Tag: Consent

There is no questions the date between Aziz and Grace was a disaster

We have watched as people have taken sides, but that’s not what we want to do here. It was a bad date, Aziz pushed too hard, Grace didn’t leave. Instead of taking sides, what we’d rather do is ask “Why?” For the sake of simplicity, we will start with Grace.

There’s an important piece of the story missing

While many writers, including Emma Gray from HuffPo, call on the socialization of women to be nice and accommodating, we think this is only part of the story.

A much deeper problem is lack of women’s sexual empowerment. Because women are taught to say “no” to sex, they go into sexual situations from a defensive mode. They are not thinking, “I love sex and have every right to it. So, do I want sex with this guy, under what circumstances would or wouldn’t I? And, what kind of sexual experiences would make me feel great physically and emotionally?”

Instead, they go into a dating situation thinking, “What is this guy going to want from me and how do I navigate it so that I am sexual enough for him, while still getting him to respect and take me seriously?”

Boys are praised and girls are protected

Girls are sexually disempowered from a young age. When you see people talk to parents about their children, they look at boys and say, “Oh, he’s flirting with me, he’s so cute, he’ll get all the girls.” When they look at a pretty girl, the say, “Boy, you better watch out, all the boys are going to be after her, you might need to keep her locked up ’til she’s 18.”

The protectionist attitude is everywhere in our society, and it contributes to women feeling like victims instead of people driving their own lives. We have worked with so many parents struggling with how to deal with their teenage daughter’s budding sexuality. When we float the idea that they might talk about how wonderful and pleasurable sex is before telling them to be careful, it’s like the thought has never even occurred.

So, why didn’t Grace just leave (or why don’t women just leave)?

She probably had a romantic fantasy that she might end up being Aziz’s girlfriend, though he clearly was only out for casual sex. She was probably being nice, because she was socialized that way. And, importantly, it is VERY unlikely that she had any idea of what her sexual desires and boundaries were in the situation, so she was in a reactive instead of empowered mode.

Reactive mode

Unless you’ve experienced it, it is very hard to imagine what reactive mode is like. It is almost as if the world becomes very small and you are only in the current interaction. You are trying to deal with the moment-to-moment experience of decision-making in the face of the force of someone else’s desires. And, sometimes like the proverbial frog in a pot of boiling water, you only realize how bad it’s gotten once the pot is boiling.

Trauma

While it may not have been the case in Grace’s situation, it bears mentioning that people with a history of unresolved trauma can have a freeze response, which might lead to them not being able to stop a violating experience. In a similar situation, a woman with a history of unresolved trauma, would have one or more of three potential responses, fight, flight or freeze. Fight is great in these instances — a woman with this response might have pushed Aziz away and said, “Get off of me.” Flight also would have been great — a woman with a flight response would likely have run out of the house. The tougher one in these situations, and one that women will often then be blamed or shamed for and feel terrible about themselves after, is the freeze response. A woman who has the freeze response will generally dissociate, never say no or stop saying no, and let the other person do whatever they want to do until it’s over.

Lack of sexual empowerment

Even if Grace did not have a trauma history (and we don’t know whether or not she did), we strongly believe that the fact that she did not leave the date sooner was not Grace’s fault. We think it is highly doubtful that Grace received the message that she has a right to pleasure and can decide what she does and doesn’t want. Until women are fully empowered to not be so nice and to have their own internal compass, bad dates will continue to look like Aziz and Grace’s. Even when we are highly empowered, women still might occasionally not take perfect care of themselves, but we will at least have the best possible chance. Also, even if we are totally clear and empowered in dating situations, we can still get violated and raped if a man is willing to use force. We must keep all of this in mind if we are going to change our culture around dating and sex.

What does women’s sexual empowerment look like?

At minimum, if we want girls to grow up to be empowered women in these kinds of situations — to ask for what they want, to stay when they like it and leave when they don’t — we need to treat them like adult sexual beings. We need to get rid of the protectionist attitude towards girls and teach them that sex is pleasurable and that they deserve pleasure. We need to tell girls that sex is for them and not something that boys get to have and they get to try to stave off in order to get a relationship.

