We all make choices. Some are hard, involve work, effort and occasionally the spreading of vinegar. But what sort of nutjob would try to elevate their decision to take the easy path into an excuse? You had to ask.
For years, my female friends and I have spoken, with knowing nods, about a sexual interaction we call “the place of no return.” It is a kind of sexual nuance that most women instinctively understand: the situation you thought you wanted, or maybe you actually never wanted, but somehow here you are and it’s happening and you desperately want out, but you know that at this point exiting the situation would be more difficult than simply lying there and waiting for it to be over. In other words: saying yes when we really mean no.
It never ceases to amaze me, old man that I am, to learn of the intuitive skillz of women to understand things that men just don’t get. Most guys would believe that “yes means yes” means yes. After all, she said “yes.” But now I learn that “saying yes” really means “no.”
There are other names for this kind of sex: gray zone sex, in reference to that murky gray area of consent; begrudgingly consensual sex, because, you know, you don’t really want to do it but it’s probably easier to just get it over with; lukewarm sex, because you’re kind of “meh” about it; and, of course, bad sex, where the “bad” refers not to the perceived pleasure of it, but to the way you feel in the aftermath.
This, too, I didn’t know. In all my years, I can’t recall a single time when us guys were engaged in a deeply philosophical locker room discussion that included the words “gray zone sex.”
Sometimes “yes” means “no,” simply because it is easier to go through with it than explain our way out of the situation. Sometimes “no” means “yes,” because you actually do want to do it, but you know you’re not supposed to lest you be labeled a slut. And if you’re a man, that “no” often means “just try harder” — because, you know, persuasion is part of the game.
Sales people try this on me all the time. I remember when some clerk at a high end store tried to shame me into paying a delivery charge for a chair I bought there, telling me it was only a “nominal charge,” implying I was a cheap bastard if I didn’t agree to pay the purchase price plus local delivery. I replied, “Did you think I bought the chair so I could visit it here? If it’s only a ‘nominal charge,’ then why don’t you cover it out of your sales commission?”
It would have been easier to just pay the delivery charge, but I chose not to take the easy path.
In the 1970s and ’80s, when Take Back the Night rallies began cropping up on college campuses, a new antirape slogan emerged: “No means no.” Four decades later, that mantra has been all but replaced by a newer version of the consent standard, this one focused on the word “yes,” or what’s known as the “affirmative consent” model.
There was a useful clarity to the old slogan, “no means no.” If you said no, then the salesclerk knew you weren’t going to pay the delivery charge. She could try to humiliate you into paying it by making you feel cheap, but then you just had to stick to your guns and repeat the “no.”
The “newer version” lacks that clarity, both because it fails to reflect how most encounters happen, where there is no open discussion about sex acts as two sweaty bodies entangle, and because affirmative consent doesn’t actually mean uttering the word “yes.” Enthusiastic consent can be given by acts as well as words, even if the acts are awkward and regrettable.
But if “yes” means “no,” and the only distinction is that a woman pressed the easy button so the aftermath of “yes” means rape, then we have a failure to communicate.
But what about when “yes” isn’t really an enthusiastic affirmative — or an affirmative at all?
Then you chose poorly, because any other view is untenable. Even women need to be responsible for what they say and do at some point. Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean you get a free pass from responsibility. Now, that’s not so hard to understand, is it?