Tag Archives: Consent Culture UK

Guest Post: Rape Culture at Uni Isn’t A Victorian Issue

There’s so many things to write about when it comes to rape culture in the media. It can be hard for me to keep up, but thankfully, I now have guest posters who are happy to step in! Today I’m bringing a piece by Brendan P Bartholomew, who kindly penned a response to Joanna Williams’ claim that rape culture doesn’t exist at British universities- despite evidence to the contrary

tequila
Not rape culture, obviously. Just marketing!

The Web site spiked recently posted an opinion piece by one Joanna Williams, entitled “THERE IS NO ‘RAPE CULTURE’ AT BRITISH UNIVERSITIES.” I am not a woman, sexual abuse survivor, or UK college student, and cannot speak for those groups, but I can speak to the utter wrongness of that opinion.

Williams’ premise is that by discussing rape culture on university campuses, modern feminists are behaving like Victorian era sexists who used horror stories of spinsterhood and predatory males to discourage women from attending college. She claims British universities don’t have a rape culture problem, and cites various rape statistics to support this claim.

Sigh. Where to begin? Let’s start with that juxtaposition of feminists with Victorian sexists. Williams writes:

“But there’s one big difference from a century ago: today’s panics over rape ‘epidemics’ are not promoted by Victorian fathers but by female students.”

And that right there should have ended the discussion, because she admits that the very women in harm’s way, the actual women out there experiencing the “ground truth” of rape culture on college campuses, are telling us there’s a problem. I don’t know about you, but when I hear from a woman that she doesn’t feel safe, I assume she’s right, and allow that to inform the conversation. If you say, “This school has a climate that fosters rape,” you’re only guilty of fear mongering if it’s not true. Williams needs it to not be true, and I’m tempted to wonder why. Spiked identifies her as an “Education Editor,” and “a lecturer in higher education at the University of Kent.”

I could speculate about the personal stake Williams may have in this, but any student of logic would call that an ad hominem fallacy. Therefore, I’ll focus on her logic, and her fallacies. She writes:

“Being a feminist on campus in 2014 seems to mean calling for university managers to intervene in intimate relationships and to curtail free speech in the name of protecting delicate women from sexual threats.”

So, in other words, if it happens within the context of an “intimate relationship,” it’s not legitimate rape, but a simple misunderstanding, or a case of morning-after regret? Is that the logic here? As to this subject of free speech, there have been incidents of men handing out “how to rape” pamphlets on college campuses. Would that be an example of speech that should not be curtailed? And why are we speaking in terms of “delicate” women, as opposed to just women? Should women feel demeaned because other women seek to protect them from sexual threats?

When Williams goes on to cite rape statistics in order to support her argument, she ignores the fact that there is widespread agreement that rape is one of the most notoriously under-reported crimes, due to the enormous pressure survivors feel to not come forward. So when she writes…

This would equate to just over four recorded rapes at a typical university.”

I say no, that equates to just over four rapes per campus that we know about. But don’t take my word for it. The American Medical Association has said as much, and you’ll find confirmation on Wikipedia:

According to the American Medical Association (1995), sexual violence, and rape in particular, is considered the most under-reported violent crime.

The most common reasons given by victims for not reporting rapes are the belief that it is a personal or private matter, and that they fear reprisal from the assailant. A 2007 British government report says “Estimates from research suggest that between 75 and 95 percent of rape crimes are never reported to the police.”

Continuing to build her argument on a foundation of rape statistics, Williams writes:

“Rape Crisis, a UK charity that supports women and girls who have suffered from sexual violence, claims that in 90 per cent of rape cases women know their attackers, and that 52 per cent of women suffering serious sexual violence were attacked by their partners. The validity of applying such national statistics to a student population, which is generally young and living away from old networks of family and friends, needs to be questioned.”

Williams seems to be suggesting that national statistics on the prevalence of rape can’t possibly be relevant to university life because those statistics indicate that rape is overwhelmingly acquaintance rape, and there are no acquaintances, only strangers, on college campuses. What a bizarre assertion.

She continues:

Of these, 48 per cent [SIC] say the perpetrator was not a student (challenging the notion of a university rape culture)…”

Um, unless I’m misunderstanding that statement, doesn’t that leave 52 percent who say the perpetrator was a student, thus confirming the fact that campus rape is a huge problem?

Williams also writes:

“…and only 17 per cent of the victims reported the attack to the police or university staff because ‘they did not feel what had happened was serious enough’.”

Such a statement betrays a lack of understanding about the internal debate a survivor might have when deciding whether an incident was “serious enough” to report. Reporting a rape means exposing oneself to the possibility of being re-traumatized by school officials, police, and the community at large. It’s not a decision easily made. Williams ignores the fact that keeping victims quiet is a part of rape culture. Citing a low instance of reported rapes to cast doubt on rape culture’s presence is like claiming the lack of dissenting speech in North Korea proves North Korea doesn’t suppress dissidents.

Furthermore, Williams never defines for us exactly what she thinks rape culture is. Given that her argument hinges on low instances of reported rape, it appears she’s conflating rape with rape culture, and working from the assumption that reported rape is the only symptom –and the only consequence—of rape culture. Is it possible, or even likely, that campus rape culture creates a stressful environment in which people who feel unsafe are less likely to excel in their studies, finish school, and earn degrees? I would hope that, as an educator, Williams might be interested in rape culture’s possible effects on student outcomes.