What needs to change in the minds of men and women?

  1. It is time to celebrate women who have multiple sexual partners as wise women, not sluts (or reclaim the word slut as something positive)! We need to imagine a future of wonderful, pleasurable sex for girls and give them the knowledge to do so once they become women.
  2. Both men and women need to think of women’s sexual desire as an essential part of every women. We need to stop thinking of sex as a commodity that women trade for love and relationships.
  3. It is only through knowing what we want and that we have a right to it, that we can also know what we don’t want and be crystal clear about it.

By now, you have probably read the article about a date Aziz Ansari had with “Grace”, which is sparking a debate about the complexity of the #MeToo movement and starting a much-needed dialogue on the nuances of consent. As Sex and Relationship coaches we have spent countless hours analyzing specific dates, dating culture, and working with men and women to better understand consent, boundaries, and desire. When we hear stories like Grace’s, and we do, regularly, we are reminded just how crucial and rare communication about desire is.

Most People Don’t Know What They Want or How to Express It

As people are taking sides on Aziz and Grace, trying to pinpoint one or the other as a truer victim they are often missing an important point that can help frame this conversation and allow us all to better understand how and why these kind of dating scenarios are both terrible and commonplace. Most of us don’t even know what we want out of dating and sex. And we sure as hell don’t communicate it.

Aziz and Grace were on two different dates

He was looking for his version of a hot sexual experience, likely a one night stand, and she was hoping for something more romantic and potentially ongoing. They were both undoubtedly inside of their own fantasies, not noticing or caring about what the other one wanted. Of course, this was not impactful to Aziz in the same way it was to Grace, but it is still useful to explore where both were likely coming from.

What Did They Each Want?

From the story Grace told, this is what we can imagine it looked like inside of each of their minds:

The Aziz Fantasy

Man, I met this really cute girl, she seems to be really into me, I’m going to go through this whole bullshit dating thing and then I’m totally going to fuck her. I really can’t wait for us to get back to my place. We better get through dinner quick because I want to eat her out and get every part of me in her mouth — my fingers, my dick. It would be so hot to watch us in the mirror, I’m going to bend her over. Then she can see how hot it is that a famous guy like me is doing her from behind. C’mon, let’s get this party started. Sweet, she’s already talking about my counter-tops, that’s a great place to start. Girls in their 20s are really horny, I hope we can just skip all the bullshit and get right to it…

The Grace Fantasy

OMG, I can’t believe I’m going on a date with Aziz Ansari. He seems really cool and I Iove how sweet he is on his show. It will be so romantic, we can sit and sip our favorite wine and have a long, leisurely dinner. We already love the same camera, I bet we have a bunch of other things in common. I hope this dress is ok, I hope he thinks I’m cute, I can’t believe I’m going out with a celebrity. What if we end up dating, what if we end up in a relationship Ok, I’m cool going to his house. Maybe we can go out on his balcony and kiss under the stars. He seems really cool, I bet he’ll know how to kiss me just right, and touch my face, and we can make out and touch all night long. Who knows, maybe we will even end up having sex, but I probably shouldn’t because I want to make sure he still respects me and wants to go on another date.

Did They Care What the Other Wanted?

Obviously, this is not a perfect re-enactment of what was going on in their heads, but it is probably not too far off the mark. More importantly, whatever was going on it was entirely projection on both their parts. On his- a hot, porno fantasy, on her’s -the perfect romantic movie. We can only imagine the countless times this similar dating scenario has been played out, with women feeling used and taken advantage of and men feeling shocked that anything they did was wrong. It seems to us that Aziz didn’t really care what Grace wanted and Grace was in denial of what Aziz actually wanted.They were hoping for really different things but never talked about it.

