Sunday, June 11, 2006

If You Can't Ask For It, You Shouldn't Be Doing It

Here I sit in the Greensboro airport, heading back home. I am reflecting on a conversation that Lucy and I had yesterday, after we discussed Hugo's post on male heterosexuality and pro-feminism. Hugo makes an excellent point when he says "the main goal is to get men to understand that their desires are not women's problems to soothe!" Certainly it is the case that myths of male sexuality--that they are utterly incapable of turning off their engines once you get them going--abound; these myths tend to support the utterly pervasive and problematic move to blame the rape victim, especially in cases of date rape.

Lucy and I started thinking about how we would talk to our own kids (mine being wholly hypothetical) about when to have sex and when not to have sex. I enjoyed this exercise, since I do think quite a lot about what normative claims I would make on young people who are considering being sexually active. Many lefties leave these decisions up to others, but I find that all changes once they have their own kids and start worrying about the highly sexualized culture that young kids are coming to age in. As an example, recently a therapist friend of mine let me know that junior high girls wear multi-colored bracelets-sort of like the black rubber Madonna bracelets that we wore in the day--and each color represents a sexual act. Apparently the game is for a boy to get the color of the act he wants performed by the young girl off her wrist, which then compels her to perform. I was aghast to hear this.

Of course I am a huge and unwavering fan of comprehensive sexual education--and the earlier the better, especially given this sexualized culture. But, one tends to think about sexuality differently when they imagine their own child in the midst of these sorts of games.

Hence, I think that I was able to articulate what I would take to be the necessary attributes that a young person must have before I would consider them ready for sex. And, as I articulate this here, I imagine that many of you will recognize that you don't have these traits, which I will talk about next.

Young people should not engage in sexual activity, and particularly sexual intercourse if they are unable to clearly and in a self-possessed manner be able to talk about, initiate, and negotiate sexual activity while sober. For example, when I teach ethics, and we discuss date rape, many of the men (and some women) often roll their eyes when I talk about the importance of getting consent with their partner. The men immediately object to any suggestion that they need to continually ask for permission, because in their eyes, it sets up situations where they can be falsely accused of rape. When that objection gets voiced, my strategy has been to ask them if it is unreasonable for them to regularly check in with their partner and see if she (these conversations are usually restricted to heterosexuality) is enjoying what you are doing, if she would prefer something different, etc. When I introduce this idea, then all the men and women snicker, because they see this as "weak" or "gay."

At this point, I usually say, quite sarcastically, that if they are not interested or willing to communicate with their sexual partner about how the sex is going, then they would be far better off fucking a blow-up doll. I also point out to the men that they are unlikely to be very good at sex if they don't care to ask their partner how it is working out. This gets their attention, and I think enables us to get beyond the red faces, embarrassment, and rolled eyes to talk about what a healthy sexual interaction should be like.

I don't think that many of us are usually quite good at having these kind of interactions, and if we aren't then we are likely to find ourselves having either bad sex or worse, violative sex. If you cannot establish that kind of communication with a partner, but rely upon alcohol to get loose, then you are in trouble.