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In SEXUALITY & RELATIONSHIPS

Let’s Talk About The Gray Area Of Sexual Consent.

gray area of sexual consent

There’s a gray area when it comes to sexual consent. This is where a lot of the pain and trauma happens, and messaging around consent and bodily autonomy often begins in childhood. Think about the times as a kid did your parents unconsciously force you to hug or kiss another adult when you really didn’t want to? Seemingly innocent, right? It’s far too easy to get the wrong message that other people’s comfort comes before our autonomy. Think about the parallels of the messaging there, and how easily that informed your boundaries and sexual consent as an adult. Many of us never had conversations about sexual consent growing up. Most likely, you were left to discern the complex world of sexuality on your own without the proper education, the right language, or appropriate guidance to navigate this all too common gray area of sexual consent. It’s time to change that, for ourselves, and future generations. The most important conversations begin at home, or at the red table.

Sexual Consent Is Clear, Coherent, Willing, And Ongoing.

During a recent Red Table Talk episode on Sexual Consent, Jada, Gammy, and Willow had an essential conversation with Amber Rose, Rumor Willis, and DeAndre Levy to help #shaketheshame and educate both men and women on unwanted sexual situations. The takeaways were both educating and heartbreaking. You hear other women’s personal stories about the gray area of sexual consent, and how even in one woman’s situation she communicated her sexual boundaries clearly and upfront, and still ended up in the gray area and had an unwanted sexual encounter. Too often, and too easily, women find themselves in an unwanted sexual situations like Jada described: “being in a situation with somebody like, OMG I went too far, and I’m afraid to say no, so I go through with it, and then I hate that I did it.” Amber Rose added, “I think every woman in the world has been in this situation.” So, how to we navigate the gray area of sexual consent so women can stop finding themselves in unwanted, sexual situations where she did not say no, but she didn’t say yes.

The Gray Area Of Sexual Consent.

In the episode, Jada Pinkett Smith started the conversation with a startling fact: “this may shock you, but every woman we asked, admitted they’ve had unwanted sex. The gray zone is on the rise. Research shows that 1 in 3 women will have unwanted sex before she graduates college”. Here are some clips from the episode from the brave women who shared their personal stories of having unwanted sex in the gray area of consent:

  • There’s so much shame around sexuality for women like, you’re gonna get pregnant, or get STDs, and it’s all about men having the power. Guys are boosted up like, yeah, if you can get this girl, that’s great. Sometimes, it’s easier to just let it finish, than say stop. Even if I was in a situation where a situation went to far, I still blamed myself. – Rumor Willis
  • I was freezing and not knowing why I was freezing. If I don’t keep going, is he gonna get mad? I realized he was having sex with me. We weren’t having sex together. – Hannah
  • When I was 19, I lost my virginity in that gray area of consent. He wanted to come over, we started kissing, it’s all kind of a blur but I remember feeling something and saying it’s that your penis, and he was like yeah, and I was in shock mode, my mind was racing. I kind of felt like once it’s inside there’s nothing I can really do. I don’t want him to feel like a rapist. – Alexis
  • He asked me to come over and watch a movie. I went over not with the intention of having sex, just to hook up a little bit and get to know him better. He already started making moves. I feel like I didn’t want to make him feel bad by making him stop, so I ended up going along with it. And did not enjoy it while it was happening at all. I didn’t enjoy it. I knew I didn’t want it. I felt like it was my fault, like I was overreacting or being dramatic. – Sam

Jada hit the nail on the head when she said: “men who aren’t sexually disciplined can be very preditorial”. In the gray area of sexual consent, DeAndre Levy, former NFL player turned activist, explains the male mind of sexuality and how men are taught very young to be predatorial when it comes to sexuality. “Getting a woman in bed,” DeAndre Levy explains, “if she says no, it’s our job to convince you. How many times are you intimidating, coercing, getting into this space where you’re guilting a woman for not wanting it. As men, we’re taught it’s an indictment against our masculinity if we’re denied sex.”

How To Get Out Of The Gray Area.

