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If we started saying, “It ain’t sex unless everyone enjoys it” would rape and “gray-rape” (where consent is unclear) become less common? And might we all enjoy sex more?

An Emmy-nominated episode of HBO's Girls sparks the question.

“On All Fours” finds “Natalia” ready to have sex with “Adam” because, “You’ve been really nice all week.” And then she tells him what she likes and what she doesn’t as they indulge.

The next time is very different.

TRIGGER WARNING Author's Note:  What follows may be triggering for some survivors of sexual violence.
Adam tells Natalia to get down on all fours and crawl to his bed. She complains that the floor is dirty, but reluctantly complies. As she approaches, he grabs her and throws her onto the bed saying, “I want to f- you from behind, hit the walls with you.”

She hesitates: “No. Look, I didn’t take a shower today.” He insists, “It’s fine, relax” and goes at it. When he pulls out to cum on top of her, she whimpers, “No, not on my dress!” She pulls down her top, scowls and looks away as he cums on her chest. “I, like, really didn’t like that,” she says.

Some call the second scenario rape. Others call it “bad sex,” like Anna March at Salon.

Anna lost her virginity at age 15. Soon after, she had sex with this same guy and his best friend in a park, perhaps persuaded as much by alcohol as by the guys:

It was somewhat miserable to have sex consecutively with two young men, and to hear the second one ask, in the midst of intercourse, ‘Are you using birth control?’ and quickly add, ‘Oh, who cares — if you get pregnant, it’s your fault.’
When they went home her bra and panties were left behind.

Thinking back she recalls, “I was shaken both by the degrading nature of the incident and by the fact that I had allowed it.”

But it wasn’t rape, she says, because she consented. Like her, “Natalia” had bad sex, too. To call “bad sex” rape discredits women’s power to voice their wants. It also demeans real assault victims, she adds.

So, are the following scenarios bad sex or rape?

A young woman named Haley got drunk, and the guy she was with took her to his room and sexually penetrated her as she moved in and out of consciousness. At first it seemed like bad sex as she joked to her friends, “I was asleep!” Later it seemed more like rape to her.

Haley’s friend, Kristy, agreed to do something that she clearly did not want to do: While making out, the guy she was with told her to get on her knees. When she froze, he pushed her head down. She finally submitted, thinking, “I’ll just do it, it will be over soon enough.”

Yet another woman “hoped he’d see me crying” and stop.

Others freeze in fear.

Or, when Evan Westlake witnessed the digital penetration of a non-responsive young woman he did nothing to stop the assault because,

It wasn’t violent. I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I thought it was forcing yourself on someone.
Maybe it’s time to distinguish between acts that are mutually pleasurable and acts that are not, with only one referred to as “sex.”

If sex were only something that was mutually enjoyable, and if a person was not enjoying it, it would become clearer to everyone that what’s happening is not sex. And that might encourage everyone – participants and witnesses, alike – to refrain or say “no.”

Mutually pleasurable sex may be erotic or playful. It may be experimental – until you don’t like the experiment, say “no thanks,” and have your wishes respected. Or, it may be a gift you enjoy giving your partner even when you aren’t especially in the mood.

If someone is unconscious, half-conscious, asleep, grimacing, crying, frozen, miserable, reluctant, or has said “no,” it’s not mutually pleasurable. It’s not sex. It’s something else: rape or gray rape. And that means it should should not be happening.

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Originally posted to RaceGender DiscrimiNATION on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 11:03 AM PDT.

Also republished by Pink Clubhouse, This Week in the War on Women, and Community Spotlight.

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