Reciprocity and (Oral/)Sex: some thoughts

sarahah oral sex

[image is a light blue text bubble over a darker blue background, the text bubble reads: “Oral Sex. What are your thoughts on not being able to/not wanting to go down on your partner if your partner has gone down on you? Or in general, what are your thoughts on reciprocity and sex?”]

I was replying on a Facebook post but then it became an entire blog post. Oops.

Before anything else, a note on consent: ANYONE and EVERYONE is allowed and entitled and without-exception within their rights to refuse to give or receive any type of sexual contact or activity, for any reason, and without needing to give one. If a partner uses the language of reciprocity to pressure you into something you don’t want to do, they’re very possibly being manipulative. If they hold another part of your (sexual, romantic, financial) relationship hostage, they’re very possibly being manipulative. If they try to coerce you or shame you into consenting by placing any type of moral or political value (“anti-feminist”, “sex negative”, “prude”, “kinkshaming”, etc) on your refusal, they’re very very possibly being manipulative.

 

Now that that’s out of the way, there are three elements I want to discuss a bit: an oral (har har) history of inequality, the concept of reciprocity, and open communication.

 

Unequal history:
What do I mean by this? I don’t know who is asking or where you are coming from, but this is common enough, so I want to include it in here regardless.Historically and in most mainstream (cis, heterocentric) media, there is usually a centering of cis male pleasure, a normalization of oral sex on dicks as a mandatory/”basic” part of sex, versus oral sex on vulvas, which is (less today than in the past, but still) seen as somewhere between optional and “a luxury” (again, especially in cis heterocentric discussions on sex). There are still a lot of myths about one type of pleasure being mandatory and a given because “dicks are easy to navigate”, and the other being optional and a mystery and difficult. One is being taught to a lot of us as almost mandatory or inevitable, while the other one we are socialized to think of as “too difficult”, “smelly” (have you smelled a dick?), “too much work”, “too uncomfortable”.

There are, of course, other sub-dynamics that have stemmed from that one, too. Like (usually) cis women who sleep with men refusing to give oral sex (which again, everyone’s allowed to) but not because they don’t want to, but to “close the gap”, or because they think giving oral sex is inherently submissive or inherently anti-feminist or inherently anything – which is also a bit misguided in my opinion.

If any of these dynamics sound like you, you still don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, whatever your reason for it, but I definitely invite you to deconstruct and reflect on the reasons or assumptions or scripts that have led you to how you feel about it. To help you in this, I present to you my thoughts on

The concept of reciprocity: 

I think reciprocity is super great, and is ideally something everyone wants when having sex with others, but I think that many people think of it in ways that aren’t all that helpful.

In both sex and relationships in general, we are usually taught and socialized into thinking that you need equal amounts of the same thing for something to be equal. Think about kissing: when two people kiss each other, we think of it as equal. This assumes both people need the same out of kissing, and that both people get the same out of kissing. Now think of oral sex: when A gives B oral, we often think A is giving B something, that B is giving nothing to A, and that B would have to give A oral for that particular case to be equal or fair or reciprocal. This can be true for some people, but is not true for many – for oral sex and for any other sex act. There are many ways to get pleasure out of sex acts besides having your own genitals being played with in one way or another.

I don’t usually share personal preferences this publicly, but I will, because what the hell, it applies: I get a lot more out of giving than receiving oral sex, from which I get pretty much nothing, and ask people not to sometimes. And this is not just because giving partners pleasure often gives us pleasure, but also because my brain gets more pleasantly stimulated by everything that is involved in giving than my gens get from receiving.
Now, many people are in the complete opposite end of things: they get nothing from performing oral, and everything from receiving. And many, many more people than both of those opposite ends combined probably are somewhere else along that spectrum, finding some pleasure in different aspects of giving and receiving whatever sex act. Even using the words “giving” and “receiving” (giving and receiving *what?*) is a bit false and binary in this way, but I use it because it is accessible and understandable.

The idea of reciprocity is part of a lot of unlearning that I invite folks to do when it comes to pleasure – to think about what you like versus what you are taught you should like, in any direction and with regards to any sexual act, including ones you haven’t tried yet. What are some scripts you have learned (in school, in 70’s feminism, in your past relationships)? Which ones do you want to keep or discard?