I am reminded of an experience I had many years ago, when I was called for jury duty. Because the case involved a violent crime, each potential juror was asked whether they knew anybody who’d ever been the victim of a violent crime. I will never forget the response from one potential juror, who happened to be a university student. Her response started with, “Well, I know girls on campus who get raped, but other than that, I don’t really know any crime victims.” Meaning that in her world, it was so commonplace for her fellow students to be survivors of campus rape, that it was hardly noteworthy, and probably didn’t rise to the level of “violent crime” the question had implied. This was years ago, and I still find the memory jarring. On that day, I got all the confirmation I needed that campus rape culture exists. It is ironic and sad that Williams’ denial of this problem makes her complicit in perpetuating it.

Consent Thoughts from Lecture: Part 2

I talked a bit about my experiences at University of Birmingham, and their weekend about consent, in this post, focusing on explaining my presentation’s first two parts (on mainstream depictions of kink, as well as the construct of “drama” and how it gets in the way of consent culture in these spaces). Here I’ll finish the job by discussing desire, both within kink and in culture at large.

Desire:

One thing that stands in the way of good communication is the way our culture idealizes desire. We’re taught via Disney movies that we’ll “just know” when we meet someone compatible, that we won’t need to talk about anything or negotiate, we’ll just read each other’s minds. That’s very romantic, but also a fairy tale. Understanding someone’s cues and body language comes, not through magic, but through knowing that person, their likes and dislikes. It also comes with a lot of mistakes, and hopefully a willingness to admit you’re wrong when you misjudge. These practicalities, however, don’t tend to weigh into the actual heartfelt desire to find someone with whom you have that mystical “chemistry” that just can’t be put into words.

Because of this longing, I suspect the whole fantasy of moving “beyond safewords”, beyond negotiation, and/or beyond a contract, is fairly prominent within the BDSM community. I hear a lot doing Consent Culture work (and on the radio, as you can hear on this show “Edge of Insanity” I did this weekend with Betty Blac) the declaration “we don’t need safewords!” and “safewords aren’t sexy!” I feel that when erotica, movies, porn and even our own dungeon behaviour look on the safeword as something that “ruins” a scene, we’re creating a dangerous dynamic where people won’t say “stop” or “no” when they want to, because that’s not part of their fantasy. It may not be part of your wet dreams, but then, neither is a court case, is my opinion on the topic. We need to have methods to stop BDSM behaviour when it crosses the line, while also acknowledging that people may struggle to safeword when there’s so much pressure to be a “good” submissive or a “tough” dominant… often which involves this “no limits” construct.

Now, this isn’t something that’s just an issue among kinky communities. I’ve noticed this with people I’ve dated, too. As someone who isn’t a touchy-feely person, I tend to need someone to let me know through flirting and physical touch that they’re interested in sexytimes. If that doesn’t happen, I tend to assume we’re still at the casually flirting stage. One ex partner would become furious that I didn’t know when she wanted us to sleep together, while I was trying to take a step back and leave space for her personal needs, expecting (and asking) her to communicate what she was interested in and when. Instead, she wanted me to read her mind, and, I guess, try to initiate sex at random, taking the responsibility if I was wrong for her being upset. Talking to other people, this doesn’t seem to be all that rare, but it’s incredibly frustrating.

Even though this is common in vanilla couples, there is a certain concern for BDSM couples. I’ve noticed that bottoms/submissives who make themselves available for the most varied amount of play have more social currency and get more attention. Therefore, there’s a reward for saying you have “no limits”. On the opposite side, Dominants who communicate that they “take what they want” are seemingly desirable, with some profiles coming across as downright sociopathic… and yet they seemingly are actively engaged in local communities and no one looks askance at this behaviour. I do notice male Doms get away with this significantly more- unless you’re a professional, female Dommes are expected to be caring with their submissives at a much higher standard. Now, I’m all about fantasy (I have some seriously dark ones myself), but I feel it’s important to critique the ways in which these social norms end up being formed, how that impacts on kink in the media, and how it creates an ideal of what a “valuable” Dom or sub is and how they behave that might actually be damaging in the real world.

I don’t really have answers for all of this except more honesty in blogs and profiles, and rewarding that honesty. I think it’s important to deconstruct how gender norms impact our sexual spaces. I think it’s important to examine the impact of racism, ableism and classism in our spaces, as well.

I also said to the room that I felt we in the BDSM community need to really work out what we’re going to do in terms of addressing assault and domestic violence among ourselves if the police are not an option. I really want to see us figuring out some standards of accountability that would make us a cohesive community. I’d like for us to decide what sort of responses we’d support seeing from someone who has crossed boundaries for us to feel like they understood what damage they had caused, and what support we, as a community, should have for that boundary-crosser and the person/people whose boundaries had been crossed. I suspect that until we do this work, our use of the term “community” will be casual, not uniting.

I want to close with a bit from a piece Mollena Williams wrote on community, leadership, and trust. I recommend you read the whole thing, because it’s right on.

I have seen, over the years, people take “reputation” and “community standing” as carte blanche to entrust themselves into the hands of those who are not worthy of trust.

I have questioned friends who work with those who have questionable histories, who have shadowy pasts, who have seen others stand up to say “That person violated me and my trust.” and had those friends shrug and say “Well, it isn’t my job to police the community.”

I have seen people endorse, by word and deed, people they KNOW to have problematic histories and shrug it off with “Well, I have never had a problem with them, so it isn’t my problem.”

I have seen people who are “leaders” in the community duped, swindled, ripped-off by people who, after the shallowest of digging, were revealed to be liars and thieves.

I have been sexually harassed and treated dismissively by men entrusted with instructing people about BDSM.

