When Yes Means Yes
by Jean Roberta
Lately, there has been an avalanche on social media about sexual abuse and “bad sex” (for lack of a clearer term), which is unsatisfying for at least one participant, and is based on miscommunication, even if one person (usually the girl or woman) consents to some kind of intimate physical contact to avoid worse treatment.
All these revelations, some dating back many years, are probably inspiring every woman who has ever had sex with a man to sift through her memories. How much was “bad sex,” and how much was downright abuse? Was any of it based on enthusiastic consent, as in “Hell yes! Let’s go!”
Although I have identified as a lesbian since the early 1980s, and I’ve been faithful to one woman for many years, I haven’t forgotten my heterosexual past. And some of the sex was as delicious as a glass of fresh, cold water on a hot day.
I could swear on the holy book of your choice that in some cases, I was as horny as the guy of the moment, and my orgasms were absolutely genuine. Some of my male lovers were skilled and empathetic, at least in bed. Since I never considered myself very attractive in my youth, I thought some of the sex I got was better than I deserved. That assumption in itself suggests that something was wrong, but at the time, I didn’t blame my male companions for my low self-esteem. I assumed they had nothing to do with it.
As Donna George Storey explained recently in this blog, there is a double standard of sexual behaviour which negatively affects all women. There is an ancient vocabulary of insulting words for women who are assumed to have too much of a sexual appetite, or too much sexual experience. Being labelled a whore, a slut, a skank, etc., is the kind of sexual abuse that usually comes after the sex, even when it has been a peak experience for everyone involved.
Let me introduce you to a healthy young man I’ll call the Viking. (I wrote about him in an earlier version of this blog.) He was proud of his Scandinavian roots as well as his psychic ability. I could believe there was something magical about him because he had more endurance than any man I ever met, before or since. He could keep going all night long, with no rest periods to recover his strength. If my memories are accurate, I never tried to stop him, even when I was exhausted and I had a university class to attend the next morning. I didn’t feel intimidated; I simply found him as impressive as a powerful racehorse.
I was 21 years old and full of energy myself. I was attending university part-time toward a degree in English, and I thought I would probably take Education classes after that, so I could get a job teaching English in the public school system. I discussed my dreams for the future with the Viking, and he found them amusing.
He asked me rhetorically whether I could really imagine myself as a teacher, and whether I would teach high school students all about sex.
I was taken aback, and told him that I would follow the curriculum, though I wouldn’t shy away from sexual innuendoes in literature, such as the ones in Hamlet’s speeches to his girlfriend Ophelia. (On second thought, I realized that Hamlet is also sarcastic and contemptuous to a young woman who hasn’t harmed him in any way.) The Viking always responded to my philosophy of literary analysis with a smirk.
He claimed he could read futures in playing cards as well as in the tarot deck. When he read mine, he never saw me as a professional in any respectable field. He saw degradation and addiction, bad luck and suffering. He implied that I was doomed to a career in the sex business, which would be followed by homelessness and disease once I was no longer attractive enough to attract customers.
I would always ask whether he saw any success for me as a teacher or a writer. He would shake his head and tell me he wouldn’t lie to me. When there was bad news for me in the cards, he felt it his responsibility to warn me.
The Viking sometimes entertained me with stories of his former life in Ontario, where he sold dope and hung out with a biker gang. Once he told me about a memorable session he had with a young woman who was known for her voracious sexual appetite. Apparently she would willingly take on the whole gang, and this gained her a certain kind of admiration, although no one who knew her expected her to live long or happily. The Viking casually explained that she was a nympho, like me.
I tried explaining to him that I didn’t need sex constantly, and in fact I could live without it when I was between relationships, and not feel as if I were starving.
I had told this man that if sex were a sport, he could win a medal in the Olympics. He clearly didn’t feel the same way about me. In fact, the Viking had much more experience with illegal activities and addictive substances than I did, yet I never assumed that his past would have to determine his future.
It was probably just as well that our relationship ended abruptly in the summer I turned 22. My parents were planning to spend a year in England, and I chose to go with them.
I never saw the Viking again, but his influence on my mind lingered for years. Was my sexual appetite unnatural? Did I deserve a horrible reputation? After all, I couldn’t honestly claim he had ever coerced me into sex, so did that mean I was thoroughly depraved? Did I need to spend years in therapy to become “normal?”
I’m glad to say that my life has not been the tragic, downhill slide the Viking read for me in the cards. It’s been more like an interesting hike through a terrain of peaks and valleys. I’m still not sure if my experience with him qualifies as “sexual abuse” as the term is currently understood, but I’d be willing to bet that the mind-rape was all mine.