Why We Must Talk About Pleasure When We Talk About Consent
He had come home after a long, hard day at work. He needed relief. Sex was his stress-buster. So, I said yes. It didn't matter that I had a stressful day, too, and would rather have just laid back with a Vodka water, and binge-watch TV. I didn't finish that night. He did.
He said he wanted to try a "fantasy." I made my reluctance plenty clear. After all, I took almost a year to say yes. He seemed to really want it, and finally, we had done it. I didn't finish that night. He did.
I don't like period sex. I told him so. He said he didn't mind. I said I did. He said it was okay. That he didn't mind. Again, and again, until I said yes. I did really like him, and I know there's nothing wrong with period sex. Maybe I was just being a prude. So, I said yes. But... I didn't finish that night. He did.
I told him I wasn't in the mood. He said I'd have to just sit back and enjoy. I said no. "I just want to pleasure you," he said. I told him, "perhaps another time." He persisted. I said yes. I didn't finish that night. He did.
Saying yes to an act of sex is fundamental, but is it enough? Is it enough for a woman, or a man, to just say yes? Is a three letter word all that it takes for someone to touch your body to satiate their need, with no regard for your pleasure?
That's the problem with the current dialogue around consent: we don't talk about pleasure, and without talking about pleasure, how much are we really addressing the root of the problem?
People say yes for many reasons, and not all of them amount to desire.
It's great that we now understand that a no is a no, and yes, yes. But, we don't understand that people say yes for many reasons, and not all of them amount to desire. We say yes because we believe that's what's expected of us. We say yes because we may have feelings for the person asking for access to our body, and don't want to offend them. We say yes because we think it's our duty. We say yes because we have never learnt to say no.
We - women - say yes because we are afraid that we will be hurt and violated if we don't.
And physical violence is not the only kind of violence we're afraid of. We're afraid that if we say no to a partner, or a potential partner, we will be deemed worthless; that they will go and seek someone else to fulfil their carnal needs. After all, isn't that what we're told so often: that if he's not getting it from you, he's getting it from somewhere else. As if, that's a woman's only offering.
The only offering... What shall I deconstruct? Only offering, or only offering?
The root of the problem is reflected in the way we talk about sex - the man takes, the woman gives; the woman seduces, the man makes love to her, or fucks her. Either way, the woman is a passive recipient of a man's lust, with no agency of her own, except to reject or accept his advances.
The problem is in the way we have interpreted biology.
For far too long now, the female orgasm has been treated as something complex and mysterious, and unnecessary to the act of sex. This devaluation of female pleasure is prevalent everywhere - from representation of sex in pop culture as an act ending when the man finishes, to the statistics we have available on orgasm gap that reflect the abysmal reality. Freud famously rejected any pleasure a woman derives that can't directly be attributed to the male organ as "child-like." That's what he thought of clitoral orgasms - that they are a manifestation of some sort of a developmental arrest among women. Alas, the clitoral orgasm is often the easiest to achieve and the strongest, most powerful, most soul-shattering. But, since it doesn't require penile penetration or stimulation, it is deemed as not "womanly" enough.
In other words - female pleasure, when it matters, matters only when it is directly attributable to the man. "When it matters" is the key phrase here. Female pleasure and orgasm are only now beginning to become a part of the dialogue, and we must find a way to make it a part of the consent conversation.
Limiting our understanding of consent to mere rejection or compliance is an important step, and a big one, but it's only the first. If we don't move further, and learn that simply approving an act of sex doesn't always mean that it is welcome and enjoyable, we will not be able to make sex truly equal.
For sex is meant to be pleasurable. The clitoris is a powerhouse of nerves the sole purpose of which is to feel pleasure. Yet, in our attempt to make sex as much for the woman as it is for the man, we neglect this crucial detail. Without ascertaining that the woman is enjoying the act, sex continues to be a transaction - the man asks, the woman gives. The beneficiary in this pursuit of an empty yes continues to be the man. The question, "May I make love to you?" is half-baked. We must ask: "Would it give you pleasure if I made love to you?"
And then, we must ask this continually, for pleasure must be continuous.
Let's take the famous tea analogy a step further. A British police officer simplified the concept of consent for everyone's understanding by comparing it to tea - that if someone says they want tea, they want it; but if someone says they don't want tea, you don't force them to have it. Likewise, saying yes to tea on one evening, doesn't mean that they want your tea every time you see them. Sex works the same way.
Now, let's go further with this. Wouldn't you care whether your guest is actually enjoying the tea or not? You would. Of course, you would. If you served them tea, you'd hate it if it sucked for them; if they continued to silently sip it, while gritting their teeth, because they don't want to upset you. It would upset you, though, to learn that the tea you made is not palatable for them. Sex is the same. Just like tea, it should make the person having it feel good.
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