Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body - Sara Pascoe (2016)

CONSENT

Fantasy Versus Fiction

In my first year at university we studied an eighteenth-century novel called Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson. The story is told from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old servant girl who finds herself repeatedly harassed and assaulted by the young Squire who has inherited the house where she works and lives. She is trapped with no escape. Pamela writes long letters to her parents, who advise her to keep avoiding the attentions of the Squire, in order to protect her honour and maidenhead. Pamela always faints from fear when he attempts to touch or undress her, and luckily he finds that a turn-off. The Squire becomes increasingly frustrated and imprisons Pamela, steals her letters and stops her communications with her parents, all the while pressuring her to have sex with him. She fights and fights and swoons and swoons and eventually, just when she thinks he is about to kill her, she earns his respect, nay, his love. The Squire decides to marry Pamela because she is so good and chaste and fainty. Everyone is thrilled, including Pamela’s parents – she has proved herself worthy of his love by not succumbing to his molestations. And it’s NOT EVEN FINISHED! Post-wedding, Pamela finds out the Squire has a daughter with a woman who didn’t manage to fight him off as successfully as our heroine. Pamela decides to adopt the daughter and teach her to be virtuous, unlike her brazen birth mother who was clearly well up for it if she couldn’t even be bothered to faint. The end.

I HATE SQUIRES! 

The explicit message of this book was that not wanting to have sex isn’t enough, saying no is insufficient. Men bear no responsibility for their actions, their urges and instincts are completely understandable and it’s up to women to control them and keep everybody virtuous. This is a world where the girl is blamed if she can’t defend herself, if she’s allowed herself to be overpowered. Because that’s how overpowering works, right guys?

The term before this we had read Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. It’s a really bloody long book, and somewhere within it there is a trial scene, Sancho Panza is sitting as a judge and hearing the town’s cases and solving them, and then this woman accuses a rich man of raping her and the man claims that it was consensual, and then Sancho orders the rich man to give the woman a purse full of money. She leaves, then Sancho tells the guy to go and get his money back. The pair return to court after a couple of minutes, struggling over this purse, and the victim is told by Sancho that if she had cared as much about her honour as she did about cash then she wouldn’t have got raped in the first place.

After reading the books, we were required to discuss them in seminars. In both cases the tutor (separate but indistinguishable old men) tried to lead a debate about the literary merit of the text, but we were TOO FURIOUS. Pamela was a book about RAPE, both books perpetuated rape myths and victim blaming, THEY SHOULD NOT BE ON OUR SYLLABUS. My fellow students and I had a wonderfully passionate row about what would be left in the canon if we chucked all the misogynistic rubbish in the bin. The teachers countered with good arguments about cultural materialism and historical context, but they could not swerve the EMOTION that these stories produced in us, and we quarrelled over their heads about modern issues. These two literary cases of rape apology were hideous to us, not because contemporary beliefs had changed so much but because they hadn’t changed enough. We were familiar with modern judges berating victims for their choice of outfit or being out alone. Blaming them for not screaming or fighting hard enough. Telling them they were ‘looking for trouble’ if they hitchhiked or went to a house party. Or drank alcohol or had nice hair. Or had ever had sex before, especially if it was WITH THE DEFENDANT. These ‘historical’ texts made us angry because they didn’t feel like a reflection of some other time, but of our own.

Pamela was incredibly popular. From publication in 1740 it became a bestseller throughout Europe, provoking a ‘frenzy’ of discussion and inspiring a flurry of other works. Paintings, waxworks, murals and operas were created to depict the story and its heroine. Journalists wrote articles warning against the ‘lasciviousness’ of the text and how it would lead the youth astray. Merchandise was produced and sold, and then came the parody novels. Henry Fielding wrote An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews under a pseudonym. As the ‘sham’ might suggest, his version portrayed a servant girl tricking her master into marriage. Further critiques were proffered by the anonymous Pamela Censured and the particularly bitchy Anti-Pamela, Feigned Innocence Detected. Society was split between ‘Pamelists’ and ‘Antipamelists’ as the worth of the book was debated. Much of the outcry was due to the class implications of the text, with a squire marrying so far beneath him. And the rest was due to the book’s pornographic content and – sorry, WHAT NOW?