Furthermore, reciprocity can be achieved by doing entirely different things, and it will look entirely different for different individuals and different sexy times and different pairs/groups of people who have sex with each other. In my opinion, reciprocity could be more about everyone having a good time (note that I am not even centering orgasms here, either), not about identical or specific input or output.
But, how do we make sure to the best of our ability that everyone is having a good time without any formula or checklist?

Open communication.
Like I said earlier, whether you don’t want to, aren’t able to, are unsure about, would be neutral about, or would absolutely love to get or perform any kind of sex act with your partner/s, that is absolutely valid, and I am glad you know what you know about your body and your needs. But either way, communicating about it is the only way you’ll all know where you all stand.

Depending on the kind of relationship you have with a person and how much you want sex to be a recurring theme within it, you’re probably going to dedicate different amounts of time and energy talking about what works and what doesn’t. But consent is mandatory regardless of relationship dynamic, and ideally we are all having even the most casual of sex with the basic intent of not only having ourselves but facilitating a good time in the other/s.

Even a little bit of a conversation on what all participants are a Yes, No, or Maybe So (there are lists you can fill with your partner online, some charts if that’s more your style, or you can build your own convo however works for you) to is probably a good idea.
So you don’t want to perform oral on your partner/s, and that’s okay. What are other ways you are willing and able to facilitate your own and others’ pleasure?

In general, and to wrap this up, instead of looking item-by-item at your shared sex life like it’s a balance sheet, I urge you to talk with your partner/s about what reciprocity means for you, what it means for them. What does “having a good time” look, sound and feel like for both of you? What can either/both of you do to have and help the other/s have a better time?

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Do you have questions about sex, gender, sexuality, relationships, social justice, trauma that you would like to ask me? You can comment below, or send me a message to my Sarahah here. I will answer what I know and have relevant opinions on, and/or post resources to people and places that know better than I do.

 

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6 preguntas para el consentimiento

Intentando volver al blogueo bilingüe, les traigo un videito acerca del consentimiento.

El consentimiento es vital para que el sexo sea sexo, y no violación. Pero no nos enseñan nunca de qué se trata el consentimiento, o cómo buscarlo bien, así que en este video les comparto 6 preguntas que pueden hacerse para asegurarse de que el sexo que estan negociando sea consensuado.

 

Aqui la transcripcion del video:

Hola, soy Luisa Ramirez, educadora sexual, y en este video les quiero compartir 6 preguntas que he desarrollado para ayudarnos cuando no sabemos si lo que estamos haciendo o lo que estamos haciendo o estamos a punto de hacer es consensuado.

[texto en rosa: “¿cómo sé si esto es consensuado?”]

En el contexto de sexo pero también en otros contextos es completamente importante también. Entonces, si, 6 preguntas:

Pregunta #1: ¿Se sienten todxs libres de decir que no?
Si existe la posibilidad, sugerencia o potencial de consecuencias negativas para cualquiera. Como cuando hay un diferencial de poder, como entre maestrx y alumnx, el consentimiento no puede ser libremente otorgado. Una buena manera de promover un espacio seguro para decir que no es pre ambular preguntas con “Esta súper chido si dices que no, pero, ¿quieres hacer X? o “¿Te gusta X? Si no, podemos hacer Y, o lo que tu quieras”. Entonces, estas son formas que se puede checar, verificar, y asegurarnos de que existe espacio para un “no”.

Pregunta #2: ¿Se está entrando con entusiasmo?
Esto suena chistoso, pero si hay algún tipo de manipulación emocional, o preguntas cansonas, insistencia, coerción – o si el “si” suena más a un “Eh, ya que”, que a un “Si! Venga, con todo”- entonces es una buena idea verificar con nuestra pareja.

Pregunta #3: ¿Se vale cambiar de opinión? Y pregunta 3b: ¿Existe entre ustedes una confianza y comunicación de manera que todxs sabe que se vale cambiar de opinión?
El consentimiento verdadero se puede otorgar y retirar, sin tener que dar razones.

