“When I was in college, back in the heady ’70s—when we battled hard for the Equal Rights Amendment, when Ms. magazine was still new—I and the women I knew got drunk a lot, and woke up in bed with guys we didn’t always like or know. They never asked us, “Can I put my finger inside you?” We never accused them of sexual assault. We were, all of us, learning about limits and needs and wants,” writes Sandy Hingston of Philadelphia Magazine in her article “The New Rules of College Sex.

I stumbled upon this article a few weeks ago on the WesAdmits 2015 Facebook page. In the piece, Hingston argues against the new rules of sexual consent that have become a part of campus policy and culture at schools like Wesleyan. I will not bore you with a point-by-point rebuttal. You can read the article yourself—but you may want to put something soft on the floor so that your jaw won’t break when it hits it.

I’d rather focus, not on school policy, but on the action of consent itself. I am a proud member of ASHA, or AIDS and Sexual Health Awareness, here at Wes. Part of what I do for ASHA is travel to Connecticut high schools and teach students about sexual health—including consent. We love to tell these high-schoolers that consent is sexy, that asking your partner to do this or that—and having them say yes enthusiastically—is how you have great sex.

All of that is completely true, and I will tell it to every teenager I know until the end of time. There is probably nothing better for a new sexual experience than for its participants to explain exactly what they want out of it. I believe that many a shitty first-time could be avoided if we were all okay with saying “could you rub my clit counterclockwise instead?”

But what about long-term relationships? When you’ve had sex a thousand times, do you really get explicit verbal consent for every act?

Sitcoms and movies are rife with jokes about couples talking each other into having sex. In the movie “No Strings Attached,” Ashton Kutcher’s friend tells him, “Ten years from now you’re gonna be having sex with your wife. And it’s gonna be in the missionary position. And one of you is going to be asleep.” If we think about this for more than the four seconds it takes to get the joke, laugh, and move on, we are probably struck by the ultimately creepy image of some guy humping away at a woman who’s halfway through her REM cycle. But is this, or at least a less extreme version, what sex is like for couples in long term relationships?

Speaking from the position of someone in a happy relationship approaching its third year I’d say…kind of. Don’t get me wrong, sex is still awesome even after three years. But sometimes you’re just tired. Or would rather cuddle. Or are annoyed at your boyfriend for eating the last bite of a spring roll. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood–but he is. And of course, sometimes it’s the other way around.

And so the seduction begins as you lay next to each other in a narrow twin-sized bed. A kiss here, a nudge from the hip there. One person slowly convinces the other, perhaps silently, perhaps with whispered suggestions, to perform an act that they initially did not want. Is this sexual assault? Bullying? Or is it romance? Is it sexy?

Like anything else, it’s all about perception. And truly, that is what consent is about—what is felt, not what is meant. What Ms. Hingston seems so upset about in her article is this issue of perception—that there is potentially a gap between what qualifies as sexual assault and what the participants feel occurred.

She cites a study in which researchers asked young women that had been sexually assaulted while incapacitated about their perception of the event. “Half said they themselves were partially or fully responsible for what had happened. The gray looked pretty gray to them,” she writes.

Though she does it in perhaps the most offensive and ignorant way possible, Ms. Hingston makes very clear how unclear the issue of consent is. And in the context of the long-term relationship, the lines are even more vague. Consent truly is all about your own perception and making that perception clear to your partner—being in a relationship with someone doesn’t mean you can stop communicating about sex. It just means that you might not say “touch me there.” Instead, both partners are responsible for knowing each other well enough to understand when something is wrong. Not only that, but each partner is responsible speaking up when there’s been miscommunication and for recognizing that they may not know their partner as well as they think.

One partner seductively convincing another to have sex might indeed be romantic—but if the person being convinced instead feels coerced, it’s sexual assault. It’s this fine line, in a new relationship or an old one, that we must be wary of. It is a line that may be apparent from one partner’s angle and not another, but is definitively there. These nuances, encompassed in those “new rules of college sex” that Ms. Hingston so clumsily examines are what make up not only consent, but positive sexual experiences. And those are something we should be striving for at every stage of a relationship.