Oh yes, this story depicting the abuse of power and the assault and exploitation of a pubescent girl was sexually arousing to many women. But this was in the olden times, remember, when everyone was all repressed and stoic about sex, it probably had an unsheathed ankle in it somewhere so they all went crazy. Nowadays we’d never have a … HANG ON, who’s that writhing over there trying to get my attention?

It’s FIFTY SHADES OF GREY!

Two hundred and seventy-one years after Pamela married a rich bloke who treated her terribly, Anastasia Steele did the same. And there was no ambiguity this time around: the book was written with the express purpose of arousing women, although I once overheard a woman at Dublin airport meekly complaining, ‘How come no one mentions the story? It’s a real cliffhanger.’

How come indeed; the story is that Ms Steele is a twenty-one-year-old virgin. (Yes, it’s a book about a virgin who weds the bloke she loses it to, because even erotic literature cannot escape dated ideology.*) The bloke’s called Christian Grey, and he’s all messed up because he lost his virginity to an older lady who bondaged him all the time. Now he would like to do the same to Anastasia, please, if she would just sign this special contract that is very long and legal-sounding. It sets out that she is to be the ‘submissive’ in a sado-masochistic relationship with him as the ‘dominant’. The contract takes ownership of her body and sexuality; she must not masturbate or get pregnant and she must agree to all the sex stuff he wants ‘without hesitation or argument’.

The crazy logic of this document exhibits the separation of fantasy and reality. You cannot give somebody permission to force you to do things, any more than you can allow yourself to be overpowered. There is an inherent contradiction in the contract, though it would be wonderful to see someone try to legally enforce it:

CHRISTIAN GREY (whining)
But she hesitated when I proffered the bum dragon, your Lordship, I want £25 in damages.

But sexiness doesn’t need to make sense. E. L. James originally self-published the book in 2011; people could pay to download a copy or print on demand. By 2012 it had become so popular that Vintage bought the rights to publish, and it subsequently became the fastest-selling paperback ever in the UK and shifted over a hundred million copies worldwide. What’s most exhilarating is that it created its own audience. Women sought out the book because it was something they wanted; its success was not the result of a huge marketing campaign telling us all how hideously fat and old we are, but down to women recommending something they enjoyed to each other. Something that they had liked and thought their friends might too … something that had brought them pleasure. Not ‘woman eating yogurt in an advert doing come face’ pleasure, but real actual pleasure in their bodies and desires, which seems so incredibly vital and … then you remember what it’s about and feel confused again.

We’ve found a contradiction. On the one hand:

Pornography has always been an industry dominated by male consumption, and the vast majority of pornography is created to stimulate men. Women’s bodies are present and are utilised in a variety of ways, but the male orgasms are real and the women’s are faked. I am not saying that male porn actors enjoy their job any more or less than their female peers, I am pointing out that ninety-nine per cent of the sex shown is far more indicative of male sexuality than female. And E. L. James, a WOMAN, creates some porn for women, and suddenly there is a step towards balance. A commercial and public acknowledgement that women get horny and masturbate and have a sex life with themselves as well as with their partner(s). The book’s popularity showed true democracy at work, and it generated vital discussion about female sexual satisfaction: on daytime television, in comedy routines, on the radio and on the bus.

But on the other hand:

The book describes a woman allowing a man to control her life and body, relinquishing the autonomy women have fought for centuries to gain. It could have been written by the Taliban.

And an abundance of women were really into it, so why? Because what we fantasise about has nothing to do with what we want in real life. Maybe fantasy is a reaction to circumstances? For instance, if you are a busy working woman with a hectic home life, the idea of being tied up while someone else organises the whips and bum dragons and then cleans up afterwards might seem very attractive. Perhaps women who DO feel in control of their own lives and bodies are exactly the people who can enjoy a fairy tale about the opposite?

