In the last six or so weeks, the women of Hollywood decided to finally speak up about producer Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual assault against women. After years and years of forced silence, the issue of non-consensual sex and sexual interaction has taken the forefront. It has extended from Hollywood to politics to our own backyards and back again, revealing common problems with sex and consent.
The #metoo campaign has become an international movement, and it positions us as a culture to begin change — to do better. As such, the LGBT community should also use this moment to reflect on our own relationship with sex and consent.
While so far there are no reported female perpetrators, a number of men, especially gay men, have spoken out recently about having been assaulted or raped. There seems to be some question about appropriateness of men sharing their stories now because certainly the systemic problem relates more to females than males being victimized.
But why shouldn’t the #metoo campaign also empower men who have had these experiences to speak up? Historically, the vast majority of male rapes do not get reported due to the cultural pressures applied to boys and men to appear strong, tough and often emotionless. Perhaps this is the moment where all of that can begin to change.
The Centers for Disease Control found that 40 percent of gay men and 47 percent of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence (not including rape) and that 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men have been raped. These are high numbers, especially given that there is great reason to believe that male victims underreport these sorts of crimes.
One variable to gay and bisexual men who experienced sexual assault or rape is the existence of Grindr and other hookup apps. Objectively speaking, inviting a relative stranger into your home or going to theirs does create a level of potential danger; however, it is also an accepted part of gay-male culture at this point. With that though, I’ve found in my own practice that men who have experienced rape or assault as a result of Grindr (or other apps) feel more guilt than is typical of those who’ve had a similar experience. The feeling seems to be that, because they chose to engage in sexual acts with someone they don’t know or whom they barely know, they are liable, as opposed to the perpetrators, themselves.
The bottom line here, though, is that men and women, men and men, women and women and everyone in between must seek consent. Consent does not mean that your partner simply has not said “no,” it means that they have explicitly said “yes.”
Why is this so important? Sex relates to power and control — probably much more than most of us realize. In many ways, sex involves the relinquishment and attainment of control. Perhaps it oscillates throughout a sexual encounter or maybe it stays constant, but it is the presence of these power dynamics that makes consent so incredibly relevant to responsible sex. If you or your sexual partner has taken on the position of having less control than the other, there is an inherent level of vulnerability in existence at play. That vulnerability might (and often does) make it harder than usual to express one’s wants and needs. As such, being asked about what is and isn’t OK can be massively helpful and can even be the difference between rape/assault and mutually enjoyable sex.
We need to be asking the question — not just sometimes but every single time. The most important thing that we can do now as a society, and as a community, is to create an open dialogue and to keep it open.
As a practitioner and perpetual student of modern psychoanalysis, it is a core belief of mine that talking cures. The act of talking is both personally and societally reparative, and the more stories shared and the more conversations had about creating environments conducive to affirmative consent, the better. This is not a subject matter that is meant to be swept under the rug any longer than it already has been. We need to be striving for a society where, however idealistic, nonconsensual sex is a rare occurrence.
Kristina Furia is a psychotherapist specializing in issues and concerns of the LGBTQ community in addition to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental illnesses. Her private practice, Philadelphia LGBTQ Counseling, offers both individual and couples sessions (www.lgbtphillytherapy.com).
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