I’ve watched people who are bullies and liars intimidate and swindle their way into positions of (relative) power and trust, and surround themselves with the weak-minded who thoughtlessly protect and bleat the chant they’ve been taught in order to support those unworthy of their trust.

I have had handshake promises breached by people who will then turn around and evoke “Leather Values” and “community pride.”

I have been lied to by people who smile in my face and in the same breath trash talk and belittle me to others.

I have had people to whom I appealed for help in taking a public stand against injustices instead opt to remain silent against racism, against rape, against consent violations.

And ALL of these examples involve The People You…We…embrace as “Leaders.”

Consent Thoughts from Lecture: Part 1

I just got home from a weekend of discussions and critiques of “consent” as a construct out at University of Birmingham. It was a fascinating selection of topics, from rape culture in humour, to teaching consent to sex offenders, to queering concepts of consent, to questions about vulnerability. There were practitioners and academics from the US, the UK and Europe represented, so some array of approaches.

I was asked to speak on consent in BDSM, and focused my discussion on three particular areas: mainstream depictions of kink and nonconsent (and the gendering of that), the construct of “drama” and how that is used to shame and silence, and desire, the strain between contracts and negotiation and the heartfelt lust for someone who “can just read your mind”. I’ve talked about all these things at least in brief before, but figured I could take another shot at them now. Keep in mind, these were more meant as beginning talking places rather than definitive answers. I’m going to have a part one covering media and drama, and then another part addressing desire and the complications with that, so bear with me!

Mainstream Depictions of Kink

I find that many depictions of kink in the media fall into two main camps. If you’re a woman with a man (9 1/2 Weeks, Secretary, 50 Shades) your submission is assumed, and boundary pushing/nonconsent is eroticized, the danger being part of the thrill. However, if you’re a man submitting to a woman (Eurotrip, Whitest Kids You Know) two things will happen. A) the Domme will be a professional, rather than doing this for her own desires, and B) boundary pushing or nonconsent will be portrayed as hilarious. I questioned if perhaps this kind of depiction being the dominant (har de har) one might add to difficulty identifying what is nonconsent and what is sexy BDSM practice.

For example, I didn’t identify some of the things that happened to me as sexual assault , because in my mind they were just miscommunications, or something gone wrong. I wasn’t traumatized, which was, in my mind, the difference between a mistake and an assault, even though the same behaviours outside of the kink community would have felt very different. I asked if this created a cultural standard where boundaries being crossed is seen, particularly for submissive women, as simply “part of the experience”. If that’s the case, then how do we begin to address these issues and create, consciously, new cultural norms?

“Drama”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (I’m saying it again now)- drama is a term often used to invalidate other people’s feelings and experiences. I mostly hear it used for situations that the person using it are not personally affected by. I have many critiques of Jezebel, but they go into some of my complaints about the term here, and as I deleted my Fetlife account wherein I wrote on deconstructing “drama” as a term, that’ll have to do.

Within kink, there’s an idea that you need to do certain things in order to be deemed “safe” by the community. Now, I disagree that what’s called “the kinky/BDSM community” is, in fact, a community, as there’s no sense of standards that are reinforced, and no overarching accountability or responsibility to each other which is part of what makes a community- but I digress.

One of the things you “should” do is ask for references before you play with someone. We don’t do this, mind, for other kinds of sex (can you imagine? actually that might not be a terrible idea) except for in sex work. However, if you don’t ask for references, you can automatically get blamed for not taking enough care in BDSM play. This expectation, however, ignores that even if you *do* ask for references, people will vouch for others- until *after* an assault, when you become safe to talk to more honestly. Why do they do this? Because if you warn someone against another kinkster for being abusive, you can be and often are labelled as a creator of drama. That can lead to victim blaming, retraumatizing community discussion/debate, up to community expulsion. How, then, can you trust a recommendation when there’s a fear of saying anything but complimentary things?

There’s also of course these gendered concepts of what’s appropriate behaviour for kinky people. I notice that some dominant men proudly declare themselves as doing whatever they want to their partner, not feeling empathy, really underlining these sociopathic behaviours as being desirable. And they seem to be, these men aren’t exactly outliers but active in their local groups. Women don’t seem to feel like they can embody this without critique, however, unless they’re pro-dommes. This suggests how performative these roles are, and how much social worth each type of archetype seems to command. Embodying your BDSM role in a way deemed “appropriate” is important if you want to have power among your kinky peers. The less social currency someone had coming forward about abuse, the more they would be ridiculed, so this had real life effects.

Ok, that’s part one- what do you think? What have you experienced?

Sex Education – not just what you teach, but what you don’t

The UK government recently voted not to reform sex and relationship education in our country, notably leaving “same-sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent” out of the curriculum.

This absolutely horrified me: talking to my brother (who left high school last summer) it strikes me that virtually nothing has changed about sex education since I was at school ten years ago, despite the astounding developments we’ve made since then.

A legal partnership has been recognised between two men and two women in this country for more than half a decade – and yet we don’t teach our children about homophobia, biphobia and same-sex relationships – why? Isn’t that just asking for our more progressive laws to be trampled all over by the MPs of the future?

Brook, a sexual health charity that works with young people, reported in “Sex and Relationships Education Fit for the 21st Century” on Ofsted’s decision that sex and relationship education is “not yet good enough”, which only backs up their own research.

Public Health England reported earlier this month that half a million new sexually transmitted infections were diagnosed in 2012, which is a 5% rise and telling of how urgently we need to review what we’re telling young people about sex and staying safe. We have to be sure that we’re getting the message out effectively – and quickly, before teenagers start to experiment on their own and find themselves potentially saddled with infections that could leave them infertile.