The only danger resides with those who do not understand the nature of fantasy, who confuse the fictional and literal – those who think that if a woman enjoys the idea of something, surely she would really enjoy the reality. ‘If women fantasise about rape all the time, why do they complain when it happens?’ says someone somewhere every second. Rather than shutting that down as an idiotic question from an awful person, let’s attempt to answer it.

Fantasy as a concept, or even as a word, can refer to different things. Sometimes it might be something you would like to literally happen. Maybe you would be up for a threesome, perhaps you’re desperate to play in the World Cup? Some women who read Fifty Shades went out and bought the accompanying S & M merchandise, so the fiction did bleed into their reality. But fantasy can also exist in an imaginary space. Not a wish to be fulfilled. Not goal-setting with some hope of future achievement. What I think about during sex, and I presume this is true for every woman in a long-term relationship, is wide-ranging, disgusting and almost the literal opposite of what attracts me in real life. I imagine gross fat old men. People with bad hygiene and clumsy hands. And what they’re doing feels so good that I can’t stop them even though I hate them.

I have a Rolodex in my head of every person I have ever met and I scroll through while my boyfriend is going down on me. Hundreds of men and women that I can use to get me off, but who I would never allow to lay a finger on me in actuality. These fantastical imaginings are not an exaggerated version of the truth; they’re a separate dimension with no gateway to this one. They don’t shape or influence any of my decisions. They do not in any sense feel ‘real’.

So let’s understand fantasy on a spectrum, from ‘I wish this would happen to me’ at one end and ‘Only in my imagination’ at the other.

Now it’s well known that whenever there’s a study of women’s sexual fantasies, “‘rape’” (and I can’t put enough quote marks around it) usually comes near the top. There are varying statistics from a variety of studies, claiming that between seventeen and sixty-two per cent of women fantasise about forced sex. This ‘evidence’ has supported the myth that ‘no means yes’ and that women can ‘really enjoy’ sex they say they don’t want. It baffles even really intelligent men, because it seems to be a paradox. A brilliant stand-up once had a routine about how ‘rape has been proved to be the number one female fantasy, so how come women always run away when I try?!’ Another comic, a woman, told him he had to stop doing it and they had a row outside a gig, with the audience streaming past. Both of them were so upset that the other couldn’t understand their point of view. He thought his joke was funny because he believed it was so clear that what people mean by a ‘rape fantasy’ is far removed from the reality of a man attacking them. She felt that the distinction was not clear and that his comedy was excusing predatory behaviour and violence.

Comedians argue amongst themselves about rape jokes a lot. People are always very defensive of their own material and consider themselves to be ‘promoting conversation’ or ‘stimulating debate’ by venturing into ‘don’t even go there’ areas. But comedy is a form of cowardice. Its very definition is a refusal to deal with things seriously; the comic is flippant, laughing is cathartic. Some argue that comedy can be used to promote good social conscience or political ideas but I’ve never been convinced of that. Maybe that means it can’t do much harm either? I don’t want comedians to be censored, and I have never told anyone what they should or shouldn’t say on stage. But I’ve also noticed that when a comic’s joke has upset someone, they only ever get really defensive about what they meant or what they were trying to do. They never apologise. I’m in Melbourne as I write this and early in the festival, a male comedian began his routine with this:

‘So you know how gay people can make jokes about being gay, and black people can make jokes about being black? Well, I can make jokes about rape.’

And at the gig, a woman made a silent protest, she slid under a table and lay there. The comic was frustrated with her and eventually told her to ‘fuck off and die’. And then in all the furore that’s been following it, with newspapers asking if comedians should agree not to do rape jokes, if they should be banned, and comedians writing tweets and opinion pieces in defence of the joke or the comic – ‘He wasn’t condoning rape, he was saying he looked like a rapist’ or ‘Chris Rock said he thought that joke was one of the cleverest he’s ever heard’ – even within all this discussion there is no space to absorb and acknowledge how joking about rape affects its victims. There is no empathy.

