Sex and Entitlement

April 4, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Posted in Let's Get Personal, Sexual Assault | 5 Comments
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Oh man. I’ve been such a delinquent about updating. And there’s so much I want to write on. But with this new job… (apparently, on Capitol Hill, “40 hours a week” really means “well, 40, plus coming in early to prep for meetings, and staying late to wait for the UPS delivery guy who’s stuck in traffic, plus a weekend here and there, and waiting around for Congress to vote so you can update the Twitter feed in real-time, so uh, maybe 55? 60? Yeah, that’s more like it.” Don’t get me wrong; I love my job, and it’s giving me fantastic experience in what I want to go into (outreach & nonprofit management), but man. Free time is hard to come by.)

There is so much going on and I have so much to say about it. It’s ridonculous.

But let’s get to one thing that’s got me riled up at this very moment. Perhaps this is getting too much attention as it is. And perhaps I’ll have trouble relating it directly to the supposed topic of this blog. But it’s a bit personal for me.

The Alex Knepper Debacle.

(Don’t know what I’m talking about? Look at the original article in AU’s newspaper, the Eagle; the first article I happened to come across about it; and the Letters to the Editor written to the Eagle that have been posted online. If you want more, The Huffington Post has posted a bit more on it as well, including video.)

I’m not going to resort to calling Knepper names and bitching about as him as a person, but only because that has been done so much and so well already, so I’m going to move on to the more elemental problem at hand.

I’ll give you a hint: It’s not Knepper. He’s just one product of a trend on college campuses in particular, but also everywhere else across the country. This trend has many names and has been discussed at much length, but even those often don’t seem to get to the deeper problem at hand.

It’s been called Rape Culture, Predator Theory, the Commodity Model, among dozens of others. But at the root of all of these, there’s a little nugget of a belief that the rest grows out of.

A false sense of entitlement.

It all stems from an aggressor’s belief that that person “deserves” sex. I say aggressor, and not a gender-specific term, because men, women, and all those in between can, and have, both perpetrated and been victims of rape, sexual assault, molestation, and abuse of all kinds. If I believe that I deserve sex, then I will have few, if any, qualms about trying my darnedest to get it by any means necessary. If I see a girl drunk at a party, and lure her into my room, and start groping her even though she’s slurring her words… it’s not because I think she wants it. It’s because I think I want it and I think that I should have it, if for no other reason than the fact that I was slick enough to get her alone in a room where no one else could hear her if she protested.

Let’s get a few points out there.

  • It doesn’t matter what a person wears. If a girl is wearing a micro-mini and a halter top, that doesn’t mean she wants sex. It just means she’s comfortable showing off some skin. I’ve been to certain parties where more skin was showing than I would even dare show on a public beach, and yet no one there would have been brazen enough to assume that I wanted sex for it. I simply was comfortable being mostly nude in a group situation where such is acceptable. I could be wearing jeans, a loose sweater, and a scarf, and yet want sex more than I did during that clothing-optional party.
  • It doesn’t matter where you are. Showing up to a certain bar or party doesn’t mean a person signed a contract saying they agree to have sex with whomever approaches them. Or even with whomever they decide to make out with. It might mean they’re looking around to see who’s available. But it doesn’t mean they’re inherently going to decide to have sex with someone.
  • If a person is too drunk to say no, that doesn’t mean that person says yes.
  • Consent can be revoked at any time, and once it is, proceeding any further is assault. Period.
  • If someone asks for their partner to use protection, and that partner “pretends” to agree and removes protection partway through, that is also a form of assault.
  • Men, who are the perpetrators in the vast majority of sexual assault, do, in fact, have brains and are, in fact, capable of making moral decisions. In fact, they are even capable of doing so while drunk. Therefore, we can’t belittle men by saying they “can’t help it,” when that is such a gross underestimation of the capabilities of half of our species.
  • The relationship between two people makes no difference regarding the need for consent. A husband can rape a wife, a girlfriend can assault her boyfriend, and a person can molest their best friend… just as much as strangers are capable of such.
  • One night stands are not inherently bad, and drunken hookups aren’t necessarily going to lead to assault. I’ve had men I brought home for a drunken one-night stand ask me if I liked something, or if it was okay to proceed to something else. And no, it wasn’t awkward. Just whisper it riiiight next to my ear… and it could be sexy no matter what you’re saying. Even if it’s something like, “You want me inside you?” “Do you have protection?” “Do you like [insert sexual act you want to do next here]?” All of these are very simple ways of obtaining verbal consent from someone whose body language you don’t necessarily know well enough to read straight-out. Or of making someone even more hot and bothered. I know I get more worked up when someone teases me with a suggestion before proceeding. It’s hot.
  • Sex which respects women, often called “feminist sex,” is not boring. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite. I’ve had very liberating sexual experiences which involved ropes, leather, more than two people, voyeurism, exhibitionism, power play, feathers, whips, toys, and non-bedroom locations which allowed for respect of both myself and my partner(s). And I don’t even consider myself into kink. I just like sex… a lot. And I enjoy exploring new things with someone who I find myself being comfortable with. Not all of the aforementioned situations are ones which I have much interest in repeating (some I very much would–I’ll keep you guessing as to which are which), but I was free to explore such possibilities with a partner or two (or more) while being respected for what I did and didn’t like/want. And that, my friends, is “feminist sex.” Or, as I prefer to call it, “real sex.” Any sex that doesn’t respect all partners involved stops being sex and starts being assault.
  • Most importantly: sex is a joint venture and should be approached as such. And this is where we get to the entitlement bit.