Pregunta #4: ¿Esta todo mundo de acuerdo?
Esto parece sentido común, pero eso luego eso falla. Entonces. La responsabilidad principal de checar es de quien inicia cualquier actividad sexual, pero es importante que todxs sepamos a lo que le estamos entrando. Entonces, si están en público por ejemplo, hay gente que pueda ver? Ellxs no están consintiendo a lo que están viendo. Entonces talvez consíganse un lugar más privado, más aislado, un poco más cubierto. Es importante que todo mundo que está participando, pasiva o activamente, este de acuerdo con lo que está pasando.

Pregunta #5: ¿Saben todxs a lo que están accediendo?
Si alguien es menor de edad, y/o si esta intoxicadx al punto de que se le barren las palabras o tiene bajo control motriz, es imposible que de consentimiento informado. De igual manera, si algún acuerdo previo al sexo se viola o se manipula a acceder – sea que tu pareja dijo que se puso condón y no lo hizo o si tú le dijiste a tu pareja que sabrías desamarrar las cuerdas en caso de emergencia y no sabes – el consentimiento que se da no puede ser informado.

Y, pregunta #6, finalmente: ¿El “sí” que se dio es a lo que están a punto de hacer?
El “sí” a una cita no es un sí a besarse, el “sí” a bailar no es el “sí” a agarrarle nada… CHICOS… un “sí” a besarse no es un “sí” a sexo vaginal, etc. El consentimiento a una cosa no implica el consentimiento a otra. Entonces hay que checar para cada cosa, sobre todo cuando son cosas nuevas con nuestras parejas – sean parejas de una noche o parejas de 10 años. Y ser lo más clarx y especificx que se pueda.

 

Estas son mis 6 preguntas. Espero que les ayude este video y estos tips para aclarar más el consentimiento, lo que significa, lo que no significa. Pueden comentar otras preguntas u otros tips que les han ayudado para saber cuando están teniendo sexo consensuado. Y pues, nos vemos en el próximo video.

So you never want anyone to lead you on?

Before I say anything else, I want to say to you, if someone has been leading you on: I feel you. You probably are unhappy and upset that your crush didn’t have the same things in mind that you did. It’s normal and common and it’s okay to be sad.
We’ve all felt led on at some point or another. We’ve all been sad, disappointed, heart-broken, because we felt led on. It happens to the best of us, and it sucks.

I have a trick that I’ve used many a time so that no one I am interested in leads me on, and I want to share it with you: the trick is to destroy the idea that people can lead you on. Write your feelings on a piece of paper and kill it with fire. Or for a safer option, cross everything out until the paper tears, then break it into tiny pieces and throw it in the trash can.
Because that’s where assumptions and expectations we build up without communicating about and negotiate them belong: in the trash can.

Now, keep reading, you. As I was saying, I get it, and I’m not here to judge you. We all grow up – and, I have to say, folks with privilege on different axes (male, white, cisgender, etc), more so – to believe that if we like someone, and we think that they like us, that (often wishful) thinking is enough for us to feel entitled to what we want from them. Some people grow up being taught that if they give someone special attention (whatever that means for everyone), and the other person doesn’t outspokenly, decidedly, explicitly tell them to go away, it must be because the feelings are mutual. We are all socialized to think playing hard to get is a legitimate and healthy courting strategy; we all learn that explicit, verbal acknowledgment of feelings or interest is too vulnerable, too unsexy, too desperate. So most of us spend   y e a r s   trying to decode nonverbal behavior – and how ableist is it to advise everyone to just do that, huh?

Countless magazine articles, podcasts, books are dedicated to tips on how to know your guy is into you, how to know if “she wants the D”, how to tell if you’re both into the same kind of sex, etc.
I feel like this is a not-so-secret top secret that could or should put all these media out of business but, there is a simpler way, there is a way which ensures you are never led on, that you never lead someone on, that you can know for sure if they want sex or a relationship or for you to fuck off forever, and that is ASKING FOR CONSENT.

