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?
I recently was asked some questions about Pleasure Pie and the Sex Letters Project. Here are my answers! - Nicole
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
A: I've always made zines. As a kid I would make DIY magazines where I interviewed our family pets and gave updates on household happenings. Then when I was in college I started to become fascinated by sex-positivity. I had had some bad experiences with sex, and I was really under-informed about sexuality. So, in an attempt to get over my anxieties and embarrassment about sex, and to learn more about it, I started reading about it online — a lot. I read about sex-positivity, sex education, and gender equality, and took some college classes on human sexuality and LGBT topics.
2017 was a tough year for the United States. Like many of you, we here at Pleasure Pie asked ourselves, "WTF should we do?" as things spiraled downward on a national level. Should we drop the sex-positivity stuff and do more direct political engagement? Should we stick to what we know, and push for a culture of consent and healthy sexual expression at a time when the need for this is even more visible than usual (with the "locker room talk" and allegations of sexual assault against so many politicians and celebrities)?
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.
I made this sex-positive inspiration board of the things I’m feeling most inspired by right now!
There is a new apparel company in Boston whose mission is to promote consent! They’re called Let’s Be Clear, and I asked the founder, Rachel Verner, a few prying questions. I don’t know about you, but whenever I find out about someone doing creative consent education in my city, I want to know more
By anonymous Pleasure Pie contributor
I am a rape survivor, and I like sex.
And I have nightmares about my abusive ex. And I have trouble orgasming with other people. And I worry about being assaulted most days. And I think I probably have PTSD. And I love being touched. And I like casual sex (and that doesn’t have to be an “unhealthy coping mechanism”). And I like loving and being loved. And I find my body really sexy. And I get insecure about whether I’m “doing” sex right/well. And I communicate about consent, STIs, and desires (theirs and mine). And I have creative, weird, kinky, complicated fantasies. And I remind myself all of the time that my desires (and lack of desires) are valid, and that my pleasure is worthwhile!
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 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.
As a teenager, I was really confused about the concept of a “tease.” I heard some of my male peers say, more or less, that teases were the worst and they hated them. I weeded out from their comments that the basic definition of a tease was a girl who fooled around with a guy, but didn’t have sex with him. Wait, did that mean I was a tease?
I would often have long, steamy make out sessions with whichever lucky guy was my boyfriend at any given moment (wink), and these make out sessions would never turn into sex. It wasn’t necessarily that I didn’t want to have sex with these guys, it was that they never initiated sex (and at the time I felt that, as a female, it wasn’t my place to initiate it). When I heard my guy friends lamenting the existence of “teases,” I started to worry that all this making out with no sex might make guys hate me (my worst nightmare as a boy-crazy teenage girl*).
To add to my confusion, the things I heard about sex weren’t lining up with what was happening in my own sexual experiences.
Here’s a brief sampling of the messages about sex I received from the media, adults, and peers (with commentary):
If guys only care about sex, and don’t value relationships or foreplay, why weren’t my boyfriends trying to have sex with me**? They all seemed to be in less of a rush to get to sex than I was, and I was (according to what I had noticed people expected of me as a female) the one who was supposed to be in charge of withholding sex until an appropriate time.
But wait, doesn’t withholding sex make me a tease? And doesn’t having sex as soon as a guy wants to make me a slut? So many conflicting messages!
Let me set some things straight.
Guys care about more than just sex.
To my surprise, the guys I dated appeared to have feelings about sex other than Must Have Sex ASAP — feelings that probably included wanting to feel ready, caring about not making me uncomfortable, wanting to live up to their religious beliefs and family’s standards (which sometimes told them to wait until marriage), being nervous about how to initiate sex, how to know what I wanted, and how to have good sex, and even (get this!) enjoying our lengthy make out sessions. And those were just their feelings about sex. They also had all sorts of other feelings about all sorts of other things, unrelated to sex. They were at times sentimental, shy, creative, caring, romantic, anxious, etc. They wrote songs, loved their pets, tried to help me through my issues, cared about school, cared about our relationship — all the cares and concerns any multifaceted person might have.
