Mormon sex! A topic that's not often discussed publicly, but I was happy to be interviewed for a 2nd time by a Mormon Sex Therapist. We discussed my sexual consent video, and in her words: "Dr. Gunsaullus offers us a rare and vulnerable look into the complexities of consent. Not the type of consent that is obvious (i.e. don't rape a woman when she is unconscious or inebriated), but..."Read More
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Folklorist, feminist, and sex educator, Dr. Jeana Jorgensen, reflected and blogged about my personal storytelling video about a sexual consent violation I experienced recently with a man. It means a lot to me to feel like the feminist community is behind me in my personal sharing and in my compassionate and reflective approach to this difficult topic! I also share some negative comments I've received...Read More
I’m recently single after the end of a 5-year monogamous relationship, so negotiating sexual interactions with new men is back on the table. I’ve started dating, moving slowly to get my bearings and allow things to unfold at a pace that feels right. This matters to me both emotionally and sexually. During a recent sexual encounter with a man I’d been on a few dates with he surprised me with the question: “Are you feeling pressured?” It was our first time doing anything sexual and we were slowly progressing through a sensual evening. His question gave me pause. Was I? I did not want to have intercourse, but how far did I want to go, and was he pushing those boundaries? I appreciated his willingness to check in with me.
Compare this to another recent situation with a different male friend, where I blatantly stopped his sexual progress. He acquiesced, but had an odd look on his face. When I questioned him, he stammered a bit. “You stopped me like you didn’t want me to do that, but I think you do want me to do that.” “No,” I said, “I didn’t.” While I was experiencing sexual interest and arousal, that didn’t mean I just wanted to charge ahead.
Men and women often perceive sexual interest and consent in different ways. Recent research (1) on gender and consent found that men seemed confident they knew how to read their female partner’s consent, and relied on nonverbal signals. However, women responded that they were more likely to use verbal indicators to actively give consent. Another research (2) study found men where more likely to perceive sexual interest from women in situations where it was not present, especially if they deemed her physically attractive. Women, on the other hand, underestimated the sexual interest of men. In addition, males are socialized to be the initiators and aggressors in sexual situations, so pushing boundaries is how they learn to make sexual activity happen. Females are often socialized to be nice, non-confrontational, and “good girls,” so rocking the boat by slowing down or halting intimate situations can feel so uncomfortable and inappropriate, they will avoid it. Combine all of these factors and we can see how sexual miscommunication can be the norm.
I highly admire and appreciate being asked, “Are you feeling pressured?” for several reasons. He asked for verbal consent, instead of making assumptions. He noticed I was not rushing the process and wanted to check in. His tone of voice conveyed care and concern, and a genuine interest in my well-being. And he stated it as a passive question, compared to asking, “Am I pressuring you?” I was asked to respond to how I was feeling, instead of being asked to make a direct accusation. This language made a big difference to me because I felt more comfort to respond honestly. This subtle but critical difference helped accommodate the socialized “good girl” in me.
Was I feeling pressured? After a pause, and a quick emotional and physical scan of the situation, I responded, “No, you’re not pressuring me. I’m OK. And thank you for asking.” Even with my self-awareness and comfort around sexual conversations, I still had to pause and reflect. An important part of consent is knowledge of self in any moment, which includes one’s sense of safety, desire, arousal, attraction, fears, expectations, identity, and alcohol consumption. These are complex topics. I appreciated his awareness that helped me reflect on mine.
(This was originally published to The Good Men Project.)
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus -- San Diego Sexologist, Sexuality Speaker, Sociologist
You might have heard the term "rape culture" more than usual recently, in light of the conviction of the two high school football players in Steubenville, OH. These two young men were found guilty of raping a young, passed out woman at a party. There was ample social media evidence (including video, texts, and a photo) to show how there were many bystanders as they raped her and how some of the group of men then mocked the girl and the situation.
What is "rape culture" and how is that term relevant here? Rape culture is a term to describe prevailing social norms around gender, sex, and communication that faciliate an implicit acceptance of sexual assault humor and rape circumstances. In a rape culture, sexual coersion is a normalized part of sexual interaction. While this might sound extreme to some people, consider these excerpts from Lauren Nelson in her "So You're Tired of Hearing about 'Rape Culture'" essay:
"Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, no one says, “Stop.”
Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, they can’t get anyone to come forward.
Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and adults are informed of it, but no consequences are doled out because the boys “said nothing happened.”
Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and we later find out that their coaches were “joking about it” and “took care of it.”
Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and even though there is documentation of the coaching staff sweeping it under the rug, they get to keep their jobs.
Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and one of the coaches involved in the cover-up threatens a reporter - saying, “You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.” – but the town is more worried about keeping their coaching talent than his integrity.
Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, but because it happens at a party where both sexes were drinking, complete strangers on the internet argue ferociously that she is to blame for being attacked."
It's hard to ignore when you consider these facts. Being in a rape culture does not mean that as a society we publicly or overtly condone rape. But it does mean that we have a lot of backwards views on gender roles, the importance of athletics, personal responsibiliy, group mentality, sexual interactions, and sex education. We have a lot of shame around sex as a society, which I think is an important underlying component of our inability to think outside the box in difficult situations like Steubenville. Many would rather blame a victim instead of sitting with the discomfort of owning the state of affairs around sex...and then taking a stand to do something different.
If you're a parent out there who is not sure how to talk to your sons about these topics, so that they grow up to be respectful teenagers and men, and know that they have a voice in such situations, read this powerful letter from a mom to her sons.
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sociologist, Sexologist, Sexuality/Gender/Mindfulness Speaker