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Feminism, Mental health

Something is anything that’s not nothing

So far I’ve avoided adding my voice to the current conversations on rape culture in New Zealand, for many reasons.

Last week was a bad week for me, and for many women. Even before the stories broke, I was extremely vulnerable. I became too fragile to even follow the news, let alone engage. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a history of sexual abuse so this sort of violence – and the resulting discussion – has a particularly sharp edge for me. Watching the conversations develop made me feel physically sick – I’m sure many of you will relate.

Unfortunately, I was driven from Twitter at a time when I needed my community the most. However, it wasn’t the RB (the whole name makes me feel sick, I don’t want to write it here) saga itself that drove me away – it was my inability to express my own despair, distress, and fury. I wanted badly to add my voice to all of those who spoke up, who carried the feminism flag high, who just put their foot down, stood on the front lines, and said: This Is Not Ok.

I salute you, my sisters. This is what the world needs.

Michelle A’Court’s piece for the SST – A tough week to be a woman –  is considered, compassionate, and  intelligent. It describes what rape culture is, and what it results in – hate crime. It describes ways that we can work together to combat this. How we can help each other to be safer. How we can stop the victim blaming bullshit.

There is so much good stuff in that piece, but the thing that spoke to me the most was the concept of “kind sex.”

I think “kind sex” is not just a conversation parents can have with their kids. It’s a conversation friends can have with friends, and lovers can have with lovers, and we can have with ourselves. Maybe it’s even the conversation that comes before “Are you/we/am I having safe sex?” Because if it’s not kind, it’s not safe. (And no, I’m not trying to imply that any sort of kink, be it BDSM or other, cannot be kind. By kind, I am meaning caring about your partner’s safety, pleasure, and wellbeing. By kind, I mean consensual.)

I think I could have saved myself a lot of heartache and pain in the past if I had asked myself if the sex I was having was “kind.” I wasn’t being raped by the definition I had always learned – but I wasn’t having “kind sex” either. If I had been aware of this spectrum, I could have made myself more safe. I always thought, ‘Well if I’m not saying no, then I’m not being raped, right? I mean, I’m sort’ve ok with this, it’s not doing anything for me, but I kind of have to, don’t I?”

The answer, of course, is NO YOU DO NOT HAVE TO. EVER. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO, YOU DON’T HAVE TO. EVER.

But young me didn’t know this. Young me had only been taught about penetrative rape and violent abuse.

In fact, although young me knew something very very wrong had happened to her, she didn’t realise she had been sexually abused until much later, because the abuse didn’t fit the definitions she’d been taught. So although young me knew something very very wrong was happening, she didn’t have the words to tell anyone about it.

If we talked about what “kind sex” is, we could also talk about what “unkind sex” is. It’s not necessarily rape (unkind is far far far too weak a word for that), though I don’t want to strictly exclude that from the overall definition. It’s sexual activity that one or more party is unsure about, and they’re not given an opportunity to discuss it. It’s sexual activity that doesn’t arouse you. It’s sexual activity that feels uncomfortable. It’s sexual activity that wasn’t asked for. It’s sexual activity that doesn’t ensure all parties are comfortable, safe, and enjoying it.

The “safe sex” conversation can stop at “Do you have condoms?” The “kind sex” conversation won’t. It’ll ask what sort of condoms you’ve got, if they’re the sort your partner likes, if they’re fun, if they make you feel comfortable and safe. It’ll ask if you have discussed what contraception you prefer with your partner(s). It’ll forget the condoms and ask how the sex is. Does it make you tingle all over and smile like an idiot the next day? Do you care about your partner’s pleasure? Do you respect their choices?

Yep, it might be a hard conversation to have, for some of us. It might step over some people’s boundaries. But if I suspect that I, or a lover, or any one of my friends is having unkind sex, you can bet I’ll be starting that discussion.

I wish someone had started it with me. It could have made the world of difference.

I’ll finish with this. Michelle A’Court quotes Dr Emily Nagoski, a university health educator who works in sex assault prevention.

“It’s about doing something,” she says, “and something is anything that isn’t nothing”.

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About writehandedgirl

Sarah is a writer who is passionate about social justice, feminism, politics, and cats. She is a columnist and poet and currently lives in Nelson. You can follow Sarah on Twitter (@_writehanded_) or read more of her writing at writehanded.org

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