When I finally could name my experience as rape, I started looking back at all the other times I thought I had consented to sex. I pulled apart those experiences because I felt duped. My experience had been so subtle. I was suddenly having sex with a man and I hadn’t agreed to it, but it was happening anyway. He hadn’t tackled me or pinned me down in a dark alley, forcing himself onto me but had slid in when my defenses were down and I had to push him off. This wasn’t what I’d been taught to prepare for, to fight against. I had fought. I had pushed him off, and in the end that was how I’d finally figured out what had happened. I hadn’t given it a proper name until months later. So, I wanted to know if I’d always fully agreed to sex or if all my intercourse had been something people had forced upon me.
I thought of the first time I had sex, in a tent in the woods, with a man who, when I told him we couldn’t have sex because I was a virgin, his response was, “so?” I thought of the one where I’d gone over to break up, agreeing we’d still be friends, falling asleep watching a movie together as “friends” and waking up in the middle of the night to him trying to enter me. Or the guy who got me too drunk to drive myself home and, though I’d been interested in him, I still kept thinking it was too soon, I’d wanted to wait but it seemed rude to say no as a guest in his house. It’s not like he’d asked me anyway. Or the ones whom I wanted to start something real with but being pushed and coerced into sex, I gave in because that was what was expected and I thought it meant we were a couple now. A relationship is not what sex means to a lot of men, by the way, if you’re still confused on that point. Had it all been a form of rape?
We’ve been changing the definition of rape. Now we talk about consent instead. I wish at the time that the world had been discussing how only “yes” means “let’s have sex.” I don’t feel that men have completely caught up with this, but maybe this next generation coming up will be better. Maybe my young nieces won’t have to deal with this because boys will be taught to listen to what the girl is telling them instead of answering their physical desire and pushing till they get it. Maybe, but we’ve got a ways to go first.
Had I ever had sex that I’d wholeheartedly said “YES!” to, knowing with excitement and joy that this was what I wanted and that the choice was influenced only by what I wanted? At that time, I couldn’t say that I’d ever felt that way about sex. There had always been trepidation about whether or not I should be doing it. The moment of choice usually boiled down to letting myself be led by someone else’s wants or having someone push past my refusal till I gave in. Was this rape too? I still don’t know. I just know it wasn’t “Yes.”