Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Rules Of Engagement: Sex And Dating In The 21st Century

OK - let's have a frank discussion on sex and dating in the 21st century. I think the time's about right.

The recent sexual harassment scandals in the media — if anything — should force us to have a discussion on what are the proper rules of engagement in the dating and sexual arenas, as well as in our regular everyday encounters.

As Bernie Sanders tweeted:

So let's go there. I will write this of course from a male perspective because it's the only way I can, and I will voice some of the concerns I have as a male on the current problems we're facing. And one of those problems is the gray area.

The Gray Area

If a man abducts a woman on the street and forces intercourse on her, this no one denies is rape. If a man and a women have consensual sex with one another, this no one denies is not rape. We can all easily pick clear examples of rape and non-rape with little effort. But now let's move closer towards the middle of the scale. Things get a little bit trickier.

Suppose a woman and a man at a party have a few too many drinks, get flirtatious, and end up voluntarily having sex. Is this rape? What if just the woman had a few too many drinks and the man was mostly sober? Is this rape? What if it was the man who had a few too many drinks and not the woman? Does this change anything? What if they were both women, or both men? Does that change anything? What if they were both sober and one was the clear aggressor and the other went along to bed but never gave affirmative verbal consent? Is that rape?

People disagree widely on whether or not any of these scenarios constitute rape. This is because the definition of consent — the key factor in separating rape from non-rape — isn't definitively defined. According to some affirmative consent policies, like SUNY's,

“Affirmative consent is a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant's sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

According to this definition, consent is gender neutral, and it doesn't require words, actions will suffice. But, "Consent cannot be given when it is the result of any coercion, intimidation, force, or threat of harm." So what constitutes coercion? The dictionary definition is "the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats." OK, so this would presumably not include mere pressure to have sex, like what many men do to their girlfriends. 

Or does it? See, this is the gray area so much of us debate over. When does someone pressuring another person into sex turn into coercion? What makes this even more complicated is that many women want to be pressured into sex. They will pretend to not want to have sex and expect the man to continually pressure them. Why would a woman want this? Several reasons. One, it makes them feel desired, which boosts confidence. Two, it can take the sense of responsibility from the resulting sex away from the woman so that she doesn't have to feel guilty for wanting and enjoying sex. Many women still today feel shame over wanting and enjoying sex, a product of culture and religion.

Women for ages have preferred that men pursue them so that they can play this game of hunter and hunted, and feel that the man took over when she gave in so that any sex was the guy's fault, so that she can still feel innocent. But this brings up a thorny question: How can the new rules of consent coexist with the game of playing hard to get?

In a culture where women expect the man to be the aggressor (which is virtually every culture) and where women are expected to play hard to get (at least a little) how can we resolve this inevitable train wreck? 
The new rules of engagement need to fix our current existing problems: Women don't want to be harassed. Men don't want to be rejected. But neither do women not want men pursuing them, and neither do men want to be harassers (well most of them at least). 

So what do we do? It would be interesting to see a group of men and women separately try to come up with the new rules of engagement and compare and contrast. I'm sure there'd be stark differences in the gray area, and that's exactly what I'm going to try and tackle. I'm not going to claim I can write the new rules perfectly, but I'll give a crack at it.

And that will be in part 2.

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