I just read a terrific article – 5 Lies that Distort Male Sexuality and Hurt Everybody. You can read it here. It really made me think about how things have changed in my lifetime. The author says that conversations about sex with his father never mentioned consent.
The author says:
This absence reinforced another aspect of sexuality that is “normal” within patriarchal masculinity: “Consent means go until they say stop.”
This statement made me realize how much things really are changing. “Consent means go until they say stop.” That absolutely is the way things were in my youth – let’s say 40 to 45 years ago.
“How far did you go? Did he get to second base? Did you let him go to third base?”
Yes. We really talked about it like that. Rather than seeking consent, we played a frigging baseball game. His goal was to make a home run. Starting with kissing – so innocuous it didn’t even count as a base, though maybe not on a first date – he could move to first base (tits,) second base (between the legs – or “down there”) and on to HOME – going all the way.
Of course it wasn’t really that direct, there were degrees of progress. There was first base over your clothes and first base under your clothes, and so on. There was “not all the way, but I touched his you-know,” and countless variations of that.
It was also very clear. His aim was to go all the way, my job was to stop him at the appropriate point. Defining “appropriate” was up for grabs. So if I said “no,” in a soft voice, shook my head or pushed his hand away as it slid up under my shirt, it was ok for him to come back and try again a few minutes later. Too much of that, and we said he was “like an octopus, all hands,” disparagingly, and there probably wouldn’t be another date. Unless he apologized and promised not to act like that again.
It was complicated. Even if you wanted to “go further,” it was good form to put up some resistance. To allow yourself to be persuaded to let him touch you *there*. Or there. That resistance showed that you really were “a nice girl.” If you just wanted to enjoy it, and “let him” do it without the proper amount of resistance, then you were clearly a slut, and nothing good would come of that.
Seriously, that’s what it was like. A sexual world in which his goal was to convince you to do it and your goal was to resist long enough that he’d still respect you. Ok, that’s an over-simplification on all kinds of levels, but I promise you there was very little of this “enthusiastic consent” stuff that we’re talking about now. Unless you were engaged, maybe. Or a slut. And it was pretty acceptable for a boy to try to convince you to “put out” more than you’d planned. Not to force you, but to persuade, cajole, beg, and at some point even demand.
That proved you were attractive, and that he liked you. If you kept dating him, then you were subtly agreeing to continue on this steady path of moving around the bases, and it was up to him to see how far he could go on each date.
I’m not saying that was good, or even ok. After all, people used to drink and drive back then too. I am saying that our understanding of how things work and how they’re supposed to work can change radically in a relatively short time.
I love the “enthusiastic consent” framework, and look forward to seeing the impact on relationships that involve sexual attraction. But I think it’s helpful to remember that this is a change. We’re creating a new path, and that’s seldom easy. Worthwhile, important, and powerful, but seldom easy.