Aziz seemed to be able to stay in his fantasy regardless of the pretty clear evidence that Grace wasn’t into it. A lack of empathy, insensitivity, or high levels of turn-on mixed with not really caring what the other person wants often lead to this. Aziz doesn’t actually have the luxury of claiming ignorance, since he literally wrote a book on dating, Modern Romance, which leads us to believe he simply thought there would be no consequences for continuing to push much harder than he should. As a culture we don’t consider a one-night stand an ok desire, so Grace isn’t even tasked with accepting that might have been what Aziz wanted.

Why No One Says What They Want

In dating there is way too much unspoken and both men and women are afraid to speak it, often for different reasons. As a guy, it’s nerve-racking because you don’t want to scare a date away by being too forward, or by just wanting sex, or a particular kind of sex. As a woman, if you are hoping for something more long-term, you don’t want to scare men away on a first date by grilling them about whether they want something serious. The fear that talking about sex might impede on the sexual tension or ruin the romantic fantasy means we don’t talk about what we are really after. With this approach, it’s surprising that any good comes of dating.

Regardless of whether or not we agree on how this should have been handled by the media or the parties involved, we can all agree that Aziz and Grace had a bad date. Ultimately, there was actual harm done, even if not criminal. Grace was emotionally hurt and, as a result of the article, Aziz suffered harm to his reputation and, undoubtedly, his feelings. Surely there would have been harm done to Grace’s reputation as well had she used her real name, since many people are blaming and shaming her around her approach to the evening.

While probably not criminal, certainly some of what Aziz did was not consensual. He continued to press Grace even after Grace told him she didn’t want to go any further and he agreed to just chill. Theoretically, Grace could have left at any time, but this would take a level of personal, sexual empowerment that our culture does not teach girls and young women. Check out our upcoming blog on Why Grace Didn’t Leave.

So What Do We Do About It?

Changing our society so that these types of dates are a rare exception and not an unacknowledged norm is not a simple task. We cannot stress enough how important communication is even in the most casual relationship. We need to start talking about desire while also exercising embodied empathy, verbal and embodied consent and gradual escalation. In general this means men need to do a better job of reading their partners; she didn’t say no is not a reason enough to proceed. And women need to learn that their boundaries and their desires are important.

Here are a Few Practical Steps

  1. One way to remain mindful of your boundaries and desires in dating is to get past wishful thinking and projection. Whether your fantasy is for a hot one night stand or a romantic date, pay attention to what the other person actually wants. As long as boundaries are being respected, try accepting what the other person wants without judging it.
  2. Even better, you could openly acknowledge what you want and have an honest conversation about it.
  3. Next, if there is any part of what the other person wants that you want too, be clear and communicative about your desires and boundaries.
  4. Once you know what each of you wants, engage in whatever feels mutually good to both of you.
  5. If it ends up you are on different pages, let yourself feel the disappointment of your desires not being met. This disappointment is not their fault and, likewise, you are not responsible for fulfilling their fantasy when it doesn’t fit with yours.

While this moment of societal reckoning is difficult, we are hopeful that it can move us towards more communication around sex and a better understanding of consent.

In light of the recent #metoo campaign and other ongoing consciousness-raising around the importance of consent, we are reaching out to all of you, students past and present, and Somatica Practitioners, to give you some updates to how we are going to emphasize consent in our teaching. While the way we teach has always had the intention of helping people read and attune to their partners to make sure everything that is happening is consensual, desired, and pleasurable, we feel the way we have presented it may not have emphasized the importance of consent enough. We are now teaching people how to have consent conversations with their clients and partners, and how to escalate while making sure that there is ongoing consent. Please check out these updated explanations and exercises that we feel more properly represent how we would like people to teach around consent in their practices. These additions will be included in next year’s updated Somatica Training manual.

