See, I define “anti-sex” as you think sex is bad. Or that sex should be kind of like a punishment (or that you should be punished for having it). Or that you don’t think sex should be enjoyable. And I define “pro-sex” as thinking that sex is a normal and healthy part of the human experience, and that sex should be good and fun and fulfilling for everyone involved.
Apparently that definition is all topsy-turvy, and I am actually anti-sex for thinking that women should have a right to enjoy it and consent to it. [Trigger warning on that link and the rest of this post]. American University student Alex Knepper writes a nice long piece of rape apologia, basically saying that women who leave the house and drink beer are asking for it, because sex is about men dominating women and women being dominated:
Like the other great religions of the world, though, the goal of contemporary feminism and Gay Party activism is not to explain sex, but to abolish its passion. The yin and yang of masculinity and femininity is what makes sexual exploration exciting. Sex isn’t about contract-signing. It’s about spontaneity, raw energy and control (or its counterpart, surrender).
…which is funny, because Alex Knepper is also gay, which I think means he typically has sex that involves two yangs. However does he do it? Well, as he explained to Amanda Hess:
“Gay men—by which I do not mean the eunuchs who constitute the vanguard of so-called queer activism—are far more likely to understand that dressing one’s boyfriend up like a girl and fucking his ass with a dildo is to feminize him. The feminine element of sexuality is not literally about being female—it’s about surrender and submission. One might say that my homosexuality is the ultimate expression of my deep-seated hatred for women, though, right?”
Honey, it’s not your homosexuality that is the ultimate expression of your deep-seated hatred for women. Your continued written accounts of your deep-seated hatred for women are the ultimate expressions of your deep-seated hatred for women. Although your contention that the “feminine” element of sexuality is not about literally being female and is divorced from one’s physical sex sounds suspiciously like something you might hear in a gender-theory course. Watch out!
In his own op/ed, Knepper continues:
Let’s get this straight: any woman who heads to an EI party as an anonymous onlooker, drinks five cups of the jungle juice, and walks back to a boy’s room with him is indicating that she wants sex, OK? To cry “date rape” after you sober up the next morning and regret the incident is the equivalent of pulling a gun to someone’s head and then later claiming that you didn’t ever actually intend to pull the trigger.
“Date rape” is an incoherent concept. There’s rape and there’s not-rape, and we need a line of demarcation. It’s not clear enough to merely speak of consent, because the lines of consent in sex — especially anonymous sex — can become very blurry. If that bothers you, then stick with Pat Robertson and his brigade of anti-sex cavemen! Don’t jump into the sexual arena if you can’t handle the volatility of its practice!
In other words, ladies, don’t try and socialize or flirt or engage in any sexual activity at all unless you want to be raped! Silly rabbits, thinking that sex should also be fun and voluntary for you, too.
This argument is getting awfully tired. We know that most on-campus rapes are committed by the same people again and again – people who seek out incapacitated women and prey on them. Most of the time, acquaintance rape doesn’t involve miscommunication or next-day regret; it’s an intentional targeting, and it’s intentionally doing harm.
I can kind of understand, from a male point of view, why articles like Knepper’s and other anti-feminist rape apologetics make sense on the surface. A lot of us have been in situations where we engaged in some sort of sexual activity without anyone explicitly saying “Yes I want to do X, Y and Z with you right now.” We’ve been in situations where one party initially said “no” or “wait” to one thing or another, and then some amount of time later changed their mind and said “yes” or “ok now.” Most of us realize that sex can be a little bit messy, communication-wise, and it’s scary to think that you could hook up with someone who seemed to be enjoying it and consenting all the way, and then the next day they accuse you of rape. It’s scary to think that someone could initially say no, then change their minds and say yes, and then say that they meant “no” all along. And that’s the picture that rape apologists paint: A fun, drunken night, and the next day the cops are at your door.
But that’s not how this really works.
Most on-campus rapists don’t identify as rapists, but they do realize that they are forcing women into unwanted sex. Right-wing rape apologists are pretty good at encouraging men to put themselves in the shoes of those accused of rape — “Can you imagine going home with a girl and then the next morning she regrets it and you’re going to jail?” I find it really helpful to actually think through, fully, an acquaintance-rape scenario as they more typically happen (and here I’ll switch to more gender-neutral terms, since acquaintance-rape is not only men raping women, as it’s often imaged — and again, these descriptions may be triggering). It’s easy to remember that time you had a few beers and also had consensual sex — something that rape apologists try to exploit. But it should be just as easy to remember that time you were hooking up with someone and they said to stop or slow down and of course you did! Or the time you were hooking up with someone and you said to stop or slow down or you just pulled back or moved their hand away and of course they stopped wherever you drew that line, and you didn’t really give it a second thought, because what kind of person hears “stop” or “no” and keeps going anyway?
