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This Is Awful, But It's Not Rape

Why consent matters.

October 12, 2014

This story in Total Sorority Move is a familiar one: a young woman finds herself in a sexual encounter she doesn't want to have, often fueled by drinking. After it has progressed past a certain point, she feels it would be too awkward to stop, or she fears angering her partner, or she doesn't want to be seen as a tease, so she "goes to Hawaii" and gets through it.

Almost every woman I have spoken to (and I'm a therapist; there are a lot) who has had sex when she didn't want to has reported feeling violated. (The two I can recall who didn't were sex workers, both of whom had numbed themselves to the point of barely noticing penetration.)

This is nonconsensual sex, strictly speaking. It feels horrible. It feels "rapey." But it isn't rape, and none of the women I have spoken to thought of it that way, or blamed their partners. The men could have been more sensitive to interpersonal cues, but nobody expected them to be mind readers, and the women didn't say no. (And, yes, men also have sex when they don't want to. They just aren't the people this post is about.)

This is the sort of situation that enthusiastic consent standards are designed to address. If both parties are communicating closely and with respect, chances are good that there will be more fun and fewer regrets. Presumably, that is a goal for all people of goodwill.


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