Consent and Feelings   Leave a comment


Trigger Warning: Rape, Drunk Sex, Wife Shaming

Somebody pointed me to a really appalling post on Slate’s Dear Prudence column.

Essentially, the letter writer (calling herself “Confused”) was drunk one night when her future husband came in and tried to have sex with her years earlier. She went along with it for a bit, then realized she was drunk and ran out. The event left Confused feeling abused and the husband feeling guilty. He apparently almost turned himself in for rape. He got over the guilt and she the mistrust by agreeing that they could go forward in similar situations if he asked her consent first. Well, recently they were both drunk and they had sex without him asking for consent first. When Confused woke up the next day and realized she couldn’t remember half of what had happened, she felt abused again and wondered what she should do.

Prudence responded to this cry for help by shaming the hell out of the letter writer.

Your approach, however, seems to be to treat your sex life as if it is subject to regulatory review by the Department of Health and Human Services. Your prim, punctilious, punitive style has me admiring your put-upon husband’s ability to even get it up, given the possibility he’ll be accused of rape—or turn himself in for it!—if one of you fails a breathalyzer test. Living in terror that expressing one’s perfectly normal sexual desire could end one’s marriage, and freedom, is itself a form of abuse. Stop acting like a parody of a gender-studies course catalog and start acting like a loving wife. If you can’t, then give the poor sap a divorce.

First of all, Prudence mocks Confused for negotiating her needs (“regulatory review”). There is absolutely nothing wrong for a couple to negotiate what they both need to feel comfortable. How Prudence can claim to offer advice without understanding that is beyond me.

Second, Prudence classifies Confused’s style as punitive. That is manifestly not the case from letter. The need to get consent before drunken sex was a negotiated solution that made both parties more comfortable.

And to be clear, the husband should have felt guilty about what he did. Drunk women cannot give consent. Let me repeat that, women in chemically altered states of consciousness cannot consent. If a person intentionally gets another person drunk in order to have sex with them, the first person is a filthy rapist (whether male or female). They are choosing to deprive other people of the ability to knowingly consent in order to have sex. They are taking another’s choice away. They are rapists. If a person gets drunk first and then has sex with another drunk person, they are an irresponsible rapist (unless they both agree that it’s okay before they get drunk). You’re not allowed to kill people no matter how plastered you get. You’re not allowed to rob a bank no matter how stoned you get. Having sex with someone who cannot consent is ALWAYS wrong and ALWAYS rape. Confused was right to feel violated and the husband was right to feel guilty.

Third, Prudence mischaracterizes the negotiated conditions. Confused and her husband can have sex when they’re drunk. The husband just needs to ask first. There’s nothing the slightest bit unreasonable about that. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be able to remember all of one’s sexual experiences. There’s nothing wrong with wanting choice to be exercised explicitly when thinking is impaired. This is especially true with the kind of past history that this couple has.

Fourth, the husband is not living in terror for expressing perfectly normal sexual desire. He is living with an agreement that simply says he needs to get consent first. That’s it. And once again, this agreement seems to be as much for his comfort as it is for hers.

And he is the one that broke the agreement. Even if the original agreement was unreasonable (which it was not), the husband agreed to it. A relationship cannot possibly work if negotiated agreements can be broken at will. How is a couple supposed to work anything out in that scenario? The husband did do wrong, even if only in agreeing to something he didn’t want to live by, and shame on Prudence for not acknowledging that.

Fifth, Prudence tells Confused to start acting like a loving wife. This advice is perverse. There is absolutely nothing loving about hiding feelings of hurt and abuse. I, personally, would like sex to be something that my wife is comfortable with, and therefore would like to know if I do something that upsets her. I don’t care what it is. I want to know. Loving spouses allow themselves to be loved in return. How can Confused do that if she doesn’t honestly say when she feels abused?

Sixth, the entire tone of Prudence’s response is appalling to me. She ignores the seriousness of the almost rape that occurred (and shames Confused for taking it seriously). She ignores the value of working through issues with negotiated solutions. And her entire perspective ignores the loving communication that should take place in these situations.

Finally, feelings do not need to be justified. Let me repeat that, feelings do not need to be justified. They should often be discussed and sometimes set aside, but they never need to be justified. If my wife one day wakes up with an irrational fear of keeping yogurt in the fridge, then we won’t keep yogurt in the fridge. I don’t care if the fear is irrational, yogurt is not worth my wife being afraid. On the other hand, if my wife develops a mild dislike to my E-Reader, then we’ll have to come up with a more complicated solution. Because while I don’t want to ignore her feelings, whatever they might be, I’m not going to ignore my own either.

Point being, if Confused is feeling abused by her husband, that’s a major problem for both of them. It’s a problem because healthy relations don’t leave people feeling abused. If he’s a good husband, he will do whatever it takes so that neither of them feels abused. He’ll do that because that’s what good spouses do. What he won’t do is shame her for not loving him enough for the crime of feeling abused.

I really don’t know what is wrong with people. A good relationship is one that leaves all parties involved satisfied. A bad relationship is one that leaves one or more people feeling abused with no way to address that feeling. Is that really so hard to figure out? It’s times like this that I really love my wife. Thank you for being you, Schnookems.

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