I generally consider myself a sex-positive person, and although I generally try to avoid picking up an infection myself, I won’t judge people who do have diagnoses – but even I think it’s wrong that a child could end up with an infection that could render them infertile because the Government decided they didn’t need to know how to protect themselves.

And that’s just safer sex – the areas specifically mentioned by New Clause 20 are almost more important: in not passing this clause for further reading, our MPs essentially decided that we don’t need to explain to children the complicated mess that is consent and domestic and sexual violence. Just how are we going to make a dent in those rape and DV figures, which (whilst above zero) are far too high?

We don’t have to promote sex and relationships – we simply need to prepare children and young people, so that when they are ready to engage in relationships of their own, they have the knowledge they need to go about it safely and with respect for other people.

Children and young people themselves have said that they want more information about sex and relationships, and in rejecting NC20, the government is actively flying in the face of that. Well, they aren’t of voting age, so their thoughts don’t matter, right?

The good news is that the shadow leader of the House of Lords has taken the decision to raise the question of sex and relationship education again. There’s still an opportunity to make noise about it, and hopefully, this time, ensure that mandatory SRE makes it into schools someday soon. Brook has more information and we need to be pushing to make sure politicians understand the views of UK citizens.

Informing Consent

Originally posted Feb. 8, 2011, and now posted here as I feel it’s important to reflect on how issues of consent and accountability can also be used to marginalize people with disabilities. I still have no easy answers for this, and am open to hearing what others have to say on this topic.

I was just reading this article about a man with a low IQ who has been banned from having sexual relationships. And it made me so angry, for multiple reasons.

I know it’s complicated. There’s been a lot of papers written on the subject, and what is consent if not informed consent. I’ve also always been a proponent that age doesn’t necessarily mean you’re better or worse at communicating and negotiating (thus creating informed consent), and that informed consent also is dependent on agency- for example, an issue with incest between people who are over 18 revolves around whether the relationship is still a financially and emotionally dependent one, in my opinion (if we’re moving out of the realm of blind morality).

Can someone with an intellectual disability give consent to sexual activity? Does someone with such a disability have the agency needed to say no, thus making their yes mean something? And does society/government have the right to tell them that they can’t have a sexual life? What about reproductive rights? Can a carer consent for them, as they do for many other activities, like medical ones?

The whole conversation around sex and mental retardation is touchy. This tends to taint the discourse quite a bit, as people are obviously uncomfortable with it. To deal with this, people make fun of the idea often, as shown by this, which is just an example:

The first type of role playing you may want to try is “Mentally/Physically Handicapped Sex.” I’m not making fun of retarded people. Actually, in this respect they have a pretty good thing going for them. Imagine being with your partner and not being able to use anything but your mouth or genitals. Pretty hot, right? Pretending you’re handicapped makes you worse than a virgin. -http://www.ubersite.com/m/67145

Ugh.

Additionally, sex assaults where the assaulter is intellectually disabled still land with them in jail, which brings up an additional issue for me- are we arguing, then, that people with these disabilities are aware enough to rape, but not to have consensual sexual experiences? That seems problematic to me.

One of the things brought up in this discussion is the worry that people might take advantage- if consent is uncertain, then ability to report assault is also uncertain. I agree, that’s a possibility (though as one friend pointed out around the article mentioned in the beginning- would it be seen differently if the man with the disability was in a heteronormative relationship..? And wait a minute- carers take advantage in nonsexual ways all the time, yet we don’t propose to ban carers. Is this yet another example of sex negativity?

There’s a lot of papers covering the idea of facilitated sex for people with disabilities- in the US for example, it’s legal to facilitate sex and be paid for it, but not to pay a sex worker. In the UK wheelchair access issues can make it next to impossible for people with disabilities to get out and meet anyone, so thank goodness for things like Outsiders that do what they can to help! But people with a developmental disorder have a different set of needs when it comes to sexuality… how do we deal with that?

One of the other things I was annoyed at in the article was this bit:

One psychiatrist said that he would be confused if sex education was given to him.

Did they even try..? I mean, ok, let’s say you want to ban intellectually disabled people from having sexual expression. Let’s say you do that. If you haven’t offered the person any sort of sex education, then how would they know if they’ve been sexually assaulted by, say, a carer? Same with kids, in my opinion. If you give your kids a basic idea about things like masturbation, sexual touch, and boundaries/saying no, they’ll have an easier time telling you if an adult tries to take advantage- and be better equipped to deal with it in the moment. Sex education is important for everyone- here’s an example of something I had as a kid, and here’s something resource-wise for sex ed with people dealing with developmental disabilities. It can be done. It NEEDS to be done.

By refusing to try multiple methods of communicating these ideas for people all over the developmental spectrum, you’re basically denying them the tools they need to consent in the first place.

So in the case of creating a standard, what would someone with a developmental disability need to be able to understand? I liked this definition of informed consent:

Informed consent means that the person is aware not just of their rights but also their responsibilities. Both parties are expected to fully understand how women get pregnant, methods of birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, how to use acondom, be able to define sexual abuse, and can say “No appropriately and effectively.
-From Intimate Relations (sex) and the Developmentally Disabled

I think that’s a really good way to define this, especially a bit about understanding not only the rights but the responsibilities of sexual behavior.

So then what do I propose?

Why not do what some councils in the UK and have councils pay for prostitution services for the disabled? I’m listed on the TLC Trust, a great charity that connects comfortable sex workers with disabled clients- what if they had a program where you could get a certificate after attending training courses, say, to create a sense of standards? You’d have to be willing to put in the work in order to get the certificate, and it’d be a way to teach sex workers various methods of working with and communicating with people who have various disabilities.