Sex educator, Michelle Hope shared the value of going through an “I want, I will, I won’t checklist” and the importance of taking sexual inventory of your desires. Ms. Hope explains, that a woman is less likely to put herself into a gray area when she’s more familiar with herself. Watch clip of Michelle Hope on the Red Table Talk here. This does not excuse a man’s actions, or imply that the onus is all on the woman for being in a gray area of sexual consent. As Amber Rose says, “a man can definitely tell when a woman’s uncomfortable.” But that’s a whole other conversation. Let’s talk about how to avoid the gray area, and take control of unwanted situations. This way, our safety and sexual boundaries won’t be threatened by toxic masculinity.

Women are often times unaware of what they like in the bedroom. Therefore, they tend to go along with what is suggested. I want to encourage all women to push past their comfort zone, so you don’t end up in the gray zone. ~Michelle Hope

When you know more about your yes, no’s and maybe’s, it creates less of a gray area when it comes to sexual consent. Both men and women face challenges navigating conversations around consent. Many of us never had them to begin with, and don’t even know how to begin to talk about it. The gray area of sexual consent is what happens when it’s not rape, but it’s not consensual. Unwanted sex lingers in the gray area. Because sometimes two people have very different intentions when spending time together. Sometimes a woman may want to hook up, but she doesn’t want to have sex. And men push it too far because he’s pushing his own agenda and is ignoring her body language, hesitation, discomfort because he’s got one thing on his mind. To stay out of the gray area of sexual consent, whether your single or in a relationship, it’s good to develop a constant practice of checking in with your partner.

A woman has a right to say no after she says yes, and can stop at any time and does not owe you an explanation. Consent is ongoing, clear, coherent (do I really even have to type that?!) and willing. You can definitely tell when a woman wants to have sex with you. She’s enthusiastic about it because she’s willing. If that enthusiasm is not there and there’s confusion or hesitation, you’re entering the gray zone of sexual consent. Tune in. Don’t wait for consent until you’ve crossed a boundary. Make sexual consent a regular part of the conversation in relationships. And both of you should be fully dressed and up right and not in the heat of a moment when talking about consent. Have these conversations sober and in the daytime. Asking a woman about consent right before you’re about to get into a situation is undisciplined and irresponsible. It feels like she’s being pressured even though you’re asking if it’s okay. That’s why full dressed, daytime, intentional conversation with sex or hooking up off the table is the best time to talk about consent.

5 Ways To Avoid The Gray Area Of Sexual Consent.

The key to unlocking female sexuality is separating a woman’s social role from her sexuality. In her talk at Google, Esther Perel shares what drives female and male sexuality when it comes to pleasure and wanting sex. In a straight narrative, a woman psychologically needs to free herself from the obstacle of being in the caretaker, social role. If she can think about herself, then she’s more likely to enjoy herself. If a woman is being the caretaker in the bedroom she is not enjoying herself. Nurturing your feelings or sexual needs doesn’t put her in the mood. She doesn’t want to be in a similar state of mind as when she’s doing the dishes and taking care of a million other things throughout the day. Because by default women are nurturing and caring, it’s highly likely that she spends a lot of time in that caretaker role by default. When she’s focused on making him feel more comfortable and her safety, comfort, pleasure, and sexuality takes a backseat, and a man is not checking in, ignoring her discomfort and hesitation because he’s not sexually disciplined and selfishly thinking about his own pleasure— that combination can create the gray area of unwanted sex. Below are five ways to avoid the gray area by learning more about consent, boundaries, and female and male sexuality.

1. FIND TRUSTWORTHY SOURCES ON SEXUAL CONSENT.

Sex Positive Families is an invaluable resource to start essential, family conversations about body autonomy, consent and boundaries with young children. Healthy, informed children grow become empowered, anchored adults with a healthy sexuality with strong boundaries, so they can better avoid painful experiences and trauma. Having these difficult conversations at home, raises children to become adults with healthy sexuality, boundaries, and are less likely to find themselves in the gray area. Even though, I’m not a mother, I still read 6 Strategies For Teaching Children About Consent. Because you don’t have to be a parent to learn how to have these difficult talks. Since it’s focused on talking to children, it’s also a great resource because you can quickly identify the gaps in your own childhood regarding the sexual education you didn’t have, but really needed. Take note of what moves you, and start the education process there.