Here is the thing: no one has ever led you on. You have never led anybody on. You are free of that burden, you have cleaned off that stain on your romantic history. You’ve felt that way, as have I, I’m sure. And those feelings – that heartache, that disappointment – are very real, and valid. The action of “leading someone on”, however, is not real.
It is one of many unfortunate consequences of a society that does not value explicit consent, that does not empower us in our sexual agency, that breeds entitlement in those who hold privilege and power over others. And so, while you may feel however many emotions when something doesn’t turn out the way you hoped it would, you were not entitled to any particular outcome. And if we are all being honest, you didn’t know what the outcome could be because you probably never asked.

If you had, you would have had given your friend the chance to explicitly opt in or out, to choose. But you didn’t, so either this person is not informed about what they are opting in or out of, or they had to exercise their agency and bodily autonomy the only other way they could: ghosting, lying, excusing themselves, pretending or hoping you are still on the same page. And let me be clear, those are not ideal communication strategies either, but the person with the expectations is the one responsible for asking, for making sure.

Asking, checking in, making sure, all of that is scary. It is vulnerable, it is brave. I get it. The good news is, it really is up to you to never be led on again. You are not in a helpless pit of someone else’s doing. Not only is practising consent mandatory and the only way to make sure you are trekking through the wide world of dating and relationships ethically, but it is also the only way you’ll know what’s up, for sure. It is your best source, better than any advice column or expert TED talk. Better than your daydreaming, which is unreliable at best when it comes to the matters of someone else’s heart.

Furthermore, I am sorry to say, the alternative to asking is assuming, and that’s not an option. It can’t be. So much sexual assault happens where assumptions lie. This is why I am so vocal about the idea of leading someone on or not, because one underlying idea for “leading on” to make sense is that the only, ultimate, unspoken (because it’s supposed to be obvious) goal is sex, and that withholding or withdrawing consent is done out of spite, is a deliberate action to hurt the other. Everyone is free to say no to any thing at any time without having to explain themselves. No one should be “on trial” for exercising consent.

 

So, here is my advice for you, for when you fear you might be leading yourself on, in 3 steps:
1. Figure out what you want to ask or suggest. It’s okay if you don’t know for sure. You are allowed to say “I don’t know for sure, but…”
2. Prepare yourself emotionally for rejection. Rejection is awful, but so is reacting in a toxic, harmful manner. Not wanting the same thing you do is not a crime, and it is not wrong. A good practice I’ve started is saying, “thank you for taking care of yourself.” They trusted you enough to give you a no. Treat it, and them, respectfully.
3. Ask. And have fun. There is a rush to asking and an even bigger rush when things DO go your way. And even when they don’t, it’s okay. You’ll live, I promise.

 

Sex-negativity is a slippery slope (and lubrication is our BFF).

Some of you may have read former MMA superstar and champion Ronda Rousey talk sex advice with Maxim magazine yesterday. When asked about what men “should” (which is an iffy word to use when talking about other people’s lives, and particularly sexual lives, in general) never do in bed, she said that one of the things was adding lube. She said using lube is lazy. 

In my journey so far as a sexuality educator to various populations, I have heard variations of this thought, usually along the lines of lube being unnecessary if you “do things right”. So I decided to share some thoughts on lube and sex and why #lubeislove.

I think it is fair to assume that Rousey was coming from a particular place with particular assumptions. I would take a wild guess and say that she was thinking about cisgender, heterosexual couples having penis-in-vagina (PiV for short) sex. So let’s start with that. There are plenty of situations, conditions, illnesses and medications (to name some contexts) which can make natural vaginal lubrication difficult, insufficient or impossible. Cancer, anti-depressants, age and just your garden-variety sunny-day dehydration are a few of the things that come to mind as factors that can influence one’s need for additional lube. Saying that these women – and other vulva-owners – are being lazy is dismissive of their situation, putting the blame on them for their very normal natural processes, and shaming them for needing/wanting some slippery assistance.

“Sliding” out of the vagina and into other very common, equally-legit types of sex, the anus, nipples, as well as most of the human body don’t produce natural lubrication. Anal sex, solo sex with toys, “rough” sex, and many other types of sex that I do not have time to fully explore (right now, anyway) may require or at least greatly benefit from artificial lubrication. Not using some, or shaming those who do, is not only insensitive and ignorant, it is also dangerous.

