We encourage each other to embrace new experiences, to meet new people, to take risks… to live in a world of “yes” and be open to what it brings. But NO is just as important. Especially when we’re talking about dating and sex.
But sexual etiquette is more complex than we might want to admit, whether discussing sexuality with our children, managing it with our spouses and partners, or tangled in the tumult of contemporary dating.
Safe Dating in a Complicated World
So how do we communicate boundaries during the dating dance? How do we sink the attitude behind expressions like “her lips said no, but her eyes said yes?”
In a contemporary culture that seems schizo when it comes to gender roles — and I’m all for whatever adults are comfortable with — we still ought to agree on a few basics. And I say as much even as I acknowledge this: We are operating according to an increasingly short-sighted timeline for getting to know each other, and an equally short-circuited set of expectations in that process.
We’ve bought into the convenience of apps to match us up, and pop culture to specify X number of dates (or hours) before the first kiss, the first feel, and the first tumble into bed. But for anyone interested in more than a hook-up, there’s no substitute for time and trust.
Shouldn’t it be possible to say “yes” to a fully lived life, rich in experience, erotic when eroticism suits our fancy, but NO to what is not consensual — to what feels frightening, invasive or otherwise off limits?
And if the adults are confused, what about the kids? What are we teaching them?
Talking to Kids About Sex: Saying Yes and No
I ventured a Google search on “talking to kids about sex” and another on “talking to teens about sex.”
What I found?
The search “talking to kids about sex” yields roughly 84 million results, and “talking to teens about sex” yields 52 million results, the latter ranging from Oprah on relationships to the Mayo Clinic. As for talking to kids about sex, one of the better approaches I’ve seen over the years is offered by a Planned Parenthood article and video clip, using humor and pragmatism to help adults field frequently asked questions — and then some.
Fine. But what about sexting? Talk about a conundrum! And what about the over-exposed selfies, and the social media feeds that we may not be adequately monitoring? How do we help our kids and teens draw the line?
And what about us, the adults? Should we err on the conservative side, always? Shouldn’t we never drunk text, tweet or post?
Out of curiosity, I also searched on “sexual etiquette” as well as “no means no.”
Apparently, there is no definitive Emily Post of Sexual Etiquette, exactly. But my search came up with a few amusing sources, no doubt covering manners that most adults of a certain age have learned. Then again, our sexually active teenagers, some twenty-somethings, and even the more “mature” crowd may benefit from:
- AskMen’s Top 10 Common Sex Etiquette Mistakes – a highly readable commentary focused on issues like personal hygiene, not ripping your date’s clothing in the throes of passion, no taking calls mid-coitus, no springing a surprise fetish or two (without discussing first), warn before the big finish if you’re having oral sex, don’t be unselfish, and so on. Not exactly rocket science, but entertaining.
- Lifescript’s 5 More Sexual Do’s – clearly reflects the advantage of the communication side of sexual activity, for example, talking with your partner before any sort of experimentation. Don’t most good manners hinge on observing, listening, and diplomatically discussing? Among the recommendations – do not scream out Ryan Gosling’s name unless you’re, well… in bed with Ryan Gosling.
Sexual Boundaries, When No Means No
That includes telling a date “slow down” or “stop” or a clear and resounding NO. Sexual activity requires mutual consent.
And if you feel cornered or coerced, or you have to talk your way out of an unsettling situation, pay close attention to this piece of advice from the Lifescript article referenced above:
Your partner should respect your boundaries… If he presses you at all, consider whether he’s the right guy for you.
My search on “no means no” resulted in a number of articles on date rape and what that means. It included this 2014 PBS Special on campus rape, clarifying that:
- No means no
- Drunk means no
- Yes means yes
How many of us talk to our kids about date rape? How many women — of any age — find themselves overpowered by a man who won’t take no for an answer, whether things devolve to actual rape or not?
Adult Sexuality in the Real World
Many of us are embarrassed when discussing sexuality — the details of our preferences, our “number,” the arrangements we’re engaging in, our increased interest, our decreased interest — and all the variations that human beings are likely to experience in a lifetime. Whether they act on them or not.
And we’re confused.
It’s no wonder. Women are encouraged to flaunt it in some circumstances, and hide it in others. Men are supposed to be strong and self-assured, and sensitive to women. And we’re all supposed to be sexy… except for when we’re not.
As a culture, we’re becoming more open-minded, publicly at least, about anything other than conventional sexual arrangements. The real world of adult sexuality is diverse, yet we continue to cloak much of natural human behavior in shame and judgment.
And our children pick up on this. Can we blame them for getting mixed messages, and wondering what is and isn’t okay? What are they seeing in our homes? What about disrespectful sexual behavior between parents? What if we find ourselves in a sexless marriage? And what about the mixed messages we are sending boys and girls, men and women — about what it takes to love and be loved, or to enjoy sexual pleasure?
Can we at least begin to talk to each other, as adults?
Teens, Alcohol, Coercion, Saying No
I’m not dealing with hookup culture in this discussion, and suffice it to say, I’m not in the swipe-right, swipe-left world. But “yes” should never be presumed if one of the parties is reluctant. And unfortunately, where alcohol is concerned, we know it lowers inhibitions and in the extreme, obliterates judgment.
At the very least, “no means no” is a rule I consider helpful. This includes explaining to sons and daughters that anything resembling coercion may not constitute violence, but it nonetheless has no place in a relationship, sexual or otherwise. And alcohol — as well as passion — may fuel fires we later wish we had extinguished.
So where is the line between “coaxing” and “coercion?” What about situations of so-called implied consent? How many adult women have difficulty with this very issue?
Here’s the short answer: If coaxing is required for sexual activity, then you’ve got the wrong time or the wrong person, much as the Lifescript article advises. If one partner is uncomfortable or unready, that should be the end of it. When alcohol or other substances get involved, judgment may be impaired, and intoxication becomes as an excuse.
Alcohol is never an excuse for what amounts to rape.
Coffee, Wine, Dinner… These Are NOT Payment for Sex
I say YES to meeting new people in a world that isolates us, young and old. Most of us, even introverts, thrive on engagement with others, and people need human touch.
I say YES to fully (and safely) embracing the enjoyment of another person with whom there is mutual attraction. “Safely” means not being pressured into something you do not want, and protecting your emotional and physical well-being.
And while I believe that relationships are transactional, that’s about give-and-take between adults who are actually in a relationship. In other words, coffee doesn’t buy first base, a margarita doesn’t buy second or third, and dinner doesn’t buy sex of any sort. Period.
Remember the concept of “mutual consent?” That means that both parties, regardless of gender, want to engage in a way that is comfortable, at the same point in time. And if there’s any doubt, try this:
If the answer is a clear, definitive, lucid yes, at the point in time during which you want to engage, then yes. Yes means yes.
It’s a no.
Teaching the Meaning of Consent
Still not clear on what mutual consent means? The boundaries of “sleepy sex” or “she wanted it earlier so now, though she’s passed out, must be fine, too?”
This YouTube video is brilliant. Watch it. Share it. “Tea Consent.”
Tea Consent, Copyright ©2015 Emmeline May and Blue Seat Studios
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