It’s just not that simple: Consent, Coercion and the Reality of Male Violence

I read the New Statesman’s current “guide to sexual consent” written by pornography actress Stoya with interest. It was an interesting angle on consent but I wouldn’t want Stoya in a classroom teaching my child about sex and consent and not because of her employment. I wouldn’t want Stoya teaching my child about consent because her guide is far too simplistic. It fails to acknowledge the reality of coercion within relationships. It doesn’t account for asexuality or trauma.

Stoya has started from the position that sex is something everyone wants and should be having. In our culture, that inevitably means PIV (penis-in-vagina). If we want to start talking about consent, we need to start with babies teaching them bodily autonomy. We need to teach children that no one has the right to touch them without permission and that this includes being forced to kiss Grandad’s cheek, having their hair pulled by a classmate or being tickled. We need to start from the position that PIV is not sex and that it is not necessary to have PIV or PIA to have sex. Until we start teaching both of these, the construct of consent for sex remains focused solely on the male orgasm.

Stoya also seems to be starting from the position that a sexual partner will immediately respect a woman’s desire to stop, without consequence. This is simply not the reality in which many sexual relationships take place. Women are frequently placed in a position where refusing or changing their mind isn’t possible. Or, told that they are required to sexually service a male partner or it will be their fault if he has an affair. Dr Pamela Stephenson, who is the Guardian’s sexual relationships expert, recently told a woman that it was her duty to have PIV even if she didn’t like it or it hurt (brilliantly deconstructed by Ann Tagonist here). Victims of sexual violence who choose not to have PIV are told that there is something wrong with them.  Of course, men who insist on PIV with a female partner even when it causes her physical pain are not labelled weird or wrong. Men deserve PIV and its women’s duty to perform, even through physical pain.

I would have labeled Stoya as naive had it not been for these last two points:

7. If your sexual partner(s) express a limit or ask for something to stop and you do not respect it, you are stepping onto a scale that ranges from “jerk” to “full-on rapist”. Personally, I don’t want to be on that scale at all, and I don’t want to engage in sexual activity with anyone who does hang out on that scale.

8. If one of your sexual partners steps on to the jerk-to-full-on rapist scale, call them out on it. You have the right to end the sexual activity you are engaged in and to decline sexual activity with them in the future.

I’m at a loss for words here. No one should be forced to tolerate a jerk but insisting that it’s women’s responsibility to call out a sexual partner is quite dangerous and victim blaming. Sometimes women simply aren’t in a position to say no or to call out a partner. Making statements like this demonstrates a lack of understanding of the reality of sexual and domestic violence because it implies that women who don’t call out their partners are somehow at fault.

We need to start teaching consent to children but we need to acknowledge the reality of male violence and coercion. Consent isn’t as simple as yes and no; not when girls are raised from infancy to believe that their role is to be fucktoys for men.

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