We need to point this out again and again. Rape as it really happens? Gets a lot harder to imagine (at least from the perspective of the rapist) when you actually stop to picture it:
You go home with someone who is so drunk they can’t remove their own clothes or speak coherently. It’s clear they can’t even get naked themselves, let alone be an enthusiastic participant in whatever you would like to ensue. At this point, do you decide that you will remove their own clothes for them and have sex with them, when it’s clear that they can’t respond or react or engage?
You’re in bed with someone, and they pass out. Do you have sex with them?
When you want to have sex, do you intentionally seek out people who you suspect are too drunk to verbally or physically refuse?
You’re engaging in some sexual activity with someone, and they start to pull back or their body stiffens, and they say “no.” When you look at their face, they look scared. Do you continue anyway?
You’re engaging in some sexual activity and then they say “stop” or “no.” If they say “no” or “stop” or they yell, do you keep going? If they cry, you keep going? If they try to push you away, do you keep going?
You’re engaging in some sexual activity, and the person you’re with says to stop. Do you threaten them in order to convince them to have sex with you?
You’re engaging in some sexual activity, and the person you’re with tells you to stop. Do you physically restrain them? Do you pin them down? Do you intentionally hurt them, or use your strength or size to immobilize them while you have sex with them?
When we talk about acquaintance rape, we aren’t talking about “normal sexual activity” gone wrong. We’re talking about things that no compassionate person — no person without the intent to do harm — would do to another human being.* This isn’t about confusion or miscommunication or domination or submission or seduction or regret. It is about hurting someone else, on purpose. It is about using sex as a weapon, not as a pleasure. It’s about seeing sex as something you do to someone, not something you do with someone. It looks absolutely nothing like your standard sexual interactions or negotiations, when you actually think about standard sexual interactions and negotiations. It’s about as anti-sex as you can get.
It would be helpful if, when faced with narratives like Alex Knepper’s, we would cut through the “you hate sex” bullshit and point out that rape — including rape where the victim knows the perpetrator — is about intentional harm and not sex or seduction. Sex is fun. Being physically assaulted is not. Casting sex as an act where one party dominates and “feminizes” the other by forcing them into things that they neither enjoy nor consent to? Is not being pro-sex! Suggesting that spending time alone with another person after you’ve been drinking is automatically consenting to sex? Is not being pro-sex! Oh and ignoring evidence that campus rapists intentionally target incapacitated women and that very little of this amounts to sexual miscommunication is just lazy, dishonest or both.
One would think that the most basic requirements for good sex are (a) both people want to be there; (b) both people want the sexual activity to be happening; (c) both people are enjoying whatever they’re doing together. Perhaps beyond that good sex for you involves one activity or another, or putting this thing over here or that thing in there, or touching that like that, or wearing or not wearing this or that, or being dominant or submissive, or talking dirty, or lighting some candles, or, I don’t know, bringing in ice cubes or a third party or a stuffed water buffalo. People are different, and sometimes weird, and sex is different and often really weird! But the basics of wanting to be there, wanting to do whatever stuff you’re doing, and liking whatever stuff you’re doing should be pretty consistent.
This is not that difficult.
And that would be my advice to American University students attempting to argue with Alex Knepper’s suggestion that rape either doesn’t exist or is part of normal sexual activity: Emphasize that normal sexual activity is pleasurable, and that both parties want to be doing what they’re doing. Emphasize that campus rapes happen disproportionately at the hands of repeat offenders who select their targets based explicitly on a perceived inability to consent. Emphasize that a truly sex-positive model of consent — one where sex is imaged as fun for both people, and where consent isn’t just an absence of “no” but a full-on yes yes yes please! – gets rid of this whole supposed “confusion”/miscommunication problem that Knepper and other rape apologists reply on.
Mostly, emphasize that sex is normal and healthy and fun and generally pretty awesome — so what the fuck is wrong with people like Knepper who think that it’s ok to use it as a weapon, or as a means of doing harm to other people? That’s about as anti-sex as it gets.
*Hopefully this is clear enough, but we’re talking about human beings who aren’t consenting. Plenty of people have great consensual sex that involves physical restraint or saying “no” or whatever. It should probably go without saying that I’m not talking about consensual power play or BDSM or a myriad of other, say it again now, consensual sexual activities.
- Score one for the rapists by Jill October 31, 2006
- Right-wing cartoon depicts Obama raping the Statue of Liberty by Jill March 29, 2010
- Does this make me “abstiniphobic”? by Jill June 8, 2008
- Some thoughts on “sex by surprise” by Jill December 6, 2010
- The Absence of No: Re-considering the Yes focus in critique of rape culture by Guest Blogger June 15, 2010