This is the third time I’m trying to write something coherent about sex and consent. Wish me luck.
Trigger warning for discussions of sexual assault.
The reason this post has taken me so long to write is because I have been assaulted/raped four times now.
The first time it happened, I was 16 and drunk at a party. We had been kissing, but I protested when he grabbed my hair and moved me where he wanted me. He ignored me. I remember being so scared that I ran outside to find my best friend, the host of the party, and refused to go back indoors without her. A “friend” later told me I must have wanted it.
The second time I was 18, and it was a boyfriend who pinned me down and laughed at me when I said no. Luckily, I knew better people by this point – that was the first time someone told me it wasn’t my fault.
The third time I was 19, and it was a different boyfriend. This experience was what made me abandon my second attempt at writing a blog about this, because for almost a decade I’d been thinking of it as just something weird. But then I realised that wasn’t all it was whilst trying to explain it.
What happened was that we had an argument. We both cried, I apologised over and over again, I left, I came back, I apologised again, we cried some more and then he started kissing me and by this point I felt I owed him for hurting his feelings. But I was still crying, and I didn’t say either yes or no because my opinion on it seemed pointless. I am sure he still thinks it was make-up sex.
I also feel I should point out that he was nine years older than me and the argument was because he was upset I’d been dating someone else while getting to know him, before he and I were officially together.
The fourth time, I was 26. It was a man I was casually dating, and it was the first time we slept together. I insisted on condoms, but had to remind him (I found out recently that he is often begrudging about this). Later, I had my back to him as I was getting dressed. He came up behind me and had sex with me again, without protection, without asking, without warning.
He said “Tell me if you want me to stop”, but he was already doing it without waiting for me to say anything. I think now that he only said it to give himself plausible deniability; now he can say he asked me about consent, even though he was already ignoring a clear boundary I’d set.
That last relationship continued for months and months, because I was not able to process that this thing had happened to me yet again.
I write all of these things down because it seems important to note that these last two situations do not involve me verbally saying no, but they were rape just the same.
It’s important to state, over and over again, as many times as necessary, that not saying no does not automatically mean consent. What you need is a vocal and enthusiastic yes.
There are many ways to indicate consent. Body language is a big part of that. Turning away, pushing at you, going still, avoiding eye contact, not touching you back – these are all examples of a non-verbal no (though of course what you know about that person and the context of the situation are also very important).
One thing that is not a yes is if you have upset your partner and guilt-tripped them until they are in tears and just want to make it better. Make-up sex is absolutely a thing. But you have to do the work of making up first.
Another thing that’s often not a yes is silence. If you are scared to say no, if it feels pointless, if at some level you feel your “no” does not count – that is a sign that what is happening is assault. It’s a sign that your boundaries have been crossed, and probably were crossed a long time ago.
You don’t need to have struggled and fought, to have screamed, to have run away. Whatever happened to you was still a violation. And it’s worth noting that one of the reasons lots of survivors (including myself) don’t always do those things is because if you try and fail, whatever happens next is likely to be worse. So you play dead and hope it’s over quickly.
So there it is. I don’t know if I feel better. But maybe you do, knowing you’re not alone. I hope so.