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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Don’t Be A Jerk!

Erik Woodley
Published Thursday February 5, 04:21 pm
A dummy’s guide to happy, healthy and super-fun sex

Photo Credit: Illustration by Evgenia Mikhaylova

Scientists now believe that human beings have been having sex since, well, the very beginning. Shocking, right? But although population rates suggest that we as a species seem to be pretty well practiced, an onslaught of recent sexual assault stories in the news (Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby being two of the more high-profile cases) clearly show that we still have a lot to learn about consensual, healthy sex.

And let's be honest: it's largely men who are the problem. Women are victims of 85 per cent of all sexual assault cases, and it is estimated that at least 20 per cent [one in five] of women have victimized.

So, although we really shouldn’t have to do this (c’mon people: healthy, fun and fully consensual sex isn’t actually rocket science), this year’s Valentine’s Day feature is basically a dummy’s guide to safe and consensual sex.

Planet S spoke to two experts — Heather Pocock, acting executive director at the Saskatoon Sexual Assault Centre, and Cindy Bote, councillor at the Regina Sexual Assault Centre — to make plain what every decent sexually active human needs to know.

 

THE BASICS

You've got something between your legs. That thing sometimes, but not always, designates our sex. When you use that thing, is that sex? What is sex? Is it okay to refer to it as a “thing”?

“Sex is any sexual contact between individuals,” says Pocock. “I say 'sexual contact' because sex isn't just contact between a penis and a vagina. There's same-sex relationships, there's different forms of sexual contact, so in the big scheme of things, ‘sex’ is all sexual contact.”

Yup, says Bote. “Sex is certainly a lot more than just intercourse. It's difficult to define. There are different forms of intimacy that may lead to sex that aren't necessarily just intercourse.”

And when do things go wrong?

“Anything that crosses the lines as far as consent doesn't constitute sex, it constitutes an inter-personal crime,” says Bote.

 

TALK IT OUT

If you're lucky enough to find yourself in a circumstance where you might have sex, it all starts with consent and communication. Even if you think you know what the person wants, or your intentions are “innocent enough,” always communicate with your potential partner.

“First and foremost, what we encourage is open and honest communication,” says Pocock. “If you're with somebody who doesn't seem to be consenting, if they are resisting, then you need to respect that. And it doesn't only have to be verbal — you need to read that with your eyes and your body language. That’s a good time to verbally check in and ask the person if this is something they really want to do, and start a communication about that.”

 

DON'T CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM

“Affirmative consent” is a term we’re probably all familiar with — it essentially means that you must have your partner’s verbal consent before pursuing a sex act (again, not rocket science). But, a reluctant or apathetic answer in the affirmative might not really reflect your potential partner’s true wishes — perhaps they’re feeling pressured and don’t want to disappoint, perhaps they’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs and not thinking straight, or perhaps a thousand other reasons. So what to do? Get “enthusiastic consent,” says Bote.

“The term we use and teach now is 'enthusiastic consent.' Enthusiastic consent is having conversations with the individuals involved to find out what you're comfortable with. Making sure that everybody is comfortable and fully on board, and no one is feeling pressured or coerced,” she says. “And it doesn't have to be entirely verbal, because that can sometimes lead to hours of conversation. But it's important to check in with your partner before things escalate from one thing to the next.”

 

BUT ALL THIS TALKIN' JUST RUINS THE MOOD, MAN

Maybe you're shy. Maybe you're not practiced at talking about this shit. Maybe you think you can get away with more if you don't talk about beforehand.

None of these are good excuses.

If you want sex, you need to start a conversation. And who knows, talking might actually get those engines running hotter than you thought.

“Well, if you're talking about it and you're ruining the mood because someone isn't into it then that's probably good thing!” says Pocock. “If you're in a relationship with somebody, you need to be willing to talk about these things.”

“If you have the opportunity to have an intimate conversation with somebody about sex, that can very much be a form of foreplay on its own,” says Bote.

But a lot of this activity can be ambiguous, and decisions are made in the moment and left up to interpretation, you say. So how do I know if I'm being a dummy?

“This is an area where people need to be careful, because sometimes nonverbal cues are misinterpreted or misrepresented. And that's why I keep saying have some discussion about it, even if it's as little as 'Is it okay if I do this?' or 'Would you like me to do that?' or 'What exactly would you like me to do?' It's important to have a conversation and be honest with your partner,” says Bote.

