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On why rape isn't her fault, no matter how you want to spin it, buster.

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James asks:

Hi Heather, I just found a question from 'samy-baby' concerning rape when performing a google search for something unrelated as it caught my eye. I'm afraid you appeared all too eager to label the bloke as unsafe and 'stay well away from him', given that the girl openly admitted within the first words of her sentence that she gets her boyfriend stupid-horny then says "no sex", that's just cruel, and I doubt many men would tolerate it. I've made it abundantly clear with my girlfriend that if she makes the effort to turn me into a horn-monster, she should finish through or I'm usually very pissed off; not to say that I'd go ahead and have sex with her anyway. All I'm saying is you failed to advise this girl that if she doesn't want to have sex, then she shouldn't get her boyfriend horny.

Heather Corinna replies:

When a person, behaving in a healthy way, chooses not to tolerate a certain dynamic in a relationship they dislike or which makes them unhappy, what they choose to do is set a limit. If that limit is not respected by a partner, they then terminate the relationship and potentially contact with that person. If the young woman asking the question had indeed been cruel to her partner in any way, the appropriate response from her partner would be to either address that cruelty with her and come to some agreement on how to be assured it would not happen again, or for her partner to choose to leave the relationship to end that cruelty.

A healthy, humane response to a cruelty is not to be cruel in your own way back. A healthy, humane response to wanting something from someone which they do not also want is not forcing them to give it to you, or making them feel that they are obligated to provide it -- or face your anger -- when they do not want to do so.

No one is responsible for "making someone horny." In fact, much of the time, none of us -- not you, not me, not Samy, not your girlfriend -- has any control at all over whether or not someone experiences sexual desire.

If we could actually have that kind of complete control, a whole genre of books and magazines for men and women alike which pull in a bundle in profits every year, all about endless strategies on how to arouse desire in others, written for masses of people very frustrated that they do not have that magical ability, would be wiped from bookstore shelves. And that, my friend, is a LOT of books which would be missing. It's silly, for sure, that by now people don't realize that even when they want that power, they can rarely have or harness it, and it's silly for people to spend untold dollars trying to get that elusive power, but here you are, among their number.

My telling someone not to "make her boyfriend horny" would be a really ineffectual and ridiculous thing to say. Not only does any of us have the vaguest idea how to avoid doing that, given how arbitrary and random sexual desires among people tend to be, it's also far beside the point, and how her boyfriend behaves around her in terms of his sexual desire is not her responsibility. It's his. Nothing she can do, sparing taking his hand and putting it in her pants, makes what his hand does her responsibility, and none of us -- of any gender -- are not the person in complete control of how we choose to behave around other people.

The fact that young women often feel responsible has an awful lot to do with the fact that men tell them they're responsible to deny or evade their own responsibilities. And it's very typical, in any kind of abusive dynamic, sexual or otherwise, for the abuser to blame the victim routinely in order to refuse accountability. In a physically abusive relationship, for instance, after a man hits his partner, he might often say to her, "If you'd only do what I ask you to do, I wouldn't have to hit you like this." His partner hears that often enough, and she starts to believe him. Given it seems like Samy is expressing a history of parents who have not been healthy when it comes to sex, she likely thinks a lot of things are in her control which aren't, because these kinds of tactics are very common with abusive people, and she's probably heard them before. That same kind of belief despite reason -- Samy's or yours -- can also happen through cultural indoctrination with certain ideas. The idea that women are responsible for male desire or arousal, however ridiculous -- especially since much of the time, that desire is aroused when women not only don't intend to do so, but when arousing it is the last thing we'd want to do -- is pervasive because men feeling entitled to women when they want them, entitled to sex with women when they want it, and entitled to call all the shots when it comes to getting what they want is pervasive. Thankfully, plenty of men are smart enough, strong enough and compassionate enough -- and see sex as mutual pleasure, not masturbation on someone else -- to see the profound error in that way of thinking and resist that baloney. Thankfully,over the last few decades, we've had more cultural awareness about rape, sexual abuse and attitudes which enable rape so that even those who once thought that way -- and perhaps still fight feeling that way -- are dedicated to not behave in alignment with those kinds of ideas which harm and devastate all of us.

Even the way that you've said you've addressed your girlfriend speaks to the kind of projection of responsiblity and entitlement I'm talking about. The fact that something she does arouses your desire does not obligate her to perform a given sexual activity you want or to bring you to orgasm, or justify you in being angry with her if she does not share that same desire. The way you've summed up Samy's post is pretty inaccurate and telling. She did not, in fact, say she makes a habit of "turning her boyfriend into a horn-monster," then telling him they can't have sex. She described one situation in which she felt responsible for her boyfriend's sexual desire, but was not interested in a certain kind of sex he wanted, declined that sex, and he did it to her anyway, while she continued to decline it, then later rationalized what he did then and how he has done this to her before, by telling her what she likes and that she likes this. You appear to be trying very hard to make this her fault and take the responsibility away from her partner and other men like him.