Interested in this topic? You might find this an interesting read, along with these articles over at Good Vibrations Magazine, and here’s a great book partially on the subject, The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability.

It’s not an easy subject… but it’s an important one.

Consent Culture: Let’s Review

So in the interest of my own mental health I stepped away from Consent Culture discussions for a few weeks. I’m happy to see that people are still thinking critically about what consent means, both interpersonally and in the greater context of the altsex scene (never mind the rest of the world).

I do feel, however, that there’s a quick review that needs to be had on what the goals of the Consent Culture Project are, as they seem to be getting confused with how individuals choose to interpret what Consent Culture means to them.

These mistaken ideas are in bold, with my explanation underneath to clarify. 

1) Consent Culture Hates Consensual Nonconsent

-Not at all. Consensual nonconsent is totally part of my envisioning of consent culture, if it involves informed consent and if both parties feel they can walk away from the scene/situation safely if they so choose. Personally, if you have the financial ability to say “screw this” and get out of your relationship, rad. If you are encouraged to maintain your own friends, awesome! Consent Culture is about thinking critically about these dynamics of power we play around with and maintaining as close to 100% consent as is humanly possible, while keeping in mind things like social pressures/context. Consensual nonconsent can fall under that. I do think it’s important to at least have a discussion with a top type person before you sign away access to money and stop talking to your own friends and family, though, as those are often two things that make it much harder to get away from a relationship that turns abusive. It does not mean that consensual nonconsent is always abusive.

2) Consent Culture Believes In The Victim/Abuser Binary

-Definitely not. Consent Culture, the way I see it, is about recognizing that people fuck up, that consent is complex and influenced by many factors, that boundary-crossing does not automatically mean you are an abusive asshole and never a victim yourself or that having your boundaries crossed means that you are incapable of being abusive. Yes, if someone is a repeat offender, repeatedly gets defensive when called out and tries to silence the victim, I will be pretty suspicious that they “just fucked up”. But as a whole, I think that society encourages some messed up forms of communication that make it relatively easy to mean well and fuck up anyway. The question is how do you manage it afterwards. I would like to see more discussion around consent simply because I think acknowledging that it’s complicated is a great first step to figuring out how to make it somewhat less so, particularly in communities that say how consent is important to them- altsex folks should be excellent at thinking critically about these issues, because we’re already moving outside of the norms.

3) The Opposite Of Consent Culture Is Rape Culture

-There’s a reason when Maggie and I started this thing we talked about entitlement culture instead of rape culture, because rape is a triggering word and, frankly, not the most accurate. The issue at the core is the idea of combating entitlement to certain behaviours. Rape is an aspect of that, as is abuse, but it also covers things like racism, classism, sexism, ableism, sizeism, Twue Domism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. Which is why, rather than just talking about rape, we try to talk about the various ways oppression and marginalization intersect within altsex communities. Because if we want to turn this shit around, we need to address the core issues, and the best way to do that is to start talking about them.

4) Consent Culture Is About Us Vs Them

-No no no. Definitely not! I have come out as having been the victim of abuse in BDSM and also being an abuser in BDSM by crossing boundaries for just this reason. Again: this is not a binary. We have the potential to be both Us and Them, depending on the situation. This shit is complicated, and I challenge anyone to say they communicate perfectly and there’s never been a misunderstanding or that they’ve always asked for exactly what they wanted and gotten just that. We’re all muddling through here. Which is why I hate the idea of “white knights” in this discussion- I don’t think having this concept of “protecting” people or “banishing” others is useful except for in circumstances where someone refuses to take a step back and educate themselves. Usually, what we need more of is education in things like verbal and nonverbal consent cues, body language, spacial awareness, representation, things like that. There are some people who go looking for trouble, granted- but the more we talk about complexity, being humble when someone says you crossed their boundaries, and supporting assault victims, the more agency we’re giving everyone involved in altsex and the clearer it will be (in my opinion) when someone doesn’t give a fuck.

I hope this makes sense- it’s late, I’m tired, but I wanted to at least start by clearing those things up. And I am really glad that the discussion continues. My anger really flares only at people who want to shut these discussions down to maintain some screwed up status quo even though people are saying it’s not safe for them. If I thought this was really unfixable and people in altsex were all abusive dipshits who don’t want to learn, I wouldn’t have bothered starting all this in the first place with Maggie. I have some faith that we’re mostly geeks here, and geeking out about complicated social constructs is part of what we like to do- we like to hack those constructs and create our own that work for us, in all their diversity. And that’s rad.

I just want to challenge the idea that things are perfect as they are and critically analyzing our own communities is anathema.

Carry on.

Safe/Ward Blog Carnival 2, Part 3: Porn and Prejudice (trigger warning)

So this post will bring the second Safe/Ward blog carnival to a close- please check out part 1 and part 2, and thank you for all who contributed by sharing deeply personal stories.

I felt like this story deserved its own entry, in part because it highlights how entitlement culture is not just an issue with BDSM, but an issue in altsex generally and society at large. I also think it’s important to outline that boundaries and clear limits are complicated- for example, in this situation, it’s not just the way he keeps badgering her after she says no, it’s also the consequences of her no that she worries about, which leads her to say yes.

I used this image, which is a Slutwalk sign, because it quotes one of the videos we use for Safe/Ward, an “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” segment that, to me, highlights why a yes may not be a 100% consensual yes. To ignore that a yes may be coming from a place of uneven power distribution is a dangerous thing.

