If you’re me, your social media feed is full of posts about consent and #metoo (but you’re not, so who knows what’s in your feed). Why does this public conversation about consent matter?
By Anonymous Pleasure Pie Contributor
A little under a year ago, I started dating a guy (I’ll call him my “partner”) who was especially adamant about me enthusiastically consenting to every sexual thing we did.
It wasn’t that he was asking for verbal consent more often than my other partners. It was that he pretty much begged me to never do anything sexual with him that I didn’t fully want to be doing.
Written by Lori S., Pleasure Pie contributor. Graphics by Nicole Mazzeo.
Look, I’m not trying to romanticize this crap. Pain sucks. Sometimes, when it feels like I’ve been jinxed with the ability to pee sulfuric acid, or my clitoris is in no-chill, angry-like-the-Bride-in-Kill-Bill mode, I curse whatever vengeful deity is messing with my genitals.
But as much as I’d love to completely indulge in hyper-cynicism, I have to admit that dealing with pelvic pain has, in some ways, made my life better. And yes, that includes my sex life.
I know. Bear with me.
By anonymous Pleasure Pie contributor
It can be hard to find words you’re comfortable using to describe sexual stuff. There are so many weird or uncomfortable connotations that go along with sex-related words. But having a vocabulary you’re more or less comfortable using makes it a lot easier to communicate about sex with your partner(s), and with anyone!
Since better communication tends to mean better sexual experiences, it’s worth a shot!
This new zine explains how to approach people romantically/sexually in a way that is as positive and empowering for everyone involved as possible.
By Nicole Mazzeo
[This article was originally published on Fabulously Feminist. You can see the original post here.]
[The “Sparknotes” version is at the bottom, for people with limited time/attention spans.]
I’m not talking about respect for a person’s right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy, or respect for a fetus’s right to life (no comment on either of those right now). I’m talking about respect for people who you disagree with. Your “opponents.”
Have you ever heard a pro-choice advocate talk about “pro-lifers”? Or a pro-life advocate talk about … “pro-abortion-ers”? (Or whatever anti-abortion people call pro-choice people.)
If so, it’s likely that you’ve heard this done in a way that paints the disagreeing party as bumbling idiots. Not just bumbling idiots, but conniving, deceitful, bumbling idiots with really bad intentions.
Yes, it can be hard to respect a person when you disagree so deeply on an issue that could directly affect your life in a huge way.
And sometimes people actually do have bad intentions. Sometimes people are dishonest with themselves and with others. Sometimes people jump to conclusions.
But there’s often a lot more to people than that.
Beyond Hating On the “Opposition”
It’s possible to have deeply held beliefs and convictions without vilifying people with opposing beliefs.
It’s possible to be pro-choice without viewing people who are anti-abortion as raging idiots. And vice-versa.
Not only is it possible, but it may be a more constructive approach.
That’s why The Public Conversations Project brought together a small group of prominent pro-choice and pro-life advocates to have an intimate five-year-long dialogue on their differing beliefs.
When John Salvi shot and killed two people (and injured five) in two abortion-providing health clinics in Brookline, MA back in 1994, the people at Public Conversations Project came up with a plan for a dialogue to prevent future violence and hate.
This dialogue happened between 1994 and 1999, but – hear me out – when I saw the follow up video (below), I found it to be one of the most relevant commentaries on the current abortion debate that I’ve ever seen.
[Article continued below.]
3 Quick Sentences to Explain What The Public Conversations Project Is
The whole idea behind The Public Conversations Project (based in Watertown, MA) is that building relationships and collaboration across polarized groups can help solve many of today’s biggest issues. They’ve worked on lots of controversial issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, immigration, same-sex marriage, gun control, and diversity. They believe that if people are able to fully see each other as human beings – relatable, empathetic, and imperfect – resolution and peace often become attainable.
Okay, So Back to Abortion
As someone who is very much on the pro-choice side of things, it worries me that some of the people in charge of abortion rights organizations think of pro-life people as idiots.*
Melissa Kogut, former executive director of Mass NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) reflects on her experience with being part of the Public Conversations abortion dialogue:
“I … was surprised. I had my own preconceptions of what … the pro-life women were like, and they were completely dashed. … They’re smart. They have full, interesting lives. … That was all surprising to me. I know that sounds really judgmental, but that was surprising to me.”
