Do you remember the first time you learned about sex? Who taught you? What did you learn, specifically? Were you a teenager? Was it the infamous “birds and the bees” talk? Did that conversation include a lesson on consent?
If you’re anything like me, you answered yes to most of those questions, except for the last one. Consent includes both parties agreeing to engage in a sexual activity — saying “yes” in an enthusiastic way. The enthusiasm is needed.
Think of a scenario where sex isn’t present. Imagine those times you didn't really want to go out, but you did it anyway. All of a sudden, you found yourself in a cold movie theater, eating lukewarm popcorn, sitting through a film you quickly figured out the ending to within its first 10 minutes. Think back on that feeling of discomfort and disappointment. That’s not how we should want our partners, or ourselves, to feel about sex.
Nowhere in my education of learning about sex via popular culture have I seen a real conversation about sex before the actual act. We often see images of people in the middle of the act, or hear our favorite artist singing or rapping explicitly about it. And I’m not referring to the “do you have a condom” line heard in all teen sitcoms, indicating that sex is about to happen. That’s not consent; that’s someone asking about contraception.
Sex sells everything. I’ve seen commercials promoting products that have completely nothing to do with sex, using sex to entice consumers. Have you seen that commercial about Skechers Shape Ups? The sell is if the wearer simply walks in the park their body will slim down and shape up. Does that commercial turn you on? No? Good, because it’s about sneakers.
I’m all for advertising and marketing that generates income for a business, but not at the expense, objectification and commodification of girls and women. Furthering the agenda of patriarchy, this is an environment that perpetuates social attitudes about sexuality and gender. Rape culture teaches people how to rape. We don’t have to live our lives in that culture. There's a way to ask for and give consent and give.
Rape culture is the reason we’ve all got that one friend saying, “You mean to tell me I can’t give my co-worker long hugs, a kiss on the cheek, compliment their outfit, call them honey, babe, doll or darling while doing it?” Yes, that’s what we’re saying. We’re also saying you never could. I know, I know. You don’t want to hear this, but it’s for your own good. Don’t be a rapist, and don’t sexually harass women in public or the workplace. Really, just don’t.
Sometimes we go along to get along. We have to learn to clearly communicate and ask someone if it’s OK to hug them before doing so. This may sound like a new rule, but it isn’t.
Say you’re leaving the workplace and you receive a text from your boo that reads, “Hey babe, how was your day? Wanna come over to watch a movie and chill?” We all know “chill” is the code word for sex. We all know when we send or receive a “wyd” text message at an ungodly hour, it’s code for sex. But the truth is, asking someone to binge watch horror movies and eat snacks is asking them to do exactly that — watch movies and eat snacks. Don’t expect sex. If that’s what you want, try asking, “Do you want to have sex,” “Would you like to have sex,” “How do you feel about having sex” and “Would it be OK if we have sex?” Otherwise, you’re sending mix signals and misleading someone, with the hope that you’ll be having sex, as opposed to watching something you never planned to watch in the first place. That’s coercion.
It’s a regular date night, and you and your significant other do this all the time. Not one of you is in the mood to cook, so going to dinner it is. We’re always celebrating life because we survived another work weekday, so why not get a bottle of wine. It’s a nice autumn night and you only live a few blocks away. As you’re walking home, the two of you are passing your favorite local bar. You stop in and both have two shots each. When you make it back home, it feels as if the two of you have finally figured out teleportation. Suddenly you’re kissing, taking off each other’s clothes and having sex to that song that was playing when you two first met. Y’all have after sex sleep, then wake up to have midnight hour snacks.
Now, ask yourself in the above scenario: Was consent present?
If you said no, that’s correct. Consent wasn’t present in the above scenario. No one can give consent under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Both of you consumed the same amount of alcohol. I know, this is your man, this is your woman, you do it all the time. The best advice is to sleep it off, not with each other. Sober morning sex is a thing, guys.
As a man, you’ve been socialized to initiate sex, to be dominate, to be the decision maker, to provide and to be emotionless. And as women, we’ve been socialized to wait, to be seen and not heard, to be docile, to be silent, to be fine and to be perfect, as to not disturb the peace and disrupt the status quo. In some way we’ve all been victims of socialization, wherein we’re silenced and cut off from ourselves, and our ability to communicate and use our words.
We think we know our partners and because we swear we know them better than they know themselves, we trick ourselves into believing that we indeed have the supernatural ability to read their minds. My love, I don’t care how many comics you’ve read, if you’re a DC or Marvel fan, or consider yourself to be the biggest, blackest blerd of ‘em all — you can’t read minds. It’s not up to a specific gender to initiate or decline sex. When it comes to intimacy in a relationship, both people involved should be having clear communication around sex. Don’t be confused or ignorant, because miscommunication and not knowing can lead to someone potentially being behind bars and registered as a sex offender.
There are lots of scenarios in which it can get complicated; asking questions is always where you want to begin — no matter how long you’ve known the person or have been sexually active with them. Yes, I’m saying every single time you want to engage in sex, you should ask.
Just because someone is comfortable having sex with you once, doesn’t mean they will be comfortable having sex again. Just because someone was comfortable with you performing a new position the last time, doesn’t mean they’re comfortable this time around. Always check-in with your partner, especially if you’re unsure or feel uneasy. And ladies, giving them the bedroom eyes isn’t a verbal yes, nor is it a question. Always ask.
If you’re able to have sex, you should be able to communicate about the sex you’re having. Some of us get really comfortable in relationships. And yes, trust along with time are factors for making us feel as though we have a right to our partner’s bodies — but we don’t.
It’s very rare that rape looks like the stranger danger presented to us through Law and Order SVU episodes. In fact, eight times out of 10, victims of sexual assault know their attacker. It could be a family member, a friend, a partner, a co-worker or an acquaintance. The percentage of people that know their attacker is outstandingly high as opposed to those that don’t.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual assault, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is open 24 hours, seven days a week: 1-800-656-4673
We can be the generation that knows and does better. We can consciously make a decision to choose consent and practice healthy behaviors. We can be the generation that creates healthy relationships, where sexual violence isn’t prevalent in the Black community. We can create a time in the future where no one has to call the National Sexual Assault Hotline.