“If I can’t say no, I can’t really say yes” is a phrase I use a lot.

I’m an adult actress in San Francisco and while I now focus on my own projects, there was a time when I mostly worked for other people. I was exclusively a girl-girl and solo performer for the first few years before I told my jealous partner that it really was just work and I wanted to earn the higher pay rates given to performers in boy-girl scenes and sleeping with a bunch of handsome, well-hung men who wouldn’t be bothering me the next day was just icing on the cake.

At every single adult company I worked at, condoms were routinely–mandatorily–used on toys, but male partners only wore one when requested. I had always been told that it wasn’t a big deal and wouldn’t prevent me from getting work, so when I did my first boy-girl scene, I asked that my co-performer wear a condom. I mean, why not? It was just an extra layer of protection. I also wanted to maintain something private for my long-term partner. Yet if someone had asked me point blank why I wanted my co-star to wear a condom, I’m not sure that I would have been able to articulate just why that bit of latex seemed so important, yet also so inconsequential.

The producer-director was a former adult actress and very understanding of my limit. She told the guy I was working with in advance, along with my few other limits. From working with her in the past I knew that she had a few little tricks here and there to make shooting easier and I was sure she would be a great facilitator for my first boy-girl shoot and I still think that she did her best.

I arrived on the set on time, picked out my wardrobe, and sat down to talk to my co-star about our limits and what we wanted to do. He asked a few times if I was sure that he had to wear a condom. I said yes and we got into position.

As we began setting up the scene, he started talking about how dirty I was, how I was probably crawling with venereal disease. The director cut the scene and asked him what the hell he was doing. “Well, there has to be a reason why I’m wearing a condom.” She told him not to question my health. He’d seen my test and I was clean. Anyway, the audience didn’t want to fantasize about some disease-riddled girl.

We started again. It was some of the best sex I’ve ever had, rough but with lots of kissing. One of the best parts was that he wanted to continue off-camera. I was used to working with girls who mostly made it very clear that I was not to touch them off-camera and the few girls who were interested in continuing on our own had been working with me for months before we got to that point. It was fun to be with someone who just wanted to fool around. Every ten minutes or so he asked if he could take off the condom. I continued to say no.

At some point, the director pulled me aside. “You don’t have to keep playing with him off-camera, you know. He’s taking advantage of you because you’re new.” I told her that I was thrilled to be having sex with this guy. He was hot, enthusiastic, and knew what he was doing. I could tell that he was a jerk, but we were both going home at the end of the day and he would be someone else’s problem.

I was enjoying myself, but it was still a long day. There were a lot of difficult positions and really deep face-fucking. I threw up. I was getting tired. He kept asking to take the condom off. I kept saying no.

When we moved on to the anal scene, he took the rubber off and looked me in the eye. “Please.” He looked at me hard, staring me down.

The director asked, “It’s just to prevent pregnancy, right?” That sounded like a much better reason than, “I just want him to.” After all, I’d seen his test. He was a professional. I was insulting him. This was my first boy-girl scene. I didn’t want to fuck it up. I wanted to get more work. He’d been asking all day and if I said no now, he’d just keep bugging me. He might even tell other male talent to avoid me. Maybe he already would. It would cost me money. Perhaps it would affect my girl-girl and solo work, too. Maybe it really was unusual to use condoms on set. Was I implying to the audience that I had a disease? Would I get a bad reputation? Was I just slowing down the whole shoot? I wanted to go home.

“Yeah. It’s to prevent pregnancy.”

We finished the shoot sans condom. I went home and took a shower. I updated my blog. I reassured my partner and we went to sleep.

It seemed that everyone was excited to hear about my first boy-girl scene, like it had been a first date or something. I’d been around for a long time before actually taking the plunge, but when I told female talent who I had worked with, they all turned their noses up. One woman said, “There are two guys on my no-go list: that guy and my brother.” A few months later I heard that there had been some sort of problem between the female director and the co-star where she had laughed him off the set as he cussed her out.

Evidently he was not a nice fellow, but no one had told me anything about him until afterward, like I had to go through a rite of passage in order to be told these things. Perhaps I would still have worked with him, but I would have also been much more assertive and committed to proclaiming my limits, or maybe I just would have gone in knowing it was futile, that he was going to pick and pressure until I gave in. I went on to work with other male performers, but I didn’t bother having the condom argument again. I like to think that other performers were nicer just because they were nice guys, but it may be that I didn’t insist on safe sex. A few even told me that I was their favorite performer to work with. I’m back to performing exclusively with women and on my own, so I suppose that I’ll never know if they would be just as nice if there was a thin layer of latex involved.

Safe/Ward Blog Carnival 2, Part 1 (trigger warning)



(trigger warning for discussion/personal stories of nonconsent/abuse/rape)

While I’ve been working on this blog carnival, I’ve also found some articles elsewhere that really deserve to be included, like this one on BDSM, rape play, and rape. I wanted to include something the author said here to start things off for Part 1:

These are examples that are very clear, this is rape. Quite frankly if you disagree you and I have little to talk about. However when does a violated limit become rape? Is it rape if someone expresses a limit against ejaculating on their face and it is violated? If someone is bound and pissed on after negotiating no watersports? Being called a filthy cunt when Humiliation has been excluded? When is an exceeded limit rape? My arrogance tells me always, however I wonder if I have, or could ever unintentionally dip a toe over a foul line. Am I then guilty of moral or criminal violation? I simply do not know.

-Male dominant

Unfortunately, I had enough stories to make two blog carnival entries, a part 1, a part 2, and a part 3 telling one specific story highlighting the complications of “yes” from a porn performer.