“Maybe a person is not verbally saying 'No, get out of my face,' but maybe they don't know how to be that assertive. If a person tries to stop [you] with body language, by squirming out of the situation, by acting cold, by putting up their hands — it’s a pretty good indicator that they don't want to be part of something, so don't keep trying to sweet-talk them or pressure them,” says Pocock.

As a rule of thumb, Pocock says to “back off if there's any question. If you're a respectful person, you’ll pay attention to your partner and what they want.”

 

WHEN IT BECOMES ASSAULT

A sad fact is that sexual assault typically happens within the confines of a relationship. Ninety per cent of victims in Canada, and 86.3 per cent in Saskatchewan, knew their assailants: they were boyfriends, partners, relatives or friends/acquaintances.

“Unhealthy sexual relationships and sexual assault [occur] when people did not understand what was consensual, or there was purposeful disregard for one person’s boundaries and it's no longer consensual,” says Pocock. “It's important to understand what you and your partner are freely participating in — and if one person chooses to stop, then the other person stops. And this just doesn't happen with strangers; it happens between friends, on a date, or even between husband and wife.

“You also have to understand that even if you'd have talked about it previously that night, everyone has a right to change their mind. Everybody, at any point, has a right to say no. If it's disrespected, then it's in the realm of sexual assault.”

 

ALCOHOL AND DRUGS

Alcohol and drugs are a factor in 50 per cent of sexual assault cases — and in college-age cases, it shoots up to 90 per cent. If someone feeds another person alcohol (or drugs) in order to have sex with them, they can be charged with sexual assault. A person cannot give consent if they are intoxicated or drugged — or asleep, for that matter.

“If you add alcohol or other substances, then you get into murky waters,” says Pocock. “So that's a good time to talk before you go out that night, especially if you don't have a solid relationship. If you're intimately involved with another person and you have a pretty tight relationship, chances are that it won't be a big issue later on in the evening. But if you don't know each other very well and someone gets somebody very intoxicated and [you] engage in sexual activity with them, that would be considered sexual assault,” says Pocock.

“When they're passed out for instance, [they’re incapable of giving consent], or if they're having trouble standing up or not able to communicate. There's not a definite point, it's really something that the police determine. Talking to young adults, I ask them if that's really the best time to be engaging in sex. Are there going to be regrets the next day? Is one person intoxicated and there's some convincing or pressuring going on? Are your decisions being made for you?”

 

GETTING YOUR KINK ON — SAFELY AND RESPECTFULLY

Perhaps, in the words of a certain disgraced CBC host, your “tastes in the bedroom may not be palatable to some folks. They may be strange, enticing, weird, normal, or outright offensive to others.” So how does one conduct such behaviour so it remains positive for both partners?

“Again, communication is key to make sure that you are doing things because it's your own free choice,” says Pocock. “Make sure it's something that you both have thought about, that you have had time to clearly make a decision. It's not my or anyone's place to judge [what you do in the bedroom], but you have to ask yourself if you're doing this because it's your own choice, or if you're doing this because someone is pressuring or coercing you.

“Make sure whoever you're with understands your realm of comfort. Make sure that there's a clear communication when things should not go any further — when someone says stop, it should stop. When it crosses those boundaries and no longer becomes consensual, that's when it enters into the realm of sexual assault,” says Pocock.

 

CURRENT EVENTS

The number of calls to sexual assault centres in Saskatchewan have been on the rise since news broke of Jian Ghomeshi's sexual assault allegations. That sounds tragic, but it may well be a positive development, bringing more communication about sexual abuse and harassment into the fore.

“We deal with people who are victims of sexual assault every day. But what I can say is that I have had some clients who have come in and referenced those high-profile media-persons directly. Because in a weird way, it's validating for them — where somebody is talking about it, where previously they might've thought that nobody was. So I think in the end it ends up being a good thing that we're talking about it more, even though no one wants to hear stories like that. Certainly it has increased dialogue everywhere,” says Bote.

“There's still a lot of hesitancy — the reported rate of people who are coming for counselling is still extremely low, so we still have a long way to go. Sex is still a taboo topic, even though it's everywhere. The important thing is to reach out to whatever organization there is in your community and talk about it.” 

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