Let’s do some best/worst case scenario analysis of lube, yeah? The worst consequence I can think of (you can correct me if I’m wrong) of having too much lube is to have too much lube inside an external (or “male”) condom and having it slide off. Which can be really bad, yes, and one should try not to have that happen. I’m having a tough time thinking of any other negative thing. Maybe having your hands so full of lube that you accidentally drop your magic wand and your orgasm is stopped mid-way? I would say that’s pretty manageable.
Possible and probable consequences of not having enough lube, however are pain, chafing, tearing (and infections that can be more easily transmitted as a consequence of these tears), bleeding, a condom breaking. Not to mention a negative sexual experience, which can influence our psychological health as well as our relationship with our body and/or partners. These are sad-to-possibly-disastrous outcomes that can be easily helped with a few drops of magic.

Needless (but apparently still very needed) to say, sex (of any kind) is had by more people than “vanilla” (non-kinky) heterosexual cisgender young able-bodied people into PiV sex. 

I will repeat myself on this: There are so many situations, contexts, bodies and activities in which extra lubrication may be wanted or needed, and in calling men lazy for bringing lube into the equation, she (or anyone holding similar views, because Rousey is not alone in her opinion, unfortunately) is assigning blame. Natural lubrication is a chemical thing, and chemicals know nothing about blame. You can do everything “right” (whatever that means for you) and still need or want lube. Men can absolutely use listening to their partners, and everyone could use taking as much time as they need in everything they do with regards to sex, but using lube is not losing manhood points, or failing as a man, or being a lousy partner, or being lazy.
There is another problem that I see in Rousey’s ‘advice’, but this is not her fault at all. The importance of pleasure is not talked about enough in most mainstream media (sex advice columns and magazines included), in general. Even when one does not *need* lube, it can make many activities more fun and pleasurable and smoother for people using it.

The way I talk about lube and other sex toys and aids when I talk to (particularly straight) young people is that I don’t *need* chocolate, for example, but I still love it and it makes me super happy and that’s why I eat it. Sex is not about the “bare” (I cannot help the pun) minimum, or “just enough”. Sex can be so much more than that, and many people could benefit from asking “what can be done to make the sex I am having even better?” That’s not lazy, like Rousey suggests. It is the exact opposite of lazy, actually. It is striving for the best you can get out of the experience of sex – whatever that means for you – and your partner.

I obviously agree that everyone can take as much time as they and their partner need, and I relate to Rousey’s sentiment and intention on that wholeheartedly, but lube is not a substitute for that, and is not meant as such. What would be lazy, if anything, would be not having frank conversations with your partner about what they really want and what (if anything) is missing from their sexual experience. Including lube.

 

We no longer live in a time where the only lube we had besides what our bodies produce was olive oil or mashed yams. We have silicon-based lube (which is long-lasting, water-resistant and usually silky, but bad to use with silicon toys) and water-based lube (lasts less and is not the best for anal but can also be super smooth and can be used with any toy) and oil-based lubes (which are a no-no if you are going to use a condom but are pretty good in most other ways). There are flavored lubes and scented ones and heat-enhancing ones and tingly ones. There are some that are creamy, others are silky, others feel like the “real thing”, and others are more of a gel. We have them vegan and glycerin-free and enhanced with vitamins and others that are supposed to make your vag high. There is literally so much to be explored, if one wants to. I never want to shame people for not using or trying or wanting lube, but shaming people for trying it and calling its usage lazy seems like such an odd, inaccurate, sex-negative thing to do.

 

The main thing in this whole situation that I see as lazy is ignoring and failing to research all that is out there on how lube can potentially make your sex life better and instead making snap judgments, missing out on the fantastic world of lubrication.

In passing

I have posted this before on my personal blog, but it is relevant to sexuality and intersectionality and art is revolution so, I am reposting it here. With intro too.

The one where I think and ramble about skin color & privilege & a tear between two homes that see me through different eyes. Being whiter-than in Mexico and being able to pass as white (or Canadian, at least) in Montreal, attempting to speak about race eloquently while trying not to take up too much space while checking my privilege while taking note of the ways in which said privilege applies & doesn’t when far from the birth-home. Balancing others’ attempt to decide how I should identify / act, while realising I have no idea how I identify either. The rambling continues:

I am white… enough that
my family believes, and reminds me
that I DESERVE a white man
by my side.

