I regularly see people proclaim that rape is not sex, and should not be called sex. As someone who has experienced rape, this feels unnecessarily limiting.
I think that this sentiment is coming from a good place. It seems to be a reaction to people trying to make the issue of rape sound less serious than it is. I can absolutely see why, when someone calls rape “non-consensual sex” in that context, people would say, “call it rape!”
However, I want to use whatever words I like when talking about my non-consensual experiences (as long as I’m not being insensitive to struggles that I haven’t experienced myself – in other words, I’m not giving myself permission to use racist slurs or anything).
Times I Want to Call My Rape “Sex”
When first telling a friend or loved one about my rape, I prefer not to lead with the word rape, because it is shocking and scary. Even though my rape was shocking and scary, I prefer to ease into the topic, to prevent the person I’m talking to from being startled (for both our sakes). In these situations, I’ll usually say something along the lines of, “He wanted to have sex; I said no; he didn’t listen to me. We had sex, and I was saying no the whole time.”
It’s helpful for me to feel like I have control over how I phrase my disclosures, and, to some extent, how they play out. Especially because part of the pain of my rape was all the ways in which I felt like I didn’t have control over the situation.
Also, there are times when I want to mention some other part of that encounter, unrelated to it being non-consensual. Sometimes I don’t want to go into the heavy nature of the experience just to talk about another aspect of it, like the dynamic of having sex with someone from a low-income country, etc.
There are plenty of other reasons that I, or other survivors, might want to refer to their rape as sex. While I don’t think that this “rape is not sex” proclamation was meant to be aimed at survivors, I want to point out that the issue of word choice around rape can be complicated. Let's think twice before making blanket statements about how others should speak.