I'm not sure what you think went on here, but based on the years I have spent talking to young men and women alike about sex, usually when someone says they "made someone horny," they do not mean they came out in lingerie, gave them a lap dance, told them all the sexual things they were going to do with them, then turned around and said "Psych!" (In the event that is what happened, I, in fact, DID address that using sex as a manipulation is not sound, safe or kind.) Rather, what they usually mean when they say that is simply that they were around that person, or doing something like making out with that person or doing another sexual activity which they both wanted to do, which aroused their sexual interest.

But it's pretty easy to show up the double standard when it comes to the idea that any of us creates desire and are obligated to meet it: when you say this, you don't mean this applied to any of us. You likely mean it about women and men, and not in a vice-versa kind of way. If I, as a woman, am around a man who arouses my sexual interest and he does not feel the same interest for me, or wish to indulge my interest sexually, do I then have the right, somehow, to force my hand into his pants? To continue doing something to him sexually while he is telling me no? If you, as man, aroused another man's sexual interest in some way, would he then have the right to do sexual things to you against your will? Really? To be angry with you when you refused to do whatever he wanted?

If you and I were sexual partners, and you felt sexually finished after one or two activities, but I didn't feel at all done and forced you to give -- or insisted on you giving -- me every kind of sex I wanted for another couple of hours, even some you didn't want or like, even if you no longer found me attractive but creepy as hell, even when you felt done and did not want to anymore, even if it was physically painful because you were not aroused or interested, with no regard for your boundaries or what you wanted, that would be okay with you? Would that be understandable: as in, you'd understand why I did that to you and feel that I had every right to treat you that way? If so, I gotta tell you to adjust your thinking, because if anyone ever does that to you, for the sake of your own well-being, mental health and safety, I hope you do not try and justify or enable that kind of abuse.


Did you see how I bolded that bit about you not wanting or liking something sexual? I did that because this can often the The Great Brain Stopper for some men when it comes to these issues. Some men feel strongly that there is no kind of sex they wouldn't want or like given the opportunity. Now, that's likely not true: most of those guys just haven't yet had an experience where that's happened yet. A lot of men have a tough time understanding that when a partner is raping you, forcing sex on you you don't want, or exerting their power over you abusively, even if they were attractive to you before, they very quickly are not usually attractive any more: they become repulsive. Some men will also state that they want sex so much that even sex by force, with someone they aren't attracted to, would be alright by them. Gotta call bullshit on that one, too, but let's pretend it IS true that there is no kind of sex, with anyone, in any dynamic, which wouldn't be something you wanted. Even if that's so? That's NOT so for most people and not so for most women. So, in trying to understand this, you have to make a point of doing your level best to envision scenarios in which what was going on was not something you would want, where what was being suggested or happening was acutely, intensely, something you did not want to do.

You say you wouldn't force your girlfriend to have sex with you if you got turned on, but you would be pissed off, and have made clear to her that you fully expect that when you feel that desire around her she should know she's expected to satiate you to your satisfaction. What if we were talking about you here? If you "made" your girlfriend horny, and she wants a kind of sex to feel satisfied you don't want -- let's say, forcing her fingers into your anus, or her genitals unto your face -- do you think it would be reasonable for her to be pissed off at you? Do you feel like it would be reasonable for you to expect that if you aroused her desire in any way, including intentionally, that her fingers were going into your bum because she wants to do that, even when you don't? If you answered yes to either of those questions, I have to call your bluff, since it'd be pretty unlikely you did. And even if you did, I'd have to tell you that whether we're talking about men or women, that's just not a healthy sexual dynamic based in mutual pleasure and care.

Agreeing to make out or agreeing to be near someone is not an agreement to have any or every kind of sex that person might want, or even to continue the agreed-upon activity past the point of wanting to do so. Engaging in one sexual activity with a partner never obligates anyone to engage in any or all of them, until the other person feels their wants are met -- in conflict with the wants of the other -- nor negates the validity of someone's no. The partner who wants sex is never the one whose needs are put first: if we're earnest about wanting to have sex with someone else, not to them or on them or at them, earnest about wanting a partnership, not a dictatorship, then whenever our partners are not interested in doing something sexual we want, we defer to them. And after all, we can always tend to our sexual needs with our own two hands.