I am white… enough that
I am perfectly bilingual
And you don’t wonder how come
Or, who paid for it?

I’m white… enough for bro’s to say
“Babe, you look French, Italian, Greek
But NOT AT ALL MEXICAN.” (wink)
Like it’s a goddamn compliment.

I’m also latina enough to surprise you
with my incredibly charming movie quotes
How could you know Hollywood has sparkly combat boots
That colonized my childhood?

I am white enough, but brown enough
that no one ever asks
about the gross inequality
that raised me.

I am white… enough that
when I’m at Halloween parties
sometimes maybe no one puts
a fucking sombrero on my head

I am white… enough, but latina enough that
I have a last name to dump,
and the European one to keep,
for job interviews..

I am white… enough that
my skin tells an awful story
of my people being systematically,
unforgivably screwed over.

I am white… enough that
I can let people forget
I am an Other,
If– no, WHEN — it’s necessary.

I am white… enough,
but latina enough
That I can camouflage
but I still need to.

I am white… enough that
You feel a bit too comfortable
your white ally card sitting in your pocket
when you make “ironic” “post-racial” jokes

I am white… enough that
I’m not always fetishized
That my sex can sometimes, maybe be
Something other than “exotic”.

I am white… enough
to be pretty fucking privileged
but my blood is dark enough,
that sometimes I don’t see it.

I am white… enough to be asked
to speak about racial inequalities
and be heard. But also to know
That I know nothing. Not really.

I am white… enough that
I never had to think about it
Until I was no longer
The whitest.

I am whiter than-
but darker than-, as well
I learned early on to know
my worth in relative terms.

I am white enough but latina enough
That I’m not immigrant enough, not assimilated enough
Not privileged enough, not oppressed enough
Not light-skinned enough, not dark-skinned enough.
Not white enough, not latina enough

To speak in good enough words
To be visible in clear enough colors,
To exist in a way that makes sense.

On the idea of foreplay

I want to start this blog post with an assertion some might consider controversial (and therein lies the problem): THERE IS NO SUCH ACTUAL THING AS FOREPLAY.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now. I think it’s time.

Foreplay is the thing that comes before play, right? For it to be a universally understood thing, “play” would have to be not only a universally understood thing, but a universal standard for what needs to happen for an event to be valid or real.

So let’s imagine a world without foreplay, “only” “sex”. This imaginary world brings up a couple of important questions: Which types of play are valid and therefore considered “actual sex”? Which types of sex are left out? Who’s sex is left out? Who’s pleasure is left out?

What does it mean to say that foreplay is not a universal category?

To me, it means that sex (the play in foreplay) does not necessarily or exclusively involve penis-in-vagina sex. It may involve two penises, or two vaginas, or a penis and a vagina that interact in ways that don’t involve penetration, or that other body parts mingle with each other and the genitals aren’t even invited to the party. It may involve Skype, or a phone, it may involve less or more than two people. It may involve clothes or no clothes. It may involve toys. It may involve nothing but dirty talk.

It means that sex is had by people of more sexual orientations, gender identities, and body configurations & combinations than a person with a penis and another with a vagina, and that even when that is the combination, people’s sexuality go way beyond (and often without) penetration. It means that all the various types of sex are no less valid than cisgender heterosexual able-bodied sex.

It means that everything before, after, during and outside of penetration is no less real or important, and doesn’t have to lead up to anything for it to be worth having.

It means that when someone tells you ‘I just had sex’, you know virtually nothing about what actually happened. And maybe that’s on purpose, because it may be none of your business.

Furthermore,

The idea of foreplay is scary.

It is scary because it makes sense almost exclusively if you are a cisgender dude. A cis dude with no imagination, too. Let’s be real.

