Girl Talk: We Need to Discuss Consensual Ambiguity

First and foremost, I’d like to introduce my loyal readers to my new column, which I have decided to call Girl Talk. Being a Sex and the City fan, I’ve always wanted to have my own column and thankfully Her Campus has provided me with the opportunity to do so. I’ve noticed my pension for writing articles that are extremely personal, perhaps too personal, and my aim has always been to share my experiences in the hope of helping someone else who may be going through the same thing. You could say that I do it for the people. My goal here is to create a space in which I can speak openly about my experiences, just as I would with my close friends, hence the name Girl Talk. So, get ready for some juicy gossip sessions, ladies, and bear with me as I live out all of my Carrie Bradshaw fantasies.

As excited as I am to begin this column, I have to admit I am slightly less excited about the topic with which I’ve chosen to begin it. But this is something that has been on my mind recently and I feel the need to get it out, so welcome to another episode of me oversharing on the Internet!

Consent is a topic that may feel overwrought, but I think that there are some aspects of it that we don’t talk about enough. It seems simple: when asked if you want to have sex, you either say yes or no. It’s often not so cut and dry though, and therein lies the problem. In an ideal world, we’d all verbally communicate our consent, but sometimes in the heat of the moment, the question doesn’t come up.

In those instances, there are nonverbal cues or verbal insinuations that can be taken as a green light. But what happens when the consent is there theoretically, when you’re an active participant in the act, yet the entire interaction is unwanted? There are no legal margins with which to define these situations, leaving us in this gray area of moral ambiguity. It isn’t illegal, but does that make it ok? I’ve talked with many of my friends about it because a lot of us have been in similar situations. We’ve all come to the same conclusion: we really don’t know.

Courtesy: Anthony Tran

For me, it was summer in Tallahassee. My electricity was out for the fourth time in a year because my roommate didn’t pay the bill on time and I had no air conditioning. I was talking to a guy on Bumble and mentioned I had no AC hoping he’d invite me over. He extended an invitation to his place that I gratefully accepted given how miserably overheated I was. He had told me earlier in the conversation that he had an early class the next morning and I was really tired, so we both agreed I’d come over and we would just chill and then go to sleep.

In the past, I have been incredibly naïve when it comes to guys saying they just want to sleep or cuddle or whatever, but I was conscious of this now and genuinely believed him when he said he wanted to go to sleep. Also, I was just so desperate to get out of my hot apartment. We laid on his couch for a while, just talking and trying to sleep. Suddenly he was flipping me over to face him and I was on the receiving end of the worst kiss of my entire life. And then he was taking my shorts off and I wanted to tell him to stop, but then his clothes were off and he was completely naked. He climbed on top of me, with the full intention to have sex, and I finally found my voice.

         “Do you have a condom?” I asked.

         He laughed stupidly. “Uh no.”

         “Ok, we’re not having sex then.”

         “Well, like, we can do other stuff.”

I wanted to tell him that I didn’t want to do other stuff; I wanted to go to sleep like we had already discussed. If I’m being honest, I wanted to return to the sauna that had become my apartment. Instead, I did the other stuff because that was much easier than saying I wanted to leave after I kind of invited myself over.

The highlight of the night included a Tupperware container of coconut oil he pulled out to be used in place of lube, as well as him literally kicking me out after he got what he wanted, even though he supposedly wanted me to spend the night so badly. Honestly, I was grateful for an excuse to leave.

I had showered earlier in the night but took another shower when I got home, where I stood so long that I ran out of hot water. I felt like I had to scrub my body clean of the experience, but still felt dirty when I went to sleep.

I have an unfortunate number of friends who have experienced some sort of sexual trauma. Talking with them about it almost felt like I was hijacking the trauma that comes with sexual assault because I knew I wasn’t raped and wasn’t sexually assaulted; there was no question regarding the legality of the situation.

In a way, I wondered if maybe I was making a bigger deal about it than the situation warranted. Even writing about it now feels like an overreaction. Nothing illegal happened, because I offered consent by participating, even if apprehensively. I could’ve said no. In fact, I kept trying to summon the courage to tell him I wanted to stop, but I was embarrassed and didn’t want to make the situation awkward. I didn’t want to be a “tease.” I didn’t want him to turn around and talk to his friends about how some crazy girl invited herself over to his apartment and blue-balled him, so to speak. Because, even though I shouldn’t care about what some random guy I didn’t like and his stupid friends whom I’d never met thought about me, I did. Still do. 

 

Courtesy: David Cohen

So, if I wasn’t raped and I wasn’t assaulted, why did I feel so icky about it when it was my responsibility to stop it and I didn’t? Why did it feel like such a big deal and why had this particular encounter stuck with me the way it has?

I wondered if maybe it was just that it had been such a bad hookup in every way, but, as I’ve shared with the internet before, I’ve had other bad hookups. There was something else about it that made me feel so uneasy.

It wasn’t just that he was the most god-awful kisser, that I didn’t go there to have sex in the first place, that everything he did was just so gross. It wasn’t just that he had hopped over me, fully intending to have sex without asking if I was ok with not using a condom, let alone if I wanted it to happen at all. The combination of all these things definitely didn’t help, but I think ultimately what has caused me such discomfort was the way that he never once checked in with me the entire time. He never asked if I was ok with what he was doing if I liked it or even if I wanted it to happen in the first place. He was so blinded by his own desire to get something out of me that he seemed to forget I was a human being with intelligent thoughts and feelings and desires of my own, rather than simply a means to an end.

I don’t want this to seem like I am completely traumatized by the entire event, because that isn’t the case. There are many hilarious details of this encounter that I’d prefer not to share on the internet, and I can laugh about it now. But admittedly, the overall experience has made me more apprehensive about sex in general. I’m usually pickier with the guys I choose, but after I hooked up with this specific guy, I sought out someone else immediately, which isn’t something I tend to do. I think I just didn’t want him to be the last person who touched me, but sometimes it still feels that way.

I think about this hookup far more often than I think about any of the other hookups I’ve had, and I feel like this shouldn’t be the case. Ideally, we should think most often about our good sexual experiences, not our bad ones, but my worst one has overshadowed all of my better ones.

So, what do we do when these situations arise? How are we supposed to feel about it, to reconcile with something we can neither erase from our past nor control our current feelings about? I propose these questions not rhetorically, but because I want answers to them too. I have no true answers to offer, mostly because I don’t want to pretend to be an expert on something that I’m still struggling to figure out myself.

The only thing that helps in these situations is to talk about them. With your girlfriends, who can maybe relate; your guy friends, who can learn from the mistakes of these other guys; with health professionals, who can probably offer you way more concrete advice than I currently am. We need to open up this can of worms and let all the wormy little boys and their wormy intentions squirm about so that the world can see this behavior for what it is.

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