It Ain’t Sex Unless It’s Pleasuring

savannah-dietrich1“It isn’t sex unless you’ve had an orgasm” says Jessica Valenti on losing virginity.

I’d take that a step further and apply it to rape: It ain’t sex unless it’s pleasuring. That makes sex and rape two different things.

When words fail to make distinctions things can get fuzzy and merge together. In places like Korea no words distinguish between blue and green, leaving people unable to see a difference.

We may need to distinguish between sex and rape to stop confusing one with the other. Sex is about consensual, mutual pleasure. Rape is not.

The Steubenville rape, and reaction to it, has got me thinking about this.

A semi-conscious, non-responsive 16-year-old girl is digitally penetrated. So what happens? Someone films it. Next she’s photographed naked, gossiped about, joked about, and it’s all passed around on the web as the girl’s former friends, other students and local townsfolk defend the assailants.

Evan Westlake said he didn’t stop the assault, because,

It wasn’t violent. I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I thought it was forcing yourself on someone.

After a guilty verdict a defendant wails that his life is over. CNN, ABC and NBC seem sympathetic to the perpetrators, whose lives are forever ruined. Just sex gone bad? Bad decisions surrounding sex? It’s easy to make a mistake?

If sex were only thought of as consensual, mutual and pleasurable for all involved then maybe more people could see that entering a semi-conscious girl’s vagina is not sex, it is rape.

And if a woman or girl were raped, or lost her virginity through rape, maybe she’d feel a lot better if she redefined “sex” and “virginity loss” in terms of pleasuring sex, not mere penetration.

I’ve always felt uncomfortable thinking of sex and rape as being different forms of the same thing.

It ain’t sex unless it’s consensual.

It ain’t sex unless it’s mutual.

It ain’t sex unless it’s pleasurable.

It ain’t sex unless everyone feels good afterwards.

And real men love sex, but real men don’t rape.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 20, 2013, in feminism, psychology, rape and sexual assault, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. With topics regarding sex and rape so many people love to argue and get specific with the definitions of the two. Many say that in order to consent to sex there has to be a clear “yes.” Consider this a casual hookup or first time of course this makes perfect sense but this isn’t the case for everyone. There are people who have been in relashionships for long period of time that don’t necessarily verbally communicate consent every time they decide to have sex. Women can freeze up, be under the influence or go ahead with it because they don’t want their partner to go seeking for it else wear. When people get specific with the definitions of the two this can invalidate the feelings and trauma that so many rape victims go through. “It ain’t sex unless it pleasuring.” This is a good way to distinguish the two because consent is different for different people and relationships.

  2. Jenna Francisco

    I agree that sex and rape are totally different things. Even the word rape makes me feel uncomfortable. Even recently there are people out there in very young ages that are getting unconsciously raped. I remember seeing on the news how a young teenage girl took her own life because she got raped by multiple people. This got me thinking about abused young kids, they probably can’t find a distinction between the two because they don’t know better and will probably grow into thinking that rape is normal since it has happened to them. It’s pretty sad and sadistic.

  3. This is a great jumping point for a constructive conversation about the differences between consent and sexual assault. While I’m not necessarily looking for a uniform definition of sex, as many people define their sexual experiences differently, I do maintain that we need standard definitions of rape and consent that cross cultural, racial, and class boundaries. The standard of affirmative consent, which relies on explicit verbal consent, is the most solid approach I’ve come across. In any case, I think this sort of education is the best way to ensure sexual empowerment and the protection of body sovereignty.

  4. I do not understand how two high school students were ignorant enough to do what they did and think that what they did is not wrong in any way. It is unbelievable how some teenagers do not get to learn about moral standards during the processes of primary and secondary socialization. There is no doubt that they should be punished severely because they damaged her mentally and socially. I really want to know how they were raised and educated. Also, I am so surprised that so many people are defending the assailants. Sometimes, I feel like an alien when I read something like this.

    • Disgusting, yes, Surprising? Not so sure. The attitudes that foster the defense and perpetration of rape run deep in our culture. I think most would agree that this starts with widespread, systemic contempt toward women. With misogyny and the objectification/hyper-sexualization of women’s bodies as normalized as they are in media and the collective conscious, violence toward women’s bodies is sure to follow. Pair that up with inadequate sex education and dangerously inconsistent standards of consent, we’re now moving into a conversation about crises on the national cultural level. It saddens me to say that I think these boys -these rapists- weren’t likely raised and educated any differently from most other American young men.

  5. Rohan 7 Things

    “It ain’t sex unless it’s consensual.

    It ain’t sex unless it’s mutual.

    It ain’t sex unless it’s pleasurable.

    It ain’t sex unless everyone feels good afterwards.

    And real men love sex, but real men don’t rape.”

    This should be written all over everything. Couldn’t agree more 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!


  6. Thanks for drawing clear lines and defining terms. Civilization gets lost in mushy words and mushy boundaries.

    Your quote from one of the young rapists (“It wasn’t violent. I didn’t know exactly what rape was. I thought it was forcing yourself on someone”.) implies his belief that anything and everything short of sticking an erect penis in an unwilling vagina is acceptable.

    I’m horrified by the claim that he didn’t know any better and frightened by community support for the young men. But I’m not surprised.

    I’m also horrified by our boundaryless inundation with sexualized and violent images that are taken for granted in everyday routine marketing and programming.

    Perhaps there’s a connection?

    • I once showed my class an ad that is widely seen to be depicting a gang rape, but my class was unsure, and divided as to whether what was depicted was a rape. So inundated that they’re growing confused? Concerns me.

      • You’re right to be concerned. What you say about your (college level, I assume) class concerns me as well. As a nation we have been locked into the psychosis of perpetual war for generations now. This requires we “socialize” everyone to accept violence (including highly sexualized violence) as normal. It requires mass confusion on other points of human existence as well. But those are topic for other days. Thanks again for your clear thoughts and open writing. Alice

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