It is scary that so many magazines, online media, and everyday conversations treat foreplay with a question mark, dating sites ask the question “Do you think foreplay is necessary?” and a gross amount of people answer ‘No’. It’s not scary because I think it is not valid to just drop your pants, go in and out and then leave. If people want to do that and negotiate so beforehand, that’s great. It is scary because when someone asks how much foreplay is normal or necessary, what I hear is “what is the very bare minimum of caring about the other person’s pleasure that I have to do to get what I want?” And I mean, a guy who thinks my pleasure and comfort is an obstacle course on his way to stick his dick wherever he pleases does not only make me sad, and grossed out, but also scared.
It is also scary (terrifying, actually) because if some sort of foreplay isn’t necessary and it’s only optional, there is little room for consent to be freely given. There is a pressure inherent in the term that if you agree to the fore it’s because you are leading up to the play. If you don’t ‘deliver’ (EWWW, intimacy isn’t pizza), you were leading them on, you are a tease.

There are more layers to the idea of “leading someone on” (namely this idea that women are evil manipulators out to trick men into being attracted to us only to not give “any” in return, which is fucked up and deserves its own blog post), but initially there is definitely a number of assumptions being made. The biggest assumption I have identified is that every seemingly sexual or romantic behaviour or action we engage in is with the purpose of, at the end of the obstacle course, have intercourse. There is an assumption that everything before penetration is a promise that penetration will happen, and that is not how consent works.

The idea of foreplay is also sad.

Why sad, you ask? It leaves much less room for imagination and creativity and understanding and pleasure. I understand it is easier to think of activities and things in life as having a beginning, a middle and an end: foreplay, intercourse, orgasm. But you know what that is besides easier? Boring. Not only is it completely not inclusive or validating of folks who can’t and/or don’t want to have penetrative sex, but it makes many of us lazy. If foreplay is just a necessary thing to get to the “main event”, we don’t explore. We rush through it like we rush through our veggies to get to the dessert. And some veggies are delicious. Sometimes you want to go for seconds, cook something you’ve never cooked before, have a nice conversation while you’re at it. Sometimes the chef spent a great amount of effort on a meal and there you are thinking about the cupcakes you’ll get later.

Finally, the idea of foreplay is infuriating. 

It is infuriating because it prioritizes cis men and their pleasure and their orgasm, since included in the category of foreplay are all the things that, statistically, are more likely than penetration to be pleasurable and potentially orgasmic for everyone who’s not a cis dude.

It is infuriating because it makes many men feel entitled enough to get upset at women for not “delivering”. As if sex was something to be given, and as if “foreplay” was a contract signed without any need to talk it out. The only reason men can think someone led them on is if they didn’t ask or communicate or negotiate beforehand. We as women don’t owe men a disclaimer or an apology every time we don’t want penetration, but may want something else. But the heterosexual, cisgender expectations of what foreplay means has conditioned us to think everything that isn’t penetration should head in that direction, so much so that women often feel compelled to apologize for stopping and/or switching gears along the way.

It is difficult to deconstruct and unlearn our ideas about foreplay, but it is crucial in having better conversations and understanding of consent, communication, and pleasure.

Foreplay is not a thing. Destroy the idea that foreplay is a thing. Or at the very least question it: what things qualify as foreplay to you? what about play, or sex? Does that change how you view/do these activities and/or the people you do them with? Do you talk about these expectations with partners?

When a public figure you like is accused of sexual assault…

TW: discussion of sexual assault, rape culture, talk of suicidal thoughts

Yes, I am talking about Ghomeshi, although before yesterday I knew nothing about him, how famous he was, what he was famous for, etc. I have been reading up on him today, because there were some red flags I saw in the comments people were making about the CBC firing him.

You can look it up, or read up a bit here. I am not going to talk about his case in particular, but about feelings and knee-jerk reactions we may have when a public figure we like is accused of sexual assault. [A lot of feelings are similar to when someone we like and know personally is accused, but that would be a larger conversation which I don’t have time to write about now.]


First, I am going to tell you a short story about Conor Oberst. I grew up listening to his music. And when I say listening, I don’t mean bobbing my head to some chill tunes. I mean crying my eyes out, planning the best way to kill myself, finding something close enough to solace in his angsty, shaking voice. I cried when I saw him live. I followed his angsty self to the depths of every musical project he embarked on, know every lyric, and I have heard and seen every single piece of media written about him. This is no joking matter.

