Yes Means Yes – affirmative consent – is an unrealistically high standard for how people talk about sex in relationships. I’d go so far as to say it is a flagrant denial of reality in that people almost never have a straight-forward conversation about sex, not to mention anything else. This sham of a law will shift blame, not solve problems.
The insanity of this position is obvious if you consider the impossibility of uttering the phrase “Do you consent to having sex with me?” Without having any feelings about saying it. Would you feel bold? Would you fear rejection? Does it feel, somehow too direct and matter of fact? Would you resent having to ask like some panhandler? Would you rather just tell your partner “I want you” and see how they react? Or would you be afraid they would feel objectified? Maybe you don’t even realize whether or not you really want to do something until you start doing it. These feelings are what constitute our lived experience of the meaning of the situation, not the narrative used.
And how about the recipient of that question? What if he answered:
“Well, I did feel like having sex with you before you asked. But now I’m kind of self conscious and not really feeling turned on.”
“Does that mean you do or do not want me to try and help you feel turned on, or less self conscious?”
“Yes. I mean both, but I feel kind of like I shouldn’t need your help.”
“Huh. So you’re not turned on, but you want to be. Does that mean you don’t want to have sex with me but feel like you’re supposed to be enjoying this, or that you do want to have sex with me but don’t feel like you can say so?”
If people only have sex when they wanted to, they would have a lot less of it. Having sex to avoid confrontation, rejection, conflict, embarrassment or shame are among the many reasons people have sex. After that you could list performing, meeting expectations, anxiety, self loathing, revenge, and insecurity.
To this admirable list add all the things people do to avoid having sex and to avoid being direct add: Getting drunk, working late – or even pretending to be drunk, busy, stressed, headache, sick, tired, etc.
We must understand that the same psychology that makes it impossible for some women to adequately say “no” is what will prevent Yes Means Yes from working. People do not yet feel as free as they are and I think we all deserve a little more sympathy and a little less blame. (a Nietzschean second innocence). As always, where hearts fail us we substitute with omniscient ritualistic bureaucracy.
Not to mention, the only possible way a college student could remember to have this conversation is if instead of enjoying the moment they were preoccupied with worrying about punishment from the government. I wonder why you would be thinking such things at a time like this? Perhaps your existential guilt can no longer be laid at the feet of dead gods so now you need a living one.
Masters and Johnson (1979, pp. 64-81) studied 307 heterosexual couples chosen specifically because they functioned well sexually. These were the “healthy” ones. Women in the study almost universally complained about uncomfortable breast and clitoral touching. Men constantly complained about uncomfortable or dissatisfying penile stroking. The key is they claimed this to the researchers. Out of thousands of observed encounters only three women ever mentioned this to their partners and no men ever said anything.
It’s nice when people can be direct, open or vulnerable. But the assumption that people should be able to talk this way will be more damaging than the alternative. All that will happen is that men can be more effectively blamed and punished and actual raping will continue unabated. This will happen because people rape on purpose to overcome feelings of powerlessness and disrespect. You know, like the kind of powerlessness you feel when you’re supposed to be able to stand up for yourself in difficult conversations, fail, and wind up feeling resentment and the desire to punish others in an effort to avoid hard to dispel self hatred.
People used to do rely on roles to live a predictable life. With the collapse of socially defined behavior, interpersonal anxiety abounds and one solution is to find another way to make people predictable. Unfortunately, there is some evidence that we are using the government to make people more predictable.
In a fit of insanity I have tried to ask partners in the past if they wanted to have sex with me. The universal response has been “Why would you ask me that?”
Another part of who we are as humans has slipped away into the ausland.
*Note: Much closer to reality is Swann’s courtship of Odette (Proust, 1913). Proust’s portrayal of the interlocuteurs illuminates how we mutually use behavior to convey meaning about that which we can’t communicate directly. The reason for this, I would say, is that much of the meaning of what we do exists in mutually constructed illusion. In the vignette of Swann’s courtship, he conveys both his interest and the permission for his advances through the subterfuge of adjusting flowers on the bodice of Odette. I would further my claim by saying that the attempt to be direct (yes means yes) will itself become a new metaphor. The question again: Why are you asking? Are you asking because you don’t know, to convey respect or to avoid blame?