These guys, while their brains might have been flooded with hormones and they might have been thinking about sex much of the time, also had real thoughts, feelings, and priorities other than “Must deflower girlfriend NOW.”
Guys don’t always want sex.
I know what you’re thinking: “But every sitcom I’ve ever watched has told me otherwise!” These sitcoms are exaggerating. While many men want to have sex frequently, many others prefer occasional sex or no sex at all. Even the men who crave sex frequently have plenty of moments when they’re, say, stressed about work, on the phone with their mom, or really into a good movie. I’ve tried to initiate sex in these moments. It was through being rejected that I learned that these moments of preferring not to have sex exist.
Girls and women sometimes do want sex.
Why else would lesbians have sex?
This also applies to straight and bi+ girls and women, many of whom want to have sex more often than their male partners do. It is perfectly okay for a person of any gender to want to have sex very frequently, or never at all.
Which brings me to my next point…
Not wanting to have sex is always okay.
While our culture teaches that sex is dirty and secret, it is also widely believed that a lack of desire for sex (especially in the context of a committed relationship) means that something’s wrong, either with the individual or with the relationship. This is often not the case! Many people’s sex drives naturally fluctuate. Many others prefer never to have sex. This doesn’t mean that they don’t experience love, intimacy, joy, satisfaction, relaxation, or any other emotion.
Gender roles and rape culture
Our culture teaches guys that they’re supposed to keep pushing to get as far as they can in any sexual encounter. We also teach girls and women that they’re supposed to say no a certain number of times before “giving in” to sex, because being hesitant makes you less “slutty.” Because of these teachings, when a girl/woman says no to sex with a guy:
And what happens when a guy is sexually assaulted? People’s responses tend to line up with the dominant cultural teachings about guys and sex:
What about when a woman is sexually assaulted by another woman? Again, cultural understandings of gender tend to add to this problem. Many people don’t take it as seriously as sexual assault perpetrated by a male because we’ve been taught that women don’t have the same capacity for violence and aggression as men do. This leads to many survivors not getting the support they need to address the emotional effects of the assault.
As a culture, our dominant messages about sex should include that:
The psychological effects of gender roles
The simplistic and often unrealistic messages our society teaches about what to expect from girls/women and guys/men have clearly caused me a lot of unnecessary confusion, but the negative effects of this misinformation don’t end there. For instance, a rigid view of gender roles tends to go along with lower self esteem and prevents people from expressing themselves fully. Many people feel stuck expressing their gender in a way that fits with their gender role in order to gain approval from a partner, or from society in gen(d)eral. This leads to less sexual satisfaction in relationships and more sexual repression.
Transgender people and gender roles
While rejecting gender roles can be hard for anyone, it may be especially difficult for many transgender people who, already marginalized for their gender identity, are more likely to face harsh discrimination and even violence for challenging cultural norms. Though many trans people adhere to gender roles in their relationships, buying into the idea of gender roles tends to go along with higher levels of internalized transphobia. It isn’t uncommon for a trans person to feel afraid of talking with their partner about their trans identity, or to prefer sex in the dark so their bodies are less visible to their partners. If we, as a society, had a more fluid understanding of gender, less common gender expressions wouldn’t be seen as such a problem.
I wasn’t a “tease” for having dozens of make out sessions that didn’t end in sex. Why?
The whole concept of a tease is unhelpful and often inaccurate. It’s tied to the male pushing, female withholding model of sexual progression, which can be harmful in heterosexual encounters and fails to acknowledge same sex encounters. The idea of a tease wouldn’t be so prevalent in a world where sexual activity is thought of as something people engage in and move forward with together for their mutual enjoyment.
*Not all teenage girls are boy-crazy, but I was.
**Shout out to all my teenage boyfriends, now in your mid 20s: Thanks for not getting me pregnant, xoxo.
This article was written by Nicole Mazzeo for Fabulously Feminist Magazine.