Right vs. Privilege

Now, sex is both a right and a privilege. But the differentiation between the two is very important. I’m creating a theorem which goes as follows:

Part I:
You have the right to have sex without the interference from others outside of the participants in the sex.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have sex in X, Y, or Z ways and feel the need to listen to them unless you want to. Nobody can tell you that sleeping with someone of a certain gender is wrong, or that sex using toys is disgusting, or that consensual power play doesn’t belong in sex. Well, okay, they can tell you… but they don’t have the right to enforce that unless you’re breaking laws (i.e. someone underage) or conflicting with Part II, which is…

Part II:
However, having sex with your partner(s) is a privilege, not a right.

You don’t have a right to anyone else’s body. You have the right to your own. But access to another’s body is a privilege that only that person can grant you.

The problem of which Knepper is only one point of evidence is a faulty misconception of Part II; mainly, that it doesn’t exist. He, along with many others in our culture, have the misconception that if they “get” a partner to Point A, then they “deserve” to get to Point B with them.

This leads to various displays in faulty logic:

  • If I make out with you, I deserve to go farther with you.
  • If I get you alone in a room, I deserve to grope you.
  • If I get you naked in bed, I deserve to have sex with you.
  • If I buy you dinner, I deserve to have sex with you.
  • If I start having sex with you, I deserve to finish having sex with you.

All of the above are blatantly untrue. Better statements follow:

  • If I make out with you, I would like to go farther with you.
  • If I get you alone in a room, I would like to grope you.
  • If I get you naked in bed, I would like to have sex with you.
  • If I buy you dinner, I would like to have sex with you.
  • If I start having sex with you, I would like to finish having sex with you.

Why are these so, so much better? Because they place the responsibility for giving permission to proceed the next step not on some amorphous concept of what a person “deserves,” but rather they place that responsibility on the partner(s) to grant or withhold. (I emphasize again: or withhold.)

I believe I am entitled to enjoy sex. Just not necessarily with a specific person at a specific time. I am entitled to not being treated as an object or with disrespect by anyone whom I choose to hook up with, and I am entitled to say no to anyone whom I choose not to hook up with. However, any potential partners? They all have the exact same entitlement. And no more.

That ends my argument for now. I’d love your feedback, positive or negative, agreeable or not. I only ask a few things: respect, no name-calling, and no victim-blaming, please.

Want more on the topic? Head to one of my favorite blogs, “Yes Means Yes!” kept by the authors of a book by the same name:

(PS: I said this was personal. I have just recently begun the process of “coming out” as a survival of sexual assault. I would like to share my story, but feel it’s not the best forum to do so in this context. Why? Since I’m just beginning to find myself and come into my own and rebuild my personal strength after my ordeal, I would prefer not to experience attacks on my personal experience quite yet. I was diagnosed with PTSD a few months after the attack, and while I can handle attacks on my arguments above, I’m not quite ready to handle criticism of my personal experience. I’m still a bit emotionally fragile. I have dealt with intellectual debate for long enough to be able to discuss the topics I’ve posted thus far, even with intense opposition… but I’m not quite prepared to stave off the hurt that would come from degradations on my personal experience, which was relatively recent. Therefore, I will share my story in a different post.)

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  1. GREAT article!! This is soo true! Many people feel that because something was started that it deserves to go further or because someone wore a particular article of clothing, it means something. It doens’t mean anything other than that is what they felt like wearing.

    There was actually a parade about 20 minutes south of me. It was called “Portland’s First Ever Female-Bodied and Allied Topless Adventure!” Since being topless in Maine is perfectly legal, a walk was staged. It was just about being free as a women to be topless without it being sexual or taboo. There was even police there to ensure the walker’s safety and that none of the women were harrassed. I think it fit well with your blog as it showed that women who chose not to wear a shirt were not asking for sex, but just being comfortable with less clothes.

    I really like how you redid the faulty logic statements to show how it should be!

  2. This was a great post..thanks for sharing. Also, thanks for your bravery regarding your assult experiece. Even without fully disclosing, mentioning it helps others. My school recently did the clothesline project and things like that help us all understand the problem of “entitlement”

  3. […] can claim a right to these bodies because they are nothing more than objects to be possessed. This sense of entitlement leads to a whole host of problems. Even when men are sexualized and objectified for the sole purpose of consumption, they are usually […]

  4. i love this post and wholeheartedly agree. the sense of entitlement surrounding sex, particularly in the context of twenty-something urban dating, is quite shocking and i applaud you for pinpointing it so succinctly.

  5. Great advice, it very instructive for me. Thanks

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