By writing this post, I am putting myself in danger.
You see, if I am ever raped or sexually assaulted and I choose to take my rapist to court, I will be subjected to a lengthy, humiliating interrogation about my sexual history. How many partners I’ve had, my dating habits and even what I wear will be subject to scrutiny. Every photo I’ve ever posted to Instagram will be used as proof that my rapist had just cause for doing what he did. Or they could just quote the three words I’m about to type, damning me forever in the eyes of any (probably predominantly male) jury:
I like sex.
By admitting that, I have forever signed away my right to demand that my autonomy be respected. Society as a whole believes that women who like sex or who have sex frequently have given their consent for anyone to have sex with them, whether or not they expressly allow it. By saying that I enjoy sex – and I do, I enjoy it very much – I am opening myself up to judgement from people who think consent is an all or nothing proposition: either I want all sex, or none of it.
Women are not meant to like sex. Sex is meant to be something we give to men as a reward for good behaviour, or as their due for simply existing and being male. The idea that a woman might seek out sex – that she might even enjoy it for its own sake, and not just because she wants to please a man – is enough to brand her an amoral whore in the eyes of society. We are not meant to be sexual beings on our own terms; our sexuality exists solely for the pleasure of men, who are told that they have every right to demand that we exercise it for them and that they may use whatever means necessary to get us to do it. A woman who wants sex is a fearful, abhorrent thing – she is attempting to take control of an aspect of herself that society does not believe belongs to her.
Steubenville proved something that many women have known all along – that when they are raped, the first question will not be, “why didn’t the rapist stop himself?” but, “what did she do to deserve it?” If a woman is forced to have sex against her will, society reasons, it must be because she gave off some kind of signal that she was ready to please a man, and it’s her fault if those signals were misread. Maybe she dressed too “slutty”. Maybe she had too many previous sexual partners, thus making her fair game for anyone wanting her. Maybe she got drunk and needed to be punished for her carelessness. Nobody ever asks why a man rapes – they ask why a woman didn’t stop it from happening. Why didn’t she cover up? Why didn’t she limit herself to two drinks? Why did she walk home through that part of town? Why did she have so much sex beforehand? Can any man really be blamed for thinking that a woman who does these things doesn’t want every man in her life to have sex with her?
Women who like sex are, in the eyes of the men who think they own them, an open invitation. After all, if she liked it with Dave from accounting, why wouldn’t she like it with you? If she liked it with the boy she went home with at that party you were both at that one time, why wouldn’t she like it when you corner her at the next party and force yourself on her? She liked it once, after all. She must be open to it. She must be asking for it.
Except that nobody ever asks to be raped. Nobody, no matter what they wear, how much they drink, or how often they have sex, is ever asking for their bodily autonomy to be violated. I have said this before, and I will say it again – a woman’s sexuality does not exist for you. Women are perfectly capable of being sexual beings on their own terms, and that means being able to decide when to say yes and when to say no. I like sex – with partners of my choice, in circumstances of my choosing. That should go without saying. I should not have to specify that the fact that I’m not a virgin does not mean that I want to have sex with every man I meet. I am not “asking for it” any more than the one in four women who will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, or the three in five Native American women who will be. Nobody ever wants to be raped.
A person’s sexuality belongs to them, to do with as they choose. Saying yes to a hundred partners does not mean a yes to partner #101 is automatically implied. I say yes to sex with my boyfriend all the time, but I will (most likely) say no to sex with you. This is my right. This is a human right. The right to say no to sexual contact of any kind is not something earned by allowing one’s sexuality to be policed. There is no model of good behaviour that suddenly entitles a woman not to be raped. Not being raped is a birthright. Rapists take that birthright away. They are not forced to do it; they are not provoked. They choose to violate someone else’s autonomy because they want to. They do not have any other excuse.
One in four women have been raped or will be raped in their lifetimes. This doesn’t just include drunk women at parties, or women who walk home alone at night. This includes children in the care of adults who are meant to look out for their best interests. This includes the elderly in aged care facilities, who trust that the staff will protect them and care for them. This includes women who have never had sex and women who have had sex dozens or hundreds or thousands of times. This includes women who like sex with women. This includes women like me, who refuse to be shamed into silence. This includes trans* women, women of colour, disabled women, women in relationships, sex workers, homeless women, women in prison. It includes every woman you know. It even includes men, because nobody – and I mean nobody, no matter who they are or what they’ve done or how many times they’ve said yes – deserves to have their “no” disregarded.
I like sex on my own terms, with partners I choose, in circumstances in which I feel comfortable. This does not give you licence to rape me. Nothing does. Rape is not a punishment for bad behaviour or an overwhelming compulsion. It is a crime. If you do it, no matter what reason you give, you are a criminal. Bodily autonomy is a human right. There is never a reason not to honour it.