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  • Billywms67

    So,if i try & pressure you into having sex & you give in-It’s rape!???—That’s offensive 2 say that women(or men)are incapable of simply saying no-If they say no & the person does it anyways that’s rape Ya!-but,if one partner simply pressures the other,and the person gives in-It may not be the nicest thing 2 do,-But it’s certainly not rape!

  • bma

    You feel unsatisfied with the male, either during, or the morning after, so let the self-victimization begin! Such wonderful convenience.
    Read this essay, and try to be more circumspect about your sexual experiences. Even within the current zeitgeist of female empowerment, there exists standards of good taste.

    http://www.the-spearhead.com/2011/10/06/the-childishness-of-the-public-discourse-about-rape/

  • Anonymous

    This is hands down the stupidest thing I have ever read in my entire life. Now that might sound like hyperbole, but it isn’t. So rape is just a “feeling?” So there isn’t a clear demarcation between ‘seduction’ and ‘coercion?’ It’s all up to how the woman feels about it? Did it ever occur to you that someone can BE WILLING to have sex, without WANTING to have sex? If a woman has sex with her boyfriend on his birthday, even though she doesn’t really want to but non-the-less agrees to because it’s his birthday and she feels obliged, should said boyfriend go to prison for rape? If a man is just a little too “seductive”(in your words), should he go to prison for 20 years?

    Let’s be clear, there needs to be a VERY CLEAR, VERY WELL DEFINED, AND VERY OBVIOUS DEMARCATION BETWEEN routine consensual sex and SERIOUS FELONY! Rape is not some subjective experience you idiot!

    Where do we draw the line with sexual coercion. When is it ‘sexual coercion?” When is it seduction?’ and when is it just ‘being a little bit pushy?’ Does ‘being a little bit pushy’ about sex always make said sex rape? Because if so, then something like 95+% of the the men on the planet are rapists under that liberal definition. So a slippery-slope argument yes, but I believe an appropriate argument in this case.

    My other problem with the idea is that I believe sexual coercion, although wrong, shouldn’t be called rape(except in the most extreme circumstances). In a case of sexual coercion, the woman, despite the fact that she’s being bullied and emotionally abused, always has the opportunity to continue to say “no.” Rape is rape because there IS NOT an opportunity to say “no.” Furthermore, in a case of sexual coercion, if sex occurs, the woman does agree to have sex. Begrudging, reluctant consent is still consent(agreement), and the sex that follows is therefore not rape. At least not from my legalistic perspective.

    Make no mistake, if your boyfriend badgers you into sex he is certainly a douche(and possibly an abuser), but he isn’t a rapist.

    Think about it this way: if an overly pushy salesman finally badgers you into buying a car from him, is he guilty of theft? Or is he just a douchey, abusive salesman? Words have meanings. Let’s not try to change them for the sake of ideological expediency.

    Mother of god, just take the next logical step and outlaw all sex already. As that’s clearly your endgame.

  • Anonymous

    So, to summarize your position, sex is rape whenever a woman decides that it is, before, during, or after the fact. Can you not see how that is an impossible standard to hold young men to?

    http://www.the-spearhead.com/2011/10/06/the-childishness-of-the-public-discourse-about-rape/

  • Bb

    One day all these young men are going to hit 30 and then 40 after having lived through all this and then women will hit 40 and then 50…; i don´t envy these young women´s future. It will not be good

  • Splunkzop

    My wife is 48, putting on a bit of extra weight and her vagina isn’t as tight as it was three children ago. I don’t feel like having sex nearly as much as I did when I was a few years younger, yet wifey wants loving – a lot. I have sex with her because I love her and she wants it even though I ‘feel coerced into it’. Is that ‘sexual assault’?

  • Anonymous

    I think this has gotten way out of hand.

  • Tim

    I actually agree with this article. However, I am also a realist. I advise men to not even consider an American woman in terms of someone you’d like to forge a relationship with. Staying alone is not really an option, but there are prostitutes, and they are far more honest than non-pro’s. Additionally, they are much cheaper. I’ve been doing this for twenty years and I have half a million dollars in the bank. I’ve never been divorced. Seriously gentlemen, just starve the beast, and then it will die.

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