2. TAKE ESTHER PEREL’S INTIMACY INVENTORY.

Anyone who has listened to Esther Perel talk about sexuality has undoubtedly felt enlightened on the topic. She’s an incredible wealth of knowledge with a diverse perspective working all of the world, and speaking nine languages. Her knowledge and experience speaks for itself. She’s one of the most sought after couples therapists in the world. In her Intimacy Inventory, she asks ten questions that you should be asking yourself about your sex life. Your answers help you navigate romantic relationships and learn more about your sexual preferences and desires.

3. GET ACQUAINTED WITH THE MASCULINITY PARADOX.

In Esther Perel’s Sessions Live 2018 full-day conference, The Masculinity Paradox, therapists, psychologists, and coaches gathered to dive into the complexities of male sexuality. Another way to avoid the gray area of consent is learning more about how masculinity shows up during sexual interactions.

Women want to talk first, connect first, then have sex. For men, sex is the connection. Sex is man’s language of intimacy. ~Esther Perel

In a panel discussion, Doug Braun-Harvey shares insight into the mind male sexuality: “The orgasm is a way to end a sexual situation in which you don’t have the assertiveness to be honest in which you actually want to happen in the moment. Orgasm is shorthand for a lot of things. Often times you don’t know how to negotiate sexual situations with people they’re just meeting. The orgasm becomes the way to end the undesirable situation. What men learn how to do is how to have an orgasm with someone their not attracted to, or interested in romantically, but I’ll have an orgasm with you because then I get to leave without shame and without danger.” This isn’t saying women who get into the gray area aren’t attractive, or that men don’t really want a relationship with them. It’s not black and white, but it could be a possibility that these men don’t really want commitment or a romantic relationship because of their own internal reasons, and that may show up in how they act in these gray areas.

For example, maybe it’s possible that the man can see that you’re uncomfortable, and doesn’t care to do anything about it, or say anything about it, and decides rather quickly in that moment to resort to orgasm and get out of the situation as soon as possible. Regardless of how his mind works in that moment; it’s never okay to have non-consensual sex. The divine masculine man cherishes a woman’s feelings before his own. But again, that’s a whole other blog post for another time.

4. TAKE SEXUAL INVENTORY OF YOUR DESIRES.

In the Red Table Talk episode, Michelle Hope mentions a “I want, I will, I won’t checklist”. I couldn’t find it, but I did find a Sexual Inventory List, on Scarleteen. You can check it out here. The more familiar you are with what your sexual needs and desires, the less likely you are to go along with situations when you’re unwillingly compromising your safety, comfort, and sexual pleasure. Being aware of yourself is sometimes the first step. Which brings me to the next step.

5. PRIORITIZE YOUR SEXUAL PLEASURE.

When you consistently practice having uncomfortable conversations about sexuality, it will become less difficult, you will find the right words because you’ll be in control of your own sexual inventory, education and learn how to communicate your sexual desires. Then, you can approach sexual consent with clarity, confidence, and complete certainty of what you will and will not do without putting a man’s pleasure or his sexual needs or feelings before your own. As women, we need to prioritize our pleasure because too often we find ourselves in situations with partners who do not. The orgasm gap is very real. When you start to prioritize your pleasure, communicate your desires, and do so from an informed, educated, and empowered place, the gray area of sexual consent will be obsolete. Read more about how to have these talks in the guest blog post: How To Communicate Better In Bed For Sexual Satisfaction.

What To Do Next.

The gray area of sexual consent is a dangerous place. The women who bravely shared their stories in the Red Table Talk episode are far too common. These experiences are deeply painful, and they have a longing effect on the health and perspective of sexuality. But, if we take our sexuality into our own hands, we may find it’s easier to avoid these painful situations. What will you do next? Take inventory of your sexual desires? Learn how to communicate and prioritize your pleasure? Start setting the sexual standard in your romantic relationships? Watch the Red Table Talk episode, and let me know your biggest takeaways from the episode below.

Stacy Hamm
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