Friday, March 25, 2011

The Space Between "No" and "Yes"

On my earlier post, Roadmaps of Consent, aj, asked this:

One big thing your article brought for me was a heightened awareness that "Consent" is not a one-way street -- asking requires that someone provide response. Sometimes when there is no response, or when the response is unclear, I assume consent is not present. This is the safest way to approach that. Would you mind providing more of your own insights about this??
This has actually been on my mind for some time. Good consent does go both ways. I've done things with people who wouldn't or couldn't be clear about consent, and I generally regret it.

A small clarification before I go further: in a BDSM context, "consent" is not always identical to "wanting." Some of my girl's fantasies are driven by me doing things to her that she doesn't want. She can enjoy something after the fact, and want it to happen again, but not want it in the moment. It's a masochist's dilemma. Pain is aversive, and if you get into heavy pain play, there will be a part of you that says, "ow, that hurts, make it stop!" It's just that the part that says "Yes! More! Good!" is bigger. I would never set out to do something to my girl that she hadn't consented to, but both of us enjoy it when I occasionally do things that she doesn't want.

The other side of this: people who want something but won't say "yes" when you ask about it. These are people who don't trust their own desires, who want sex or BDSM or whatever without the negotiation. At the very least, I'm nervous doing things with these people. If a person can't say "Yes, I consent," to something, how can I trust them to tell me if something goes wrong? Maybe I unexpectedly hit an emotional trigger, or maybe I'm poking her clit too hard, or maybe a rope slipped and is pressing on a nerve. I'd feel bad if something like this happened and I didn't notice and fix it. Yes, I'm a sadist, but I also like to be in control. If you're going to be in pain, I want it to be precisely the kind of pain I choose. How else can I make sure that it's a safe and rewarding experience for everyone?

Some of these people as unskilled communicators. I'm sympathetic to them. Or society shames people who communicate openly about their sexual needs and desires. If I'm going to play (even lightly) with someone who has a hard time saying yes, I spend a lot of time emphasizing, "You can say no whenever you want, and I'll stop, and we can watch a movie instead! No hard feeling at all." I also try to praise and reward them when they bring up things they'd like to do, or if they explicitly say yes when I suggest something.

People who won't own their desires are more complicated.

Again, I'm sympathetic here. Most people are taught that they shouldn't have desires, or at least desires outside of the norm. A deliberate refusal to engage in consent-based negotiation is often a form of self-protection. It gives people a way to get their sexual needs met without having to admit to their desires. I see the appeal.

That said, if you can't admit that you want it, I'm not going to give it to you. I have to protect myself, too, and consent, open, explicit, you-can-take-it-away-at-any-time-but-you-can't-deny-that-you-gave-it consent, it protects me. "I didn't like it" and "I didn't consent to it" are really different things, and situations in which the two can be confused are extraordinarily problematic for everyone involved.

So I don't do it. Unless we have a really good working, consensual sexual relationship, where I can trust you to say no, you have to say yes.

"Yes" is sexy, too. For the sadist in me the most delicious consent comes when I have a whip held over some sensitive part of her, and I ask her to tell me that she wants it. I like being able to watch fear and desire fight behind her eyes before she gasps out, "Yes."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

237 Reasons

Charlie Glickman has excellent post about a recent NY Times opinion piece, Why Monogamy Matters. It's thoughtful, well-reasoned, and just happens to link to one of my favorite comic strips ever. What caught my eye, however, was a little aside that David Buss, from the University of Texas, had surveyed college students and come up with 237 reasons why they might want to have sex. Charlie Glickman links to the paper, which lists more than 140 of those reasons, as well as research on which reasons are more and less common. They have everything from "I wanted to experience the physical pleasure" to "I was curious about my sexual abilities" to "I wanted to end the relationship."

Aren't humans wonderful?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sexual Health, Planned Parenthood, and other stories

I've been sick, lately. I'm blessed with good health insurance, and a lifestyle that will allow me to take a week off to let the fever go down and my lungs clear up. I'm fortunate. I try to remember this.

I've made a few trips up to Planned Parenthood lately to get STD testing done and reproductive health things dealt with. This is what I saw. And if you haven't been paying attention, this is what the government might defund.
  • In between "Male" and "Female" on the "gender" form on their admissions questionnaires, they had "Female-to-male" and "Male-to-female." There may have been an "other" box as well. I love this - not so much because it respects gender-variant identities, but because people whose genitals might not look the way you'd expect don't have to choose between checking a patently wrong box to get their reproductive health needs met and potentially facing trans prejudice because their genitals don't look the way the nurses think they should. Also, trans people have different needs for reproductive health and sexual health care than cisgendered people. Being able to start the conversation by checking a preexisting box significantly cuts down on the awkwardness and possible danger. The organization is saying on its forms, not some out of the way corner of a website that you have to search to find, that they are trans-friendly. The staff need a certain amount of training in trans issues simply to interpret that information.
  • The only other Planned Parenthood I've been to was a full-service clinic in Manhattan, complete with bulletproof glass and metal detectors. The particular branch I went to last week doesn't do abortions (they'll refer you to the PP 20 minutes away) and so doesn't have the high security. Apparently people occasionally protest outside--because birth control and affordable pap smears are wrong!--but this place could have been a dentist's office. 
  • The requisite doctor's office question: "Check here if you are being hurt, hit, or made to feel afraid." My friend was so amused by this that he had to point it out to me. Kitten did the same thing. Neither of them checked the box. 
  • It's on paper, folks. My method of birth control is officially "lesbianism," but only because "I don't let men put their penises inside of me" didn't fit in the blank space.
  • I had Kitten come with me into the nurse's office, fearing that they would need to take a cervical swab. I'm 24, have never had a pap smear, and have serious issues with people doing things in my vagina, so I needed a hand to hold. My friend was informed that if Kitten and I were checked out at the same time, he would have to do it. I could tell that he didn't want to, but he's a good friend who loves me enough to put up with it. As it turned out, they just needed urine and blood, but Kitten came in with me for the first part anyways.
  • I am apparently incapable of answering the question, "Have you ever had sex with a man?" without help. After I flailed for a minute or two, Kitten told the nurse that I'd never had vaginal, anal, or oral sex with a man. I almost contradicted her on the anal part, but what I do to boys with fingers and dildos really wasn't relevant to that part of the exam. 
  • The nurse took a minute to check in with me after Kitten had left the room, to make sure there wasn't anything I needed to talk about that I couldn't say with my partner in the room. She was so delicate that I almost didn't realize she was doing it. It's good practice, though.
 I'm late to the table, here, but there's still time to make your voice heard. This is something worth protecting.