Now You Know. Or, a post about consent for all of the “good guys”.

A month ago I shared a post about someone who violated my sexual consent, and since that time I’ve had the opportunity to talk with many women about similar experiences they’ve had. And as I’ve listened to their stories, I’ve come to an important realization: the men they are talking about are, to varying degrees, my friends. Men who profess to be feminists. Men who talk openly about gender equality and sex, and would seem to grasp the vital connection between the two. Men who I would otherwise describe as the “good guys”.

But, here’s the real clincher: the women telling me their stories also believed these men were good guys. And often this belief was hard to reconcile with their experience. I heard them say things like “I don’t think he realized the position he was putting me in”, or “I wish he knew what that felt like”. I spoke with more than one woman who told me she’d later taken the time to explain to him what happened, why it was wrong, and how it made her feel. Now, I applaud these women, I really do. But, for real? Should a woman not only have to endure the experience of being violated by a man she trusted, but also have sit him down and explain to him in detail how his actions added up to a sexual assault? I think we can all agree that she should not. In fact, based on my own personal experience, I would hope for her that she never has to see him again, unless she wants to.

So, here is me, one more voice writing one more post about consent. But, this one is different, because it is directed to all of you. My friends. The “good guys”. You know who you are. I have laughed with you, admired you, hugged you, drank with you, sang with you, trusted you, helped you, vouched for you, and believed in you. I have called you a friend. And now I am calling you out. After this, you can never say you didn’t know. You can never selfishly take advantage of a woman, violate her consent, and claim ignorance. Because now you know:

  • If she, in any way, communicates that she is uncomfortable with having a sexual interaction with you, whether you hear the word no or not, don’t pursue a sexual interaction with her. Don’t pursue it physically, or verbally.
  • In general, don’t believe that a “no” can change to “yes” without without clear communication. If she has previously communicated “no,” and you now believe, because of her body language or even a verbal suggestion, that she may have changed her mind, you must verify, with words, that she is now giving an enthusiastic yes. And by this, I do not mean to say you have changed her mind. I mean to say she has changed her mind. Not because you have pressured her so much, or she has had so much to drink, or she is now so tired, that she can be taken advantage of. But because she has, of her own accord, made a different decision than she made previously, as humans occasionally do.
  • If a woman seems to have changed her mind about what she wants, it would be best for you to acknowledge her previous “no” when clarifying her desires. You could say something like: “Are you sure you want to? I just want to be sure, since you said ‘no’ before.”
  • If a woman has communicated to you that she feels you have violated her consent, this is not the time and place to assure her you are a good guy, or that you would never do such a thing. Whether you wanted to or not, you did do such a thing. As a general rule, if she had a sexual interaction with you and she believes it violated her consent, you should go ahead and assume she is right. 
  • A woman is not responsible for how it makes you feel to hear you have violated her consent. It is not her responsibility to listen to how it makes you feel, or make you feel better about it, or help you learn how to show respect to women in the future. She may choose to do all of these things, as it may be helpful for her healing process. But, often she will do it simply because she has been socialized to believe this is her responsibility. Show her the respect you always should have shown her by listening to her, and by not making your feelings her problem. You have other friends (and hopefully a therapist) who can do this for you.
  • When a woman says no, she could be saying no to anything. Do not make assumptions about what she is saying no to and what she is saying yes to.
  • For the most part, rapists are not men who stalk in the darkness looking for lone victims upon whom they can prey. They are men who take advantage of the social conditions which force women to engage in sexual interactions regardless of their desire to do so. It does not matter if you feel you identify with some media-driven image of what a rapist is. The fact is you may be one. The sooner you face this, the sooner you can address your issues and start showing respect for women’s consent to sexual interaction.
  • You know how movies depict heterosexual romantic love as this magical moment between two people and there is music playing and everyone does and says the perfect thing and then they both live happily ever after? And you know how we all grow up and learn that is not what real love actually looks like? Well, sex in the movies (and yes, sex in porn) is the same way. Stop developing your sexual expectations based on what you have seen in the media. You may not think a lot of things, including mature conversations about sex, are “sexy”, but they are. Do them.
  • Please understand how hard it is for a woman to say “no” to someone that she likes. It may even be the case that she is is interested in having a sexual relationship with you but needs to have more communication before moving forward with this. If she tries to communicate any reservations with you openly, you need to take the time to have this conversation, even if it’s awkward or it means not getting what you want and what you wish she wanted. It may not be your fault that she has a hard time saying “no” but it is your responsibility to respect her enough to listen for a “no” that is not always direct or assertive.
  • You may believe that when a woman wants to keep from moving forward physically, she is “denying her feelings”, but it is important to remember that feelings are not the only thing that determine the decisions we make. Just because she likes you, or is having a great time, or is extremely turned on, this does not mean she will decide to further engage with you sexually. To give consent women have to consider factors like STIs, pregnancy, past sexual experiences, possible future relationships, and a number of other relevant things you cannot possibly know about. 
  • If a woman says no, she does not then need to explain why. It’s nice if you can learn why, but she does not owe you that and you do not deserve that. This is not a case to be argued.
  • Your relationship status with a woman in no way necessitates her sexual participation. Just because you are married, or dating exclusively, or have had a hookup once a month for the past 18 months, this does not mean she is sexually indebted to you.

So, there they are.  A few of the things the “good guys” apparently haven’t been taught about consent. But, now you know.

P.S. To be sure, this list is not in any way exhaustive. Rather, it reflects recent conversations I have had with my female friends. I think it would be great if this list grew. Do you all want to help me with that? If you would like to share something that you think should be added to this list, something you wish all of the “good guys” in your life knew about consent, please let me know.


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