Friday, October 14, 2011

Love and sex in the middle of the road

Photo courtesy of

Those of you who follow the Feminist GoGirl might've noticed that I have yet to do a post about sex and safety. It's an important topic, I believe, but it's also one that I've been avoiding. Why? The brief explanation is that most articles that focus on sex, safety, and women wind up being treatises on how not to get raped- and to me, that result is so abhorrent that I've been extremely wary of approaching the topic at all. I don't want the things I say here to be construed as blame, shame, or dire warnings; while I have limited control over how readers receive my words, I want to be as explicit as possible from the beginning.

We are sexual beings, and whether we're engaging in a friends-with-benefits road trip or a torrid one-night-stand tropical vacation, this is okay. As long as your behaviour is okay with you- by which I mean your mores, your opinions, your comfort level- and is consensual, you're fine. Please say this to yourself, as often as you'd like, to make sure the message sinks in. There is nothing wrong with being a sexual being.

I feel the need to emphasize that because, all too often in my line of work, I meet people who blame themselves for the sexual assaults they've faced. "I was passed out drunk at a party," they say. "What else should I have expected?" My answer to that has been, and always will be, that we should expect everyone else at that party to put on their grown-up pants and not get down and dirty with someone who's unconscious. It's not that bloody hard, people! It's not like you trip, fall, and wind up naked and sexual. And if they're conscious when you start but pass out halfway through...God gave you two hands. Go use the washroom.

In all sobriety, I'll note that for a lot of people lines are often drawn with a fuzzy marker. As I've said in previous posts, things that constitute clear-cut sexual predation to me are things that don't faze others. If you feel comfortable with the behaviours being thrown your way, then go have fun! Here, though, I'm going to list your rights- your global, human rights- to use as guidelines when getting frisky on the road. This way, it's all fun and no hurt for everyone involved (unless your frisky comes with kinky, in which case pleasepleasePLEASE establish a safeword).

1. You have the right to consent. This means you have the right to give it and to receive it. Consent is not the absence of no- it's the presence of an enthusiastic, rafter-rattling YES. You don't need to sit down with a laundry list of things you'd like to do with your partner, checking them off in a legalistic fashion. Think of fun ways to find out if your partner is comfortable and to say when you want something done differently! Examples: "I'd really like to _____ your _____ right now; may I?" or "Mmm. Do _____ again with your _____." Insert appropriate vocabulary as needed.

2. You have the right to intervene. One of my favourite webcomics did a couple of strips on this a few years ago. If you see something going on that makes you feel squicky, don't be afraid to find ways to put a stop to it. You can pretend to be the long-lost friend, pretend to be a slavering drunk on the person being creepy, call the police, enlist the person's friends to help, or even just check in with the person that you think is being targeted. There are so many ways to cockblock a potential sexual assaultI recommend looking at the Green Dot Project for ideas on how to make sure that your friends, strangers at the club, or whoever you're concerned about is having a good time.

3. You have the right to use protection. I don't just mean protection against pregnancy. I mean protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Take the time to learn what your options are. Hell, bring some with you! Especially if this is a one-night stand, you don't know your partner's history and your partner might not know what they are (or aren't) carrying. Remember that HIV takes approximately three months to show up in a blood test, and antiretrovirals- the medication they give you if you think you've been exposed to HIV- will make you very very sick for the next 30 days. Play it safe. Know what cultural norms are in the area you're visiting, and come up with safe ways to negotiate protection use. And if your partner-to-be refuses to protect, feel free to walk away.

4. You have the right to have backup. This goes hand-in-hand with #2. If someone's super-pushy about taking you away from your friends (or the crowd), take a step back. Text or call a friend if something doesn't feel right. Before heading out for a night on the town, feel free to declare your intentions so your friends know when to intervene (true-life example: "I plan on dancing with EVERY SINGLE PERSON at this salsa club and then leave them drooling!"). Take the number of a reputable cab company with you so you always have a ride home. If something doesn't seem right, let someone know.

5. You have the right to walk away at any time. Tease, slut, virgin scaredy-pants...I don't care what they call you. If you decide in the middle of things that this just isn't what you want, there's no crime in not finishing. Like I said before: your partner has two hands (or some equal capacity to finish themselves off). If you don't feel safe saying something, then please put your safety first. Getting you out of a bad situation safely is more important than anything else.

6. You have the right to call it what you want. Lots of places and people limit their definitions of sexual assault to very narrow concepts (i.e. excluding spousal rape). If you believe that what someone did was rape, even though the jurisdiction you're in thinks it wasn't even a crime, then it was rape. You might not ever be able to put the offender in prison, or even in a courtroom, but that doesn't change your experience. You don't have to call it bad or drunken sex if that's not what your experience of it was, and you can seek out any services (i.e. advocacy) that are appropriate for you. End of discussion.
If you're looking for sexual assault-related resources, RAINN provides a partial list of international organizations.


  1. I especially like your second point about the right to intervene. I've heard too many horror stories about people who witnessed or heard an attack but didn't recognize it for what it was at the time. (Incidentally, it drives me crazy when in public a girl screams "no," and fake tries to get away from the guy, because it reinforces that notion to observers that "no" sometimes means "yes.") So, anyway, I've established a rule that if I hear someone scream, I always check to make sure everything is okay. I've made any number of roommates feel awkward when I've walked in on fiances or boyfriends wrestling or tickling them in the living room (remember, where I live, guys aren't allowed in the bedroom area of apartments), but I would rather make a whole string of roommates and their significant others feel awkward, than even once fail to intervene in an assault.

  2. The whole post was great. I am disgusted with people who rationalize their way into and out from sexual assault, meaning the offender. I especially liked the first point. People have a right to actually want intercourse and not be sucked into a sexual experience that is damaging to ones health in every way. Right before I read this post, I got off the phone with a dear friend who has been isolating because of some jackass sexually assaulting her, the emotional damage mounted upon depression upon self-doubt is heart breaking.

    I now there are some survivors among your readers and I don't want to get to personal so maybe this is a question for "Ask a Feminist" but how does one who has never experienced sexual assault support a dear friend when they become a survivor?

    Anyway, thanks for your post.

  3. PS: Without wanting to get too lighthearted about this topic, your title reminded me of a Beatles song, "Why don't we do it in the road?"

  4. (That song inspired the article's title!)

    I think you've asked a really good question, and I think that'll become either an "Ask a Feminist" article or a separate follow-up post. Thanks for reading!

  5. I really liked this post. I just want to point out something from point 3, there really isn't protection per se from STDs, just lower risk transmission. Of course it is better to use some form of reduced risk device, but there really is no "safe" sex, just safer sex. Even in a long-term monogamous relationship (particularly when you are not sure of your partner's prior sexual history/experience) there are risks and increased chances of contracting complications/STDs, be they as simple as a bladder infection.