It’s a mixed blessing- glad to have so many voices, sad to know that these are just the few who feel comfortable speaking up. Many are worried about whether someone might puzzle out who they are from their words, like there’s a kink Mafia that will give you concrete shoes and toss you in the river. Maybe not physically, but emotionally, it’s not unfounded- I have seen victims be tossed out of spaces, ridiculed and humiliated, for reporting their sexual assaults. I have heard so many stories from people silenced. And the silencing continues, because they’re still scared. They’re afraid of being ostracized, threatened, and dismissed.

Does that sound like a culture of consent to you?

I was at a play party some years ago where I was seriously abused non-consensually by a woman who figured she could do anything she wanted because “sub males should consider themselves lucky to get any kind of attention from a dominant woman.” After it happened, everyone kept telling me to stop talking about it because she was a known dominant, and it would only “hurt your reputation in the community.”

-male submissive, from Tracy Clark-Flory’s tumblr

I am still coming to terms with the fact that I was abused in my last relationship. It took a long time before I could acknowledge the things that happened to me for what they were. I made constant excuses for him. I blamed myself. I still do sometimes.

Outside of talking with a couple of my closest friends nobody knows exactly how bad things got between me and him. When one of my friends who I did confide in looked at me and said, “Basically he raped you”, I was absolutely shocked. At the time the incident I had just told her about occurred I was in a relationship with this man. I loved him and believed that he loved me. It never occurred to me to call it rape. I am still uneasy calling it that. He violated my consent and without my prior knowledge let someone else become sexually involved with me when I was not in a position where I was able to see what was happening. By the time I was aware that he was not the one touching me I was out of it. I was out if it, someone that I did not consent to was touching me, and the man I loved just stood there and smiled and held me down.

I wish I could say that I instantly used my safeword and ended it. I wish I could say that I walked away from him right after that happened. Sadly I can not say either of those things. This has made it so much harder for me to open up to people and share what happened to me. I know that because of these things people will blame me for what happened. How could others not blame me when I constantly blame myself?

I don’t know why I didn’t safe word. Part of it was shock and confusion. How could this even be happening? We had talked about this particular scenario, I told him I was not comfortable with it and it would require a lot more discussion before it could happen. That further discussion never took place. As this was happening I was looking up into the eyes of a man that I loved and trusted. He would never do anything to hurt me so I must have done something or said something to make him think that this was ok. It was my fault so I should just go with it and keep my mouth shut.

I never said a word about it to him. Not once.

This was not the only time my consent was not respected in this relationship. As things progressed it became a steadily more harmful relationship. He became emotionally abusive. I began to feel that to him I was not a real person with genuine needs and emotions. Eventually it was just too much and the relationship ended.

I didn’t confide in anyone about the consent violations or emotional abuse for a long time after. I tried to cope on my own but I was being torn up inside. Sadly I did not and still do not feel safe speaking openly about what happened. I was afraid of being branded a bitter ex or as someone just trying to stir up drama. I know I should have used my safeword. I know I should have walked away long before I did. Hearing these things from others, even if they are said with the best of intentions, does nothing to lessen the pain I feel now. It does not change the fact that I was violated.

Finally I have reached a point where I can talk about this with my close friends. I am so amazingly fortunate to have a network of support that will be there for me through anything. They have let me cry and rant as much as I need to. They have helped me see the reality of the situation when I start making excuses for him and blaming myself. With their support I am healing. I worry about victims who do not have this.

-F, New England, 27

A few days later I felt a sense of deep rage. She put me in a spot where I was extra vulnerable, where I didn’t feel safe saying no, and she specifically did things I had told her I wasn’t into or wasn’t confident of. I felt coerced into going along, but I felt like everything I had told her had gone to waste, that she was more concerned with her needs than mine. I wrote her a message saying all of that, saying how I was hurt and heartbroken because I had really given a lot of myself and felt like it wasn’t respected much, about how if being a sadist was so important to her she could have just turned me down from the start.

I didn’t want to say I was violated, I didn’t want to consider it assault – I have been raped and it was a totally different experience. At least here she listened to my safewords and actually *cared* about me as a human being, not like my rapist! but at the same time…I wasn’t sure. I felt like my innocence, naievity, and need to please was taken advantage of, and I had gone farther than I was comfortable.

Her response wasn’t much, mostly that she feels I am hurting now and that she would give me space. We still talk from time to time, though we haven’t had a chance to catch up recently.

Reading Kitty’s recent posts on consent culture and kink made me think and rethink this situation. It fitted some of the warning signs of a scene gone wrong – wishes gone unheard, feeling coerced, vulnerability being taken advantage of. She hit a big hard limit for me: dehumanisation and ignorance, trauma tied to many years of bullying and racism and oppression. And yet, and yet my biggest secret guilt:

I still like her.

I feel like I shouldn’t, that I shouldn’t still fancy someone who probably didn’t show me enough respect especially when in a particularly precarious situation. But she did many things right. She showed me tenderness and affection before and after, and still does really. She explained what was going on and let me make choices. She made sure I got home safe and hydrated and rested. She empathised with me when other people in the community were being racist fuckwits and (to my utter delight) didn’t try to exoticise me or quiz me about my foreign nature. She first met me as a regular person with a common interest who also happened to be kinky, more than just a sub, and she still remembers that and respects that.

She wasn’t malicious, and unlike my rapist she wasn’t completely selfish (my rapist actually did tell me she saw me as her fucktoy, without my input in the matter). I felt that she likely got ahead of herself and didn’t realise how far beyond my comfort zone it was….

