense pain as she bites my lip, breaking the skin. Memories begin to return. This is not a dream. I open my eyes, and vision has returned, and her face is flashed before me.
In a fit of fear, outrage, and confusion, I swing my right hand instinctively upwards and across the face of the woman. As she dismounts I scream at her, “What the fuck?!” She returns my rage, incredulous that I have just hit her. For a moment, I share her concern. Then I’m reminded of the reality of what just happened. Despite her clearly drunken state at 3am, and knowing that her car is her only means of getting home across the bridge to Marin, I kick her out of my apartment. I wasn’t comfortable having her stay alone in my living room before, and this incident did little to help.
As my mind attempted to settle the evening’s events that led up to this, I began to panic. She was a 36-year-old lawyer living with parents. I was 25. What if she called the cops, and changed the way the events of the evening took place? What if she said it was I who was on top of her, hitting her into submission. That she bit my lip in an effort to stop me. Are men even capable of being raped by women?
A lot of articles concerning rape were sent my way this week, some more visible than others. Given the nature of this column, the podcast I host, and the generally introspective person I am, I tend to think a lot about these issues. But the SF Weekly article focused on the shades of gray concerning consent; what further consent must exist after initial consent? And I was forced to recall that by no narrow definition, how I had been raped.
That was 2 1/2 years ago. And today I feel very, very weird about the title of this week’s column. Yet at the same time, I don’t know what to call what happened to me that night. But I think by most standards, it would be called rape.
Yet I don’t feel scarred. I don’t feel like my innocence was taken away, any less trustful of women, or any of the myriad of feelings I had always heard associated with female rape victims. I know that what this woman did was wrong, and was certainly without my consent, but in the absence of any STDs I may have contracted (I did not), I don’t feel that the experience has left me any worse off in the longrun.
How is it that compartmentalizing that night has been so easy for me? The truth is, had she not gotten insanely drunk that evening, which led to her being incredibly rude, forgetting events moments after they happened, and eventually berating me about my weight (which I have to admit, I find hilarious), I probably would’ve slept with her. And provided that she posed no threat to me or others (there was genuine concern that she was going to wander into a roommate’s room and burgle it), I’d probably still sleep with her.
Perhaps one of the key differences is that even when I was intoxicated (and half-asleep) I was still able to physically gain control of the situation, an opportunity not many women are afforded. While something happened that I ultimately did not want to, the circumstances which allowed it to happen are presumably rare. And I am someone who seeks out sex in all forms, somewhat irrespective of a protracted emotional connection, so it became not so much about the sex itself as “what an incredibly rude, violating thing to do. Also you better not have any STDs.”
But turning back to the SF Weekly article – what constitutes “enough” consent? We know that most partners who engage in sexual activity are not verbally asking permission for every sexual progression. The notion of a partner expressly asking “Is it okay if I kiss you?” is repellent to most people I know (then again, I haven’t expressly asked most people I know). So let’s assume that there’s some subtly allowed when it comes to the practical nature of sexual engagement.
Then it’s safe to assume that if someone expressly says they don’t want to engage in something, that means they don’t want to engage in something, right? Well, yes – that’s certainly the safest approach. But in my experience, one’s words frequently belie what they actually want, or are at the very least conditional. And this experience has been shared amongst my friends, both gay and straight, male and female. No one articulates it better than Louis CK. Last summer I found myself in a similar situation with a girl in my bed, who kept stating boundaries she would not cross (sleeping over, sleeping in my bed, making out, and so on) only to then advance forward. It was a very confusing message to be sending me. “I am going tell you and behave as though I don’t want to do something, and then I’m going to start doing it.” It was so confusing, that rather than risk pushing her boundaries, I decided to simply play that very Louis CK bit to her. ”It’s true,” she said. And we ended up having sex. In fact, every single time a girl has come over to my house from a bar or party and stated “just so you know we’re not having sex”, we’ve ended up having sex. Which has left me with one of three conclusions: 1) these women aren’t wanting to appear promiscuous because of how they may be judged, but then they’re not owning their sexual agency, and that’s not very feminist 2) they didn’t initially want to have sex, but I’m just an awesome salesmen, or 3) I’ve been raping way more women than I should be. Which is no women. Zero is the amount of women you should be raping.
Communication between partners is obviously very delicate, complicated, and necessary. Many men and women get off on rape fantasies. Almost all of BDSM is built upon power play – the desiring, relinquishing, giving, and witholding of power. And while partners who already intimately know each other can usually navigate these waters with ease, what do you do in that situation with the person who you just met at the bar?
It seems the only practical answer is somewhere between “playing it safe” and “intuition”. I know that I was violated that evening 2 1/2 years ago. I took pictures of my lip, sent her a text telling her to never contact me again, and I haven’t heard from her since. And while I don’t believe I’ve ever sexually violated a woman, given the number of women I’ve been with, statistics would suggest some might feel otherwise. And that’s weird, and f*cked up, and I’m not totally sure what to make of it.
Except to say this: please communicate. That means women AND men. Playing games about one’s desires can definitely be fun, but “hard to get” ends up being really “hard to understand”, and games like that can lead to some really dangerous outcomes. Both men and women need to feel okay letting each other know that they want to have sex without fear of judgement, and vice-versa. I’ve had countless friendships form from an “I want to have sex with you”/”thanks but I don’t want to have sex with you” conversation. And guess what, sometimes that radical honesty is refreshing and kinky itself and leads to sex. And once you know where you both want to end up, all sorts of fun and games can be played on the road to getting there.
Full Disclosure podcast: Episode 32 – Rain Degrey and in-studio BDSM (this is a fun one, guys)
FREE Porn Pick of the Week (NSFW): Nikki Sexx in Kink’s Hardcore Gangbang (very apropos to the rape fantasy)