Their ideas of “yes” were so elastic

Peggy Orenstein in the Times notes that men tend to define “consent” to suit themselves (which misses the point by quite a large distance, doesn’t it, since the whole point of consent is that it involves the not-self).

The truth is, men are not the most reliable arbiters of whether sex was consensual. Consider: When Nicole Bedera, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, interviewed male college students in 2015, each could articulate at least a rudimentary definition of the concept: the idea that both parties wanted to be doing what they were doing. Most also endorsed the current “yes means yes” standard, which requires active, conscious, continuous and freely given agreement by all parties engaging in sexual activity. Yet when asked to describe their own most recent encounters in both a hookup and in a relationship, even men who claimed to practice affirmative consent often had not.

When they realized that their actions conflicted with that benchmark, though, they expanded their definition of consent rather than question their conduct. Their ideas of “yes” were so elastic that for some they encompassed behavior that met the legal criteria for assault — such as the guy who had coerced his girlfriend into anal sex (she had said, “I don’t want to, but I guess I’ll let you”). She then made it clear that he should stop. “He did, eventually,” Ms. Bedera told me, “and he seemed aware of how upset she was, but he found a way to rationalize it: He was angry with her for refusing him because he thought a real man shouldn’t have had to beg for sex.”

So pretty much the opposite of consent, then. Thinking you are entitled to sexual access to another person as a matter of right is not a good set up for consensual sex.

A “good guy” can’t possibly have committed assault, regardless of the mental gymnastics he has to engage in to convince himself of that (“20 minutes of action,” anyone?). Even men who admit to keeping sex slaves in conflict zones will claim they did not commit rape — it’s that other guy, that “monster” over there, that “bad guy” who did. In fact, one of the traits rapists have been found to reliably share is that they don’t believe they are the problem.

In my own interviews with high school and college students conducted over the past two years, young men that I like enormously — friendly, thoughtful, bright, engaging young men — have “sort of” raped girls, have pushed women’s heads down to get oral sex, have taken a Snapchat video of a prom date performing oral sex and sent it to the baseball team. They all described themselves as “good guys.” But the fact is, a “really good guy” can do a really bad thing.

That last item – the photo sent to the baseball team – what’s that about? What is that other than shared misogyny?

A few of them admit it if pressed.

Sometimes, boys I talk to acknowledge having willfully crossed lines. One college sophomore had repeatedly ignored his partner’s hesitation during a hookup, despite his own professed scrupulousness about consent.

“I suppose there was something in the back of my head that I wasn’t fully listening to,” he admitted. “I guess when you’ve been flirting with someone the whole evening and you feel close to what you’ve been wanting to happen, it’s difficult to put on the brakes. And — I don’t know. I was enjoying myself. I was having what in the moment was a positive sexual experience. I think I just wanted to. Which is scary.”

It is, yes, as well as very common. Be afraid.

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