…I remember being quite horrified at Janet Hardy’s comments about “turning someone into a rapist without their consent” – as though the violator’s “consent” over their label was more important than the consent of the survivor. But I’ve been on possibly both sides of these, with people I know from outside contextes to be decent and friendly and lovely and caring, the sort of people who would take consent culture seriously and treat people with respect. But some things just don’t quite go right. and then you don’t know what to do.

Is it bad that I still want my former Domme to take me back as her sub? Or at least still count me amongst her bevy of ladysexyfriends? Should I be damming her to hell instead, outcasting her, refusing to see her again – just because that’s apparently what you do with someone who pushes your boundaries? Am I part of the problem? Do I have a right to an opinion or feeling on this, or am I being a hypocrite because just under two years ago someone else I deeply cared about saw in me what I saw in the Domme, felt the same way, had the same moral quandries?

I don’t know. I don’t really know.

-an excerpt of a longer piece posted by Mendi Henna, Australia

I’m a male submissive and know very well that it can be very easy to casually write off the consent and safety of submissives and that certain settings, through a lack of focus on a culture of consent, can actively work towards creating this atmosphere.

I was actually working as a ‘house submissive’ at a femdom event in London one evening when I – apron on and tray of hors d’ouvres in hand – came to a woman I actually knew and had met at that club and outside of it several times; a kinky aquaintance, we’d a little played before and I had enjoyed her roughness. However, on this instance she decided to greet me by grabbing me by the nipple and gripping and twisting it so hard that she actually caused it to bleed. All of this before even a “hello” was exchanged.

At the time I was troubled and confused. I liked rough play but this was a shock, this took me by surprise. I hadn’t known that this was going to happen.

When later asked about the incident, she said that that’s what one gets for being a submissive man in a femdom club. Simple as that. I, evidently, hadn’t realised this. For this and a few other, similar reasons, I stopped going to that club.

-M, 26, London

It’s hard to write about, because the whole topic is so triggering,
but to add to your stats: abused in altsex relationships
for several years as a teenager (15-18ish). Reached out to the local
“scene” at the time, but no one would help me because I was underage,
and of *course* it would be unethical to have anything to do with me,
so no one would do that, right, so obviously I was mistaken and not
actually being abused and raped.

-F, 27, Ireland

I suffered through a series of extremely traumatic events at the hands of someone who was manipulative and didn’t care about me. My “dom” was known to have done this before. I was run out of the Boston BDSM scene for creating too much “drama” in the aftermath. People told me that my PTSD, related to the abuse, was not PTSD (I was making it up) and that the abuse was my fault because I made ‘newbie mistakes.’ I now identify as vanilla and am in intensive therapy.

-F, early 20s, Boston, MA

I didn’t have many friends when I was a teenager and by the time I was nearly 14, I only had one person I talked to as a close companion, a guy eight years older than me who lived elsewhere in the country; we started talking online and eventually began exchanging texts and phonecalls as well.

Talking to him so often, I felt as if I knew him and I trusted him deeply, I think simply because he wasn’t one of the bullies. A week or so before my 15th birthday, he suggested he drive to my hometown and we meet in person, and I eagerly agreed.

I was sensible: I said we should meet in public, and he agreed to, and we spent the first few hours wandering around and chatting before he suggested we go back to his hotel, where there was a TV and we could watch the home video I’d made on holiday the week before. And I thought nothing of it.

There was a TV, but he never switched it on. He locked me in the room with him, and broke my heart and my trust, forcefully taking from me things I would never get back, asking and ignoring my obvious fear. One minute he had me thinking that this was what normal couples did, and the next he slapped me and called me fat. (I was a UK size 12.)

Eighteen months later, when I finally admitted what had happened to me, I reported it to the police, but even though they tracked him down and he admitted various counts of sexual acts with a minor, he claimed I had given consent, and the courts decided not to proceed because they didn’t have enough evidence to prove that which he denied.

I consistently blamed myself, wishing I had made it more clear that I wasn’t giving consent, wishing that I would have bitten him or screamed or shouted or made a fuss so that the hotel staff would rescue me. It took me years to accept there was nothing I could have done; he was bigger and stronger than me, and he would have got what he wanted. A fifteen year old girl was no match for him.

Over the next four years, I had several short-term relationships with guys who, when I wouldn’t – couldn’t – have sex with them, broke up with me, or made me feel so terribly guilty for being unable to satisfy them that I couldn’t handle the pressure of not telling them what had happened (even after telling the police) and broke up with them. It wasn’t until a few months after my 19th birthday that I found someone I trusted enough to try again.

This week, it was nine years ago. It wasn’t until I turned 22 that I began to think of the man I shared my first consensual sexual experience with as the person I lost my virginity to.

My “best friend” betrayed me and, for quite some time, destroyed me - and simply because he didn’t care whether or not I said “yes”.

-F, London, 24

ideas to improve Consent Culture site

So we want to work on making cards with the Consent Culture logo on the front and a QR Code for the site on the back with the site and a tagline.

What should be added to this site to make it a good resource?

I was thinking the resource section should be more localized- like, a list of general resources, and a constantly updating list of local resources to be checked over and added to by locally appointed people every 6 months or so. What do you think? If you are into this idea, would you be willing to help formulate such a list for your area?

This was also suggested by the Boston Consent Culture Working Group-

” Maybe some sections like… “What do I do if I think my consent has been violated?” or “What do I do if I want to create a consent culture?” or “What do I do if I think I broke someone’s consent?” with both some text, some ideas, and resources that can give more info?”

Taking suggestions! Let’s make this a living document.