Much love,

Celeste & Danielle


Consent

Consent is a very hot button issue in our culture, so please pay attention to the activation in your body as you read through this section. The concept of consent touches on our deep need for safety, equality, and respect. If you ask just about any woman what it is like to walk around late at night somewhere by yourself, or to walk down the street in broad daylight and have a man follow you calling out at you, or to go on a first date, at best she will tell you stories of feeling fearful or being extra careful, at worst she will tell you stories of rape, harassment, and violation. Likewise, if you ask men who love and respect women, what it is like to be out dating and having sex or trying to have sex with women, they will often share their fear of crossing boundaries, hurting someone, being accused of harassment or rape, and their fear of being shunned by their community or the people they care about.

Consent and non-consent can also be a part of our arousal. For example, we may be very aroused by the feeling that we can fully trust someone or feel cared for by them because they ask our consent or give their overt consent at each new step of sexual escalation. Or, we may be aroused by overt non-consent, where our partner does whatever they want to us without regard for our needs or we do what we want to them, regardless of our partner’s needs. We may be turned on by the romantic notion that a partner can know everything we want without ever having to ask or feeling like they can attune to us without words. In long-term relationships, women have sometimes expressed to us that they wish their partners would push past some of their crunchiness or resistance and just keep going. Jack Morin does a great job talking about how we can want the world to be a place full of overt communication and egalitarianism and still be turned on by scenarios that are quite contrary to these goals.

In Somatica, we want to account for both the importance of a safe, respectful world and honor that different people may have different needs around how they want their partner to ascertain consent. Obviously, if someone is turned on by doing things to someone that are non-consensual, we need to work with them on finding a partner that they can play this out with in a role-play as opposed to enacting it in the world, where they may do tremendous harm and be punished by their community or the legal system, For this reason, instead of teaching people to ask for overt consent at each step of escalation, we teach people how to have a consent conversation to ascertain what kinds of consent they want to practice in their life and to attune to nonverbal cues.

Experiential Practice: Have a Consent Conversation

Introduction: Read the above explanation of consent and trauma.

How to explain it to your client: You can say, “Let’s talk about how you give or get consent with a partner.”

How to do the experience: Talk with your client about their feelings, history, and possible fears around consent as well as what kind of consent they want with a partner. Help them identify if they are more commonly the initiator of sex and sexual escalation or the recipient or both. If they are the initiator, help them practice talking with a date or partner about what kind of consent their partner wants. If their partner wants them to initiate and escalate without asking, help them make an agreement that their partner will let them know if they are coming to a boundary. If their partner wants overt consent, help them practice how to get consent in a sexy way.

If they are normally the recipient of escalation, help them identify whether they want to be asked for verbal consent at each new escalation or if they want their partner to continue to escalate without asking (or some hybrid, like not asking at the kissing stage, but asking at the oral sex or intercourse stage). If they do not want their partner to ask for overt consent, make sure they are empowered around their boundaries.

If your client has a trauma history or is prone to dissociation as a defense mechanism, it is important that they identify if they are someone who freezes or dissociates during sexual escalation. If so, you will need to help them communicate to their partners that this happens to them and to let their partners know how to deal with it. For example, if your client is prone to freezing, they might say, “I’d really like it if you’d ask before you initiate a new sexual experience every time we have sex and make sure I give you a verbal yes. Also, if my body seems really still or you feel like I’m checked out, I’d love for you to just check in with me” or they might say, “I don’t want you to ask me for each new sexual escalation, but please pay attention and check in with me verbally, if it seems like I’ve stopped moving or am breathing very shallowly or if my eyes look spaced out. If I don’t respond verbally when you check in, please stop all sexual interaction with me until I can talk again.” You can also help your client have these same conversations if they have specific triggers or flashbacks. Help them identify how their partners can tell and what they need from their partners when this happens so that they can communicate this to their partners.

What are you looking for: You want to see if your client can clearly express how they want to get and give consent and that they feel empowered around communicating their boundaries, especially if they are interested in escalation without verbal consent.

Debrief: Talk with your client about how they will take these practices of consent out into their dating or relationship life, what they’d like to communicate to dates and partners from now on