You might also notice a particularly telling dynamic in Samy's story. What her boyfriend did to her was not even about his own need for a physical, sexual release: he put his hand down HER pants forcibly AFTER they had already had sex together (presumably consensually). Doing so would have been very unlikely to bring him to orgasm, or alleviate any physical sexual frustration on his part. Rather, what he did was make a clear demonstration that she is not allowed to deny him what he wants, when he wants it, and that her no -- when he wants a yes -- is meaningless. He doesn't ask her what she likes: he tells her. His actions make clear that he feels that her sexual desire, if and when it is present, is a non-issue. What he did was not about his feeling horny or wanting to get off, and he may well have gotten off already with the sex they already had: it was about his need to make clear who is in change, and that it very much is not her. This is textbook sexual abuse.

It's not overeager to let someone know that a person who forces sex -- especially more than once, as Samy stated has happened -- unto them while they are saying no, declining that sex, is not a safe person to be around. In the event that I'm wrong, and he is safe, it's still a win-win. Not staying with him won't harm either of them. In the event that you're right, my whole idea about this situation and all of what I know about rape and abuse is totally backwards, and the cruelty here is hers or some other woman's, leaving spares that guy more cruelty, doesn't it? If not, why not?

I have a tough time swallowing the idea that if you were to be in the position where someone was going to routinely not take no for an answer from you sexually, and force you to do sexual things you did not want to do, or when you did not want to do them, continuing to do so while you were saying -- and meaning -- no, that you'd feel like that was a safe situation to you, and that were you in that position, did I not posit that wasn't safe -- or tell you you asked for it -- you'd feel like I was responding in the best interest of your well-being.

Here's hoping, for your sake, for your girlfriend's sake, and for anyone else you may interact with, that you consider adjusting your thinking on this. And I don't just say that for her sake, especially since she's got the option of finding someone with healthier sexual attitudes to be with -- you, on the other hand, are stuck with you. The way you're thinking tends to not only be detrimental to her (if you care about her, and another men around her feels he arouses her desire and owes him like you feel she woes you, will it seem like such a great idea then?) and other women, it also really hinders you and other men from experiencing bonafide partnership with women, real character and real masculinity, and sex that is really about shared desire and pleasure, which blows the freaking roof off of the alternative, emotionally as well as physically.

To be frank, any woman who writes on rape or interpersonal abuse issues at all, and who advises women to merely keep themselves safe by getting away from men who endanger or harm them gets responses like this. I get letters from men somewhat regularly explaining to me, as if I were just a foolish child who did not understand the world despite 38 years of living in it, why women deserve to be raped, why women make men so miserable or unhappy that men "have" to rape us or abuse us, how we could protect ourselves by just structuring the whole of our lives in response to what men want from us (despite the fact that men vary widely and that doing so it a literal impossibility, on top of an absolute insult). I have also, of course, gotten plenty of emails over the years letting me know all of the ways in which I and other women deserve all manner of abuses, and how men are excused in doling them out. These kinds of responses -- including your own -- are constant object lessons which only tend to demonstrate exactly the kinds of dynamics we're working to help people escape, break free of and change.

Oddly enough, we do not tend to get these kinds of responses, ever, when we advise men on how to be safe from other men, from abusive women in their lives, nor do we get these kinds of responses from women no matter who we're advising to keep themselves safe. Male writers on these issues also do not tend to get these kinds of responses as often, which is hardly a shocker. And I generally do not answer these kinds of responses. In part that's because there are a lot of them, and if I published them all, I'd scare and depress the hell out of a lot of people when it came to men: I love men as much as I love women and don't want the women who would read them to get the impression that these kinds of responses are sound representations of all men. They're not: many, many men -- maybe even most men -- are bigger than this, kinder than this, smarter than this, better men than this. (They also tend to feel less of a need to tell women "how it is" like this, or to pretend to be friendly with me when they're saying things which enable violence and inequality towards me and other women.) Plus, more times than not, it's an exercise in futility. This may well be one too, for all I know, but I'd love for you to prove me wrong.

But I like to think that if I do every now and then, someone on the fence or struggling with these attitudes might see that there are healthier alternatives which are better for everyone, not just for the partner who is made to feel responsible for other's actions or feelings, obligated to have sex when that's not what they want, or who is assaulted because someone decided they are entitled to have dominion over that person.

Heck, even if nothing I say in response has any merit to you or anyone else, your own words might help someone out simply by showing up these attitudes for exactly what they are, for as pervasive as they are, and for as flawed and tragic as they are.

I'm tossing out a couple links here, both to material on the site, as well as at other sites which maybe -- just maybe -- might clue you in a bit more.

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