I know what Kogut is talking about. Based on my personal experience, it is a pretty common perspective in progressive circles.
The Dangers of Dehumanizing the Other Side
Why might it be harmful to think of people we disagree with this way?
Here are 3 reasons:
1. Anytime we stop seeing another person as a full, complex, human being with legitimate feelings and a meaningful existence, we miss out on so much.
“I did not know my opposition except as they were portrayed in the media. And I was terrified of the hostility that I was going to meet when I sat down to talk with these people. … But very early on in the dialogue, I realized that I could like these people – really! These people were as committed to their position as I to mine. … We could develop a relationship, and we did. We came to love each other, in spite of the fact that neither one of us changed our opinion in the least.”
2. It’s often this kind of dehumanization that enables people to be cruel and sometimes even violent to other people.
3. Dehumanizing a person also makes it easy to completely write off everything they say. When it’s us vs. them, we can avoid critically thinking about the places where an issue is unclear or difficult.
“We never talk on our side about the shades of gray. When you’re involved in a political movement like we are, we are focused on mobilizing the troops. The way you do that is you paint things in the starkest possible terms so that people are moved to act, so that they know what to do. We don’t have conversations about the things that we have doubts about, or that are more murky.”
I’m not saying that you should take everyone’s opinion to heart all of the time, because that can be exhausting and emotionally painful, but it may be worthwhile to hear people out most of the time, and try to understand what they believe and why.
The Difference Between Anger and Disrespect
For a lot of people, anger is a natural response to disagreement – and that’s okay. There are lots of legitimate things to be angry about in the abortion debate. But there is a big difference between being angry at someone (or a group of people) and losing all respect for them as fellow humans.
Anger is an emotion, which may be justified – and regardless of whether it’s justified, it may be beyond your control in the way that emotions often are. There are healthy ways to deal with anger.
Disrespect, on the other hand, often means losing esteem for a person’s entire being.
Maybe it’s appropriate to lose all respect for some people in some circumstances (I’m not sure about this one), but I think at the very least, we should be very hesitant and deliberate about taking the leap into disrespect.
Also: Don’t Be Classist About It!
We live in a society where people who identify as pro-life are more likely to have a lower income and lower level of education. Because of this class divide, it’s crucial that pro-choice people think about classism when we consider how we’re going to think about, talk about, and interact with people who identify as pro-life. Tip: Avoid personal attacks/criticisms of people’s intelligence, etc., as opposed to criticisms of their arguments.
Let’s make sure that our arguments against anti-abortion-rights advocacy aren’t coming from a place of class-based prejudice, because that is shitty.
Let’s put seeing everyone as a full human being, and having compassion for everyone, at the center of our feminism/anti-oppression work.
Including the people we disagree with.
*While I think many of us can do a better job of being respectful of people we disagree with, I also want to note that I am deeply grateful for the people who have worked hard to make abortion legal in the U.S. Thank you.
The Sparknotes Version of This Article
• Pro-choice people often think of pro-life people as being stupid, and vice versa.
• It’s possible to have deeply held beliefs without vilifying people who disagree with you.
• The Public Conversations Project of Watertown, MA had a 5-year-long dialogue in the 90’s where leading pro-life advocates and pro-choice advocates got together to have a conversation and learn to respect each other as fellow human beings, which I thought was really cool.
• It worries me that some heads of pro-choice organizations think of pro-life people as idiots.
• It’s harmful to dehumanize people we disagree with because:
1. We miss out on people’s richness.
2. It may enable us to be cruel and/or violent toward them.
3. It may enable us to completely ignore them and pretend the issue is simple.
• Being angry at someone (or a group of people) isn’t the same as not respecting them. Let’s be deliberate about which one of these (if either) we choose.
• Pro-life people are more likely to have a lower income and lower level of education. it’s crucial that pro-choice people think about classism when we consider how we’re going to think about, talk about, and interact with people who identify as pro-life. Tip for making sure you’re not being classist: Avoid personal attacks/criticisms of people’s intelligence, etc., as opposed to criticisms of their arguments.
