First and foremost, I must apologize to those who follow my blog! I have a goal of posting once a week, but with the packing and moving of the last few weeks, I have failed in my goal, but I will be much more diligent now that I am getting settled into Colorado.
A few weeks back, my incredible friend Becca was visiting me in Chicago, and as we have on many occasions, we had an incredible conversation about sexual violence in our culture. As a result, I have been inspired to blog about sexual violence, but I wasn’t sure the best approach.
In my efforts to be an accountable and responsible man, both formally as a sexual assault survivor’s advocate and informally advocating with friends, acquaintances, and family, I have had my eyes opened to the horrible reality of sexual violence in our society. Women from a very young age are made aware of this reality, but unfortunately, far too many men never quite realize the extent of the violence or realize the role that we as men play in this violence.
Thus, though I would love to hear testimony from all of the women who come into contact with my blog, this post is directed directly at the men in my life . . . It is time we talk about consent.
To start the conversation, I want to include one of my favorite poems by my favorite poet, Andrea Gibson. Warning, though incredible, this poem has the potential to be triggering for survivors of sexual violence.
I was fortunate enough to have incredible parents who cared a lot about me, and (I think at the behest of my mother), my dad had a few different sex conversations with me. It was pretty typical, “Obviously your mother and I would prefer that you wait for marriage, but if you are going to have sex, please do it safely! If you need condoms . . . ” Though incredibly awkward, I do appreciate these conversations. Far too few parents feel confident and comfortable enough to talk to their kids about sex.
However, as I’ve had my eyes opened to the realities of sexual violence (I use the passive voice to acknowledge the incredible and brave women and the few men who have helped me to realize this reality), I realized that my father’s sex conversations were missing one VITAL element. Through all of our awkward conversations about sex, my dad never once mentioned consent. I can’t say that I blame him, though . . . we as men are not socialized to think about consent. Sex is portrayed to us as this passionate process that just sort of happens. There is nothing intentional about it. Bodies wrap themselves in passion and unless a woman says the words “No” or “Stop” (and for too many men, even these words are not considered), it is GO GO GOOOO! We don’t talk about consent . . . what it should look like? What should it sound like? What should it feel like?
The reality is that we as men have a responsibility to bring consent into every aspect of our sexual relationships. We cannot simply rely on our partners to say “No” or “Stop.” A healthy sexual relationship must involve both partners communicating in a myriad of ways. We must begin to listen to body language more carefully. We must begin to ask!
Often, though, when I bring up the issue of consent with men, I get the response that “asking kills the mood.” I would argue, though, that there could be nothing sexier than working with our partners to find ways to communicate that build positive sexual relationships rather than risking the kind of hurt that lasts a lifetime all because we’re afraid of “killing the mood.” Consent can look many different ways, and it can be a part of our sexual relationships all the way from kissing to intercourse and beyond. By working with my partners, I have found some incredibly sexy ways to include consent in my relationships.
For far too long, the burden of preventing sexual violence has been placed on women. “Don’t wear short skirts.” “Don’t go to parties alone.” “Don’t go out alone at night.” “She had it coming . . . did you see the way she was dancing/dressed?” When the more conservative estimates say that 1 in 6 American women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape, it is not simply something that happens to “those kind of women” or something that happens in isolated incidents in dark alleys. Sexual violence is, unfortunately, as American as apple pie, and it is time we changed that. It is time WE, Men, took an active role in building a more positive masculinity and a more positive sexual culture.
The question then remains: What will you teach your son?
After one of my recent speaking engagements, I had a young man who was very offended. He felt like I was unfair to men, particularly in how I never mentioned the men who are survivors of sexual violence. While I focus on the systemic violence against women that is part of sexual violence, it is important to note that about 3% of all men are survivors of sexual violence in the United States. My focus on the sexual violence against women is not in any way meant to minimize the sexual violence that men experience. Instead, I focus on the sexual violence against women as part of a larger look at how our patriarchal society has come to value (or should I say devalue) women and their bodies.
In my time as a sexual assault survivor’s advocate, I spoke with men who were survivors, and their pain is real and must be acknowledged. In fact, I think that our work at building more healthy sexual relationships can go a long way toward ending all forms of sexual violence, whether heterosexual (man against woman or woman against man) or homosexual. We must be those agents of change so that people no longer have to live with the horrible reality of sexual violence.