Every defence of ‘offensive’ material should begin with a brief description of how it affects those upset:

‘I the comedian understand that sometimes when a person who has experienced rape or sexual assault hears that word used in a joke her body physiologically reacts in fear. Her heartbeat will speed up, she may feel nauseous, lose her hearing, feel suddenly faint or claustrophobic. Her§ body may be flooded with adrenaline and she might want to escape the room as quickly as possible although she is trapped, aware that if she moves the comedian will make fun of her, or that she will be drawing attention to herself as a victim. The laughter of those around her can feel malicious and personal. However I still think my joke is worth doing because ______________.’

The existence and misunderstanding of “‘rape’” fantasy has warped common understanding of the crime and has allowed many people, juries and judges included, to mistrust victims. Using the same word for the fantasy and the assault has, consciously or unconsciously, led people to believe there is possibility of pleasure in the latter. That it can be craved or enjoyed by some women. The distinction is simple:

A classic fantasy scenario, whether in Mills and Boon-type literature or the stories women themselves have told researchers, involves a very good-looking man being so overcome with passion and attraction for a female protagonist that despite her protestations he expertly arouses and stimulates her to climax. This is seduction. Whether acted out or imagined, the sex is anticipated and enjoyed. It’s not the handsomeness of the aggressor nor the woman’s orgasm that signifies no crime has taken place, but the desire and thus consent. The fantasy of being ‘forced’ hides it, but it is there. This sex is something wanted and agreed to. Yes, she may have said ‘no’ out loud, she may have resisted because she is married/does not know the guy/is a virgin, but within this fantasy scenario the very fact of denying something she physically desires enhances her arousal. It could be called a ‘rough sex fantasy’, ‘stranger sex fantasy’, ‘unfriendly banging fantasy’ or anything else you can think of, but it needs to be understood completely separately from rape. This fantasy occurs in a safe place, whether alone during masturbation or acted out as role play with a partner; the woman is imitating submission whilst being completely in control.

Sex is possible when you are unsafe or scared, but arousal isn’t.

So why does this fantasy persist? Why would something horrifying in actuality be sexy in pretend? There is a variety of theories, all equally interesting and unverifiable. ‘Sexual blame avoidance’ suggests that because women are socialised to suppress their desires, hide their sexuality, NOT WANT SEX, the idea of being sexed up against their will alleviates all of the guilt they might feel at enjoying it so much. This is undermined slightly by the ‘Openness to sexual experience’ theory, which has found that more sexually adventurous women are likely to experience more fantasies in general, including those involving forced sex. Other psychologists have speculated that the fantasy is a result of being conditioned by male rape culture, or a reaction to trauma, or simply masochistic tendencies.

And then there is the very problematic ‘Biological predisposition to surrender’ theory, which argues that male animals often subdue females and mate with them in situations which can look to us as if the female is resisting and the sex is ‘unwanted’. Thus such forced intercourse has played a part in every species’s evolution … rape is a ‘natural’ part of sexual selection and so modern women’s fantasies about it are an echo of a successful mating strategy. This is an exceptionally dangerous idea because it justifies the crime of assault in human beings; the act of heterosexual sex and the act of heterosexual rape are the same: penetration by a penis. In the same way that giving someone a present is the same action as theft: a movement of property between two people. 

But giving someone your television is very different from having your television stolen; regardless of whether you were home or whether there was violence during the robbery, the distinction is intention, or consent. Yet someone who has their wallet stolen is not doubted because they may have given money away before or didn’t hide their property properly or were walking around in a dark street late at night looking like they might be up for sharing cash. They are not disbelieved when they say their wallet was taken against their will. And we don’t have politicians and intellectuals explaining that animals take each other’s stuff all the time, that it’s part of healthy competition and survival, thus excusing a thief’s behaviour while undermining a victim’s reaction. No one claims that there is secret enjoyment in having your wallet stolen because you are usually a generous person.