• Let’s put seeing everyone as a full human being, and having compassion for everyone, at the center of our feminism/anti-oppression work.
By Christina Bartson
During a recent Sunday brunch with my crew, my girlfriend was retelling her night’s sexscapades and blurted out a now infamous line her guy dropped right before things got hot-and-heavy. They’re making out, and he comes up for air, takes her by the shoulders and says completely seriously, “Ok, wanna make a game plan?”
He wanted to make a game plan for sex. We’ve laughed over this a thousand times, and frequently reference it in conversation because it’s funny, sure, but it’s also an ingenious sex-positive concept. A game plan for sex—both parties are collaborating to make decisions together, both people have equal power, both are consenting verbally. It warrants communication, and most importantly, a game plan means a thorough warm up. I’m talking about foreplay—a critical time for partners to turn up the heat and set some game rules. Anyways, you know you play better when you’re properly limbered up.
Foreplay gives partners a chance to build trust.
In the words of a good friend, foreplay is our time to, “physically and emotionally feel each other out.” You’re establishing your level of comfort, and guiding each other around your bodies the way you feel secure and respected. You learn each other’s style of communicating—how your partner responds and invites. You discover what makes them arch their back and bite their lip, respectfully exploring the wonders of their body. During foreplay, you can show your partner that they can rely on you to respect and honor their limits and preferences.
Trust increases pleasure.
Our bodies can sense when we are feeling unsafe. Our muscles are tense when we feel anxious, and when our bodies are not relaxed, they’re not ready for sex. Foreplay serves an important purpose in sex in preparing our bodies, warming us up not just emotionally, but bodily, too. This is important for everyone, but especially for people with vaginas. When bodies with vaginas become aroused, the muscles pull the uterus up and it makes more room in the vagina. This is called vaginal tenting and it creates more space to make penetration more comfortable and satisfying. Foreplay also helps boost natural lubrication—an ingredient that can make sex more enjoyable for all parties involved.
Communicating for consent and pleasure
How do you know when you’re partner is feeling ready to rumble? Talking about it, of course.
A common misconception is that talking during sex ruins the moment. Well, this is a ridiculous myth largely constructed by Hollywood—those flawless choreographed sex scenes where the individuals in the shot don’t need to communicate because they both already read the screenplay. In real-life sex, however, communication is necessary, and it makes it better, too. Personally speaking, hearing someone care for your body and emotional well-being is very sexy. Asking for what you want is empowering, and in return, inquiring about what feels good for your partner shows reciprocated attention to their experience.
For best results, try: How are you? Does this feel good? Is this okay? What do you want? These questions enhance sex, prolong it, and extend it (pardon the pun). Also, they’re a crucial step in foreplay and should be continued throughout. Keep asking, and never assume that one “yes” covers it all. Being attentive to your partner puts you fully in the moment and this makes your experience more fulfilling, too.
Foreplay, or More-play?*
Foreplay is about more than just hands on body parts—it’s the ways we communicate and establishing consent every step of the way in a creative, sensitive, and sexy manner. It’s the hushed talking at the corner in the party or the whisper in an ear on the walk home. It’s the firm hand-holding when you walk across an icy sidewalk, and the “Hey, watch your step, it’s slippery.” It’s the eye contact. It’s being present. It’s showing you’ve got the hots playfully, openly, and respectfully.
However, foreplay should not be reduced to just pre-gaming. Yes, it serves as a warm up, but it can be a main event, too. Why not try thinking of foreplay as sex? Perhaps we need to rethink our definition of sex. Sex is not just a means to an end. It’s everything leading up to the finale, too. We shouldn’t limit sex to homeruns, or scoring. This language ignores and forgets foreplay, and how the process can be equally as enjoyable and important as the end of the game.
Foreplay dedicates time to having those crucial conversations between partners that help sex and sexy feelings come from empowered places, not embarrassed or uneasy places. Next time you’re about to get it on, follow the wise words of the game-plan-guy and revel in the fervent functions of foreplay. Limber up, players.
*Cheesy pun courtesy of Nicole Mazzeo.