He had some rape accusations of his own happen earlier this year, about a thing that happened (or “allegedly” happened, or not even allegedly anymore because the survivor withdrew her statements) about 12 years ago. When I read about these accusations, my heart stopped for a second. My first reaction was to say it wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. The first article I read was clearly biased against the survivor (COLOR ME SHOCKED) and it worked on me for a few minutes. Her story was flaky, she had had contradicting statements in the past 12 years, etc. But then I stopped myself, and repeated my mantra: always believe survivors, always believe survivors. So I looked into it more, I read what she had said, her reasons (or lack thereof) for lying, his situation at the time, etc. I concluded that I believed her.

Even when she withdrew her statement against him, I believed her. Why? Because I wasn’t there, and I am not a court of law, but statistically speaking, and given all the facts, she was likely a victim. Because my feelings wanted to side with him – and that is what most abusers are counting on: they are charming, likeable, innocent looking (I am burrowing words from you, Malek Yalaoui). Abuse, and impunity for that abuse, wouldn’t work otherwise. Now, again, I won’t go into details, but to this day, regardless of what the official, legal or public papers say: I cannot side with Conor. I can love his music for all that it’s done for me, and I can appreciate his genius, but I cannot side with him. I will never know the truth, and the accusations have been dropped, but I cannot side with him. He could be innocent, sure, but I cannot side with him.

And don’t get me wrong. It was not easy. I cried about it, I wrote at least three drafts to things I never published. I couldn’t. His art had helped me survive, and he could be a rapist. It is fucking hard. But I cannot fucking side with him just because it is hard.


And on to more solid, withstanding, “official” allegations: Your feelings about John Lennon or his art don’t make him less of a domestic abuser. Your feelings about Woody Allen or his art don’t make him any less of a child molester. Your feelings about Roman Polanski or his art don’t make him any less of a rapist. YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT GHOMESHI (and whatever he does) DO NOT MAKE HIM ANY LESS OF A SEXUAL PREDATOR.

I know it is hard, okay? You grew up listening to him, liking him. You may have some personal stories relating to him – that time you listened to him with your grandpa, or when you laughed a lot at his jokes with your wife. I do not know your stories. But I get it: you do not want to think that someone you like, someone you may respect, someone you have written erotic fanfiction about (I don’t know, okay? It happens) is a rapist. But your feelings don’t change the facts. They just make them more complex and hard to think about. But they can also allow abusers to continue abusing, because they know – and trust me, a media-savvy charmer like Ghomeshi KNOWS THIS VERY WELL – that you will think they are too nice/hot/charming/young/innocent-looking/left-wing/”feminist ally” to be abusers.

It says a lot about our culture, about rape culture, that we think because he is charming and good looking and funny and young, that the women must be lying. Their negatives are not possible because charm=consent? NO. But it is true that it is easier to think that than to realize we live in a world where bad guys are not easily identifiable by their horns and their fangs and their neon signs that say “predator”. (And how racist, classist, and ageist it often is when we do think someone looks like a predator, huh? Another topic for another day.)

What I mean is: talk about your feelings, by all means. Process them, write them down. Hell, cry them out. Mourn your loss (Conor Oberst may be alive and kicking, but he is pretty dead to me.) But do not for a second condone an abuser just because repeating to yourself that they are innocent is emotionally easier than admitting that they did the fucked up thing.
Edit: While this post was written about Ghomeshi, and my story with Oberst, it is unfortunately timeless, it seems. So, really, it is a post about the complexities of rape culture and pop culture and problematic (I hate using that term, it hides all sorts of horrors under a meaningless blanket word) rapist faves.

 

[Besides what you can Google yourself, which may or may not be victim-blaming trash, here are a couple extra links:]

poor prosecuted pervert? in defense of BDSM and critical of Jian’s claims, by Andrea Zanin.

On Jian Ghomeshi and Rape Culture

Liking ‘Q’ Isn’t a Good Enough Reason to Side with Jian

An amazing Twitter convo with Anne Teriault on believing the abuser.

I’ll Believe Jian’s Accuser Before I Believe a Man in Power