Sex is how people are made but sometimes rape is too. And this is too confusing for pro-lifers. Like Todd Akin. In 2012 this Republican Senate candidate and anti-abortion activist|| was asked if victims of rape who get pregnant should be allowed to have a termination. He responded:

TODD AKIN
From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Playing loudly to drown out stupidity trumpet:

I’ll let you get cracking on your Todd Akin voodoo doll while I unpack that sentence … great use of ‘legitimate’ before the word ‘rape’ to stress how much ‘illegitimate rape’ there is in the world. Just fake old ‘we made it up, it was actually fantastic, that’s why we’re so pregnant’ rape that you hear about all the time. It’s such a sweeping way of undermining and doubting women. It’s a dispassionate tsunami that destroys our credibility and allows him to ignore our experiences so that he can continue educating us about how our bodies work. Which is to ‘shut that whole thing down’. Refuse to be fertilised. CLANG CLANG CLANG ring our ovaries, cranking everything into action as our womb spins upside down and our Fallopian tubes tie around the cervix while we curtsey and our labia give us a lovely round of applause.

It is mostly pro-life Christians who use arguments such as the above. They have to be dismissive because a rape victim’s rights are contradictory to an anti-abortion stance. It’s a very human trait; all of us, even excellent fellows like you and me, collect the evidence which supports our pre-existing theories and opinions and dismiss those which challenge us. Todd Akin is not completely wrong: stress or anxiety can cause a fertilised egg to pass through a woman without bedding into the womb to divide and become a baby. This also occurs in women who have not been attacked, by the way, and more importantly, CAN YOU READ THIS BIT SLOWLY, TODD AND FRIENDS, BECAUSE IT IS IMPORTANT IF YOU WANT TO DISCUSS THIS KIND OF THING THAT YOU HAVE ALL OF THE INFORMATION, it only occurs in some women who have been raped. Not all. Just some.

Statistics collected from Rape Crisis centres over the last few decades show that thirteen per cent of women reporting a rape became pregnant from it. These results might be skewed, of course, if women who’ve found themselves pregnant are more likely to seek help and support. Other studies place the likelihood of pregnancy occurring from rape at between one and five per cent. There is vast discrepancy and unreliability in the statistics and I don’t feel confident that any number is definitively correct, as so many women do not report what has happened to them. However, there does seem to be some evidence that women are slightly more likely to become pregnant from rape than from consensual intercourse.

Emotionally, this is too horrible to contemplate. Morally it shouldn’t be true. Morally it would be preferable if our bodies could stop such an upsetting and confusing thing happening, if we could eject or reject, if we had some control over our biology.

Unemotionally, our bodies are amazing. We are the descendants of only the finest breeders of our species. In Sperm Wars Robin Baker claims that rough sex (consensual or forced) can stimulate ovulation, which suggests that we evolved to reap the biological benefit of unwanted mating. However, I can’t find a proper scientific study to back this up, it could be BS. There is so little certainty in this area. Much more research would be necessary, but I’m sure it’s very difficult to find victims of sexual assault who want you checking what their eggs are up to or counting the sperm inside them, so maybe we will never know. This might be an area of science that remains mysterious. And perhaps, actually, irrelevant.

I think people who point out that rape is part of nature are UNHELPFUL. They are sometimes very persuasive and interesting people, it’s not that they condone the crime, it’s that they know some really fascinating things about ducks’ vaginas and how dolphins have gang bangs and penguins have been seen to practise necrophilia. But they are technically incorrect. Let me show you my working:

I used to do gymnastics in the garden to impress my cat. His name was Roly and I’d show him cartwheels and he would do a really long blink at me if he thought I’d done a good one. During one of my exhibitions he ran off and started vigorously vibrating on a black cat in next door’s garden.

SARA, 6, wears pink-and-black leotard, shouts towards the house.

SARA
WHAT ARE THEY DOING?

DEREK, 28, not yet absent father, enters the garden.

DEREK (slowly)
Roly is a boy cat and he is hugging the girl cat—

GAIL, 24, shouts from an upstairs window.

GAIL
Don’t lie, Derek, he’s raping her.

Window slams. SARA’s confusing childhood continues.

