By Emily Hagstrom, Former Senior Print Editor
As a feminist, I talk a lot about bad sex. I talk a lot about rape. And I talk to a lot of people who have a really, really hard time figuring out where the “bad sex” ends and rape begins.
You might be thinking, “Well, the line is obvious. If someone consented to sex and didn’t enjoy it, it’s bad sex. And if they didn’t consent, it’s rape.” And at the end of the day, we can totally conceive of it that simply if we have a clear idea about what consent is—or how consent should be. But when it plays out in person, it seems like understanding what consent truly is just gets murkier and murkier.
We should be horrified and outraged if sex is so close to rape that we can hardly distinguish the difference.
Over time people of marginalized genders and sexualities have been forced to shy away from enthusiasm about sexual pleasure and encouraged to be inexpressive about their desires, needs, and boundaries. That leaves us with situations where perhaps people feel pressure to participate in sex, even when they don’t want to. In such situations, a partner may not even be verbally coercive, yet something about the situation doesn’t feel quite right. In other situations, the word “yes” may come out of someone’s mouth—in theory, an affirmative consent to an act—while they do not feel comfortable or safe enough in their environment to set a boundary. You could split hairs to make either of the above examples “count” as consent if you really wanted to–in front of a judge, for example. In fact, I hear folks arguing about this all the time.
But if this is how we’re talking about sex—Was it rape or not?—then what kind of sex are we putting people through? What kind of sex are we expecting people to have? We should be horrified and outraged if sex is so close to rape that we can hardly distinguish the difference. Sex should be leaps and bounds more pleasurable than rape.
Sex should be leaps and bounds more pleasurable than rape.
When you’re intimate with your partner—I don’t care if it’s holding hands, making out, or sex—you should want them to enjoy it. The goal is not 1) just to commit some predetermined act of love or 2) to make sure you’re having the time of your life, it’s to share something with someone and to experience pleasure together. The opposite of rape is not consensual sex. The opposite of rape is amazing, connected, powerful, pleasurable, great, consensual sex. We shouldn’t be measuring how close sex can get to rape before it’s rape—that’s ridiculous. That’s horrifying. That’s enabling a selfish and irresponsible culture of interaction. We should be talking about what great sex looks like, what asexuality looks like, how you know when you want to have sex, and how you don’t.
So that’s what we’re doing with the end of our summer. Here at the Siren, we want y’all to be thinking about how to have some great sex–and how to say no if you’re not feeling it. We’re going to be reviewing products for you all, talking through our own sexualities, and thinking through how to listen to our bodies alone and with partners. We hope you enjoy our summer sex series. As feminists, we think it’s incredibly important to talk about good sex—and we can’t wait to share this series with you.