My mum claims not to remember this incident, so maybe my subconscious made it up, but even so it’s very consistent with the kind of thing she would say. If we understand animals via a human framework, then of course Mr Cat’s fast and furious approach to love-making with no foreplay or sensitivity looks self-pleasing, perhaps even causing Mrs Cat pain and suffering. We cannot help but anthropomorphise, we project our emotional perceptions onto animals. As discussed earlier, sex in humans evolved to be highly enjoyable to support our societal structure (or rather, only those highly sexed early human-types socialised successfully enough to pass on their genes). Each animal’s approach to mating is fine-tuned for the most effective replication of DNA. If it involves bonding and pleasure, as it does in our species, that’s mere lubrication for the machine. We kiss and exchange saliva to check genetic compatibility, giraffes wee in each other’s mouth and hippos flick poo around with their tails because that’s how we each best make healthy babies. And the same is true for animals that pierce, maim, bruise or kill each other while mating. It’s not bad sex, it’s effective life-making.

Last night I had a row with my friend about ducks. The problem with writing this book is that when I switch my pencil off and go out, my mind is really full of what I’ve been thinking and researching and I either lecture someone too polite to wriggle away or I get argumentative. So last night my friend is telling me and some others that she has written a show about sex, I haven’t seen it but I will, she is telling us about it and it sounds gross and exciting and boundary-pushing and then she says, ‘I have this whole section about duck rape.’ And so all the other comedians are saying ‘WHAT?’ or going ‘Don’t they have weird vaginas?’ and everyone is just having a nice evening and enjoying themselves and I am furious with her and yell, ‘You’re INCREDIBLY irresponsible.’

But she’s not. And I’m sober now, so let me explain my emotions with more clarity.

This duck thing, mallards actually, was mentioned a lot alongside the Todd Akin comments, because the female mallard has a way of protecting her eggs from the sperm of unwanted mating. Some mallards pair-bond, form little male–female double acts who drift around lakes and ponds, nest together and share bread. The males who do not manage to find a partner form a brutish little gang who often try to separate bonded pairs and, working as a group, mate with the female. You can see videos on this online, and if you do, you’ll realise how exceptionally difficult it is not to project, to emote. What they are doing does seem morally wrong. Our empathetic brains cannot help but imagine how we would feel were we one of that feathery couple, having their day at the lake ruined.

A female mallard (like all birds) possesses what is called a ‘labyrinthine’ vagina that has false openings and tunnels, and she can move its position to alter the route that semen will take, and thus, in many cases, prevent unwanted sperm from fertilising her eggs. This is usually interpreted as a ‘defence’ against forced mating: ‘How swell, the lady duck has protected herself from rearing the ducklings of those awful gang members!’ But her twisty genitals are much better understood as a challenge. She has chosen her mate based on genetic and parental qualities which are superior to those of the non-bonded drakes that have been unable to attract or keep a lady duck. So her twisty vagina will always direct her partner’s sperm towards her eggs, and any other males’ away from them. Her children will be healthier/stronger/better dancers if they share her partner’s genes. She doesn’t practise multi-partnering like humans do. She has made her choice.

With one exception.

Having been misdirected and sent down a blind alley, if one of these marauders’ sperm manages to achieve the almost impossible and fertilise her this is GREAT NEWS. Because not all of her offspring will pair-bond. Some of her sons will be awful bachelors. The one trait that trumps all of her husband’s is super-strength swimmy sperm that her sons will inherit. You see, the labyrinthine vagina is a TEST to find the male mallards whose offspring will be able to pass it. Clever sex, well done.

This defence/test confusion occurs a lot. I’ve been reading up on animal sex and sentences are often worded with intentions implicit: ‘The male giraffe follows the female until she eventually gives up and lets him mount her,’ or ‘The female hare fights off the male until he subdues her,’ and this framing is incorrect. Our culture has trained us all to interpret males as active and females as passive, but in almost every species I have read about it is the female that initiates sex. They do this with pheromones and scents and behaviours and they get males excited and then yes, sometimes she’ll have him follow her around for hours or kick and bite him, but that’s to ensure that he is fit for purpose. Female animals do not get ‘worn down’ or ‘subdued’, it is the males that have to exhibit traits that their offspring will need if they are to survive. What we interpret as unwillingness or aggression, from another perspective, is flirting.

Although of course it isn’t actually, because flirting is a human concept that requires conscious thought, awareness of self and of other beings outside the self. And so does consent. We’re the only creatures on the planet that have the capability to conceive of bodily autonomy, birth control, age … do you see? Animals behave automatically, they can’t conceive that it was your hat they did a poop on or that it’s impolite to lick your bum afterwards. They don’t interpret the world with an understanding of others’ emotions, like we do.

It should be obvious that if ducks cannot consent, they cannot rape. It is a crime performed purely by human beings. To lend it to the animal world subtly defends it as something instinctual or procreative. It undermines what is criminal about it. And you should be grateful I’ve not been shouting all this at you while spilling wine on your shoes like I did to my poor friend Katerina.

KNOCK KNOCK

Hang on, there’s someone at my door, I’ll just go and see who it is … Oh look, it’s a person who still believes the issue of consent is a confusing one. He says, ‘Sometimes you just can’t tell if someone wants to have sex with you or not.’ Please come in, sit down, this might help you.

We must learn from the BDSMers. Yes, the form of sexual fun that was showcased (and misrepresented) by the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise has a comprehensive and clear framework of consent that can assist even ‘vanillas’** in our sexual communication. Bondage, Domination and Sado-Masochism involves all kinds of kinky tools and power play and does so with an understanding of ‘rolling consent’. Taking part in one activity does not mean you will agree to another. Having enjoyed a certain pressure one day does not signify that you will tolerate it the next. Yesterday you loved the bum dragon, but today you want it left in the drawer. Most of us are familiar with the idea of the ‘safe word’, which is a prearranged code that signals DISCONTINUE IMMEDIATELY, and its very existence proves that saying ‘no’ and ‘stop’ can be part of the fun, can facilitate pleasure. And that equally, at any point during sex, you might stop enjoying yourself and want to break or rest or have something to eat or discuss buttons. This is also true of the most banal intercourse, yet in our culture there is this pervading idea that once you get a guy started he has to finish. I have had so much sex that I didn’t enjoy. That I would have liked to pause, to explain my feelings. To slow down. Or reconnect. Or get dressed and go and cry in the bathroom. I have had kisses I loved lead into sex I hated. I’m ashamed of how much sex I have not enjoyed, and I have never known how to communicate this to my partners, because I have never understood it properly myself.

Rolling consent, my friend. The perverts invented it, and now we can all have happier, healthier sex lives, no matter how moderate the acts undertaken.

DING DONG

Gosh it’s busy in here today, you stay where you are, I’ll go … Oh hi there, Peter, what’s that? You’re still confused?

PETER
If a lady moans ‘no’ while we are getting off with each other, how do I ascertain if it’s a sexy no, rather than a scared serious no?

SARA
Why the hell wouldn’t you just ask her?

PETER
It’s embarrassing … I might ruin the moment.

SARA
Just ask. Say ‘Are we playing?’ or ‘Do you want me to persuade you?’ Even if it is uncomfortable for a second, it will be super-sexy afterwards. Or it won’t, because she meant no. Any moment that can be ‘ruined’ that easily was not a moment at all. 

PETER
Thanks Sara, bye!

SARA
You’re welcome, I’ll see you at volleyball practice.

Sara waves goodbye and puts on wellington boots.

SARA
I’ll see the rest of you over the page … it’s going to get even messier.

* Sing it with me, ‘Paternity certainty’. 

 I am working in the library today and don’t want to ask the nice lady if there are any books about sex toys.

 Yeah, if I’ve met you, then you’re in there. And I am not even weird with you when I see you afterwards.

§ This says ‘her’ but men get raped too and male victims suffer similar societal insensitivity.

 A study found that 54 per cent of narratives in such books involve a central character being ‘raped’.

|| Please, old man, tell me what you think I should do with my body.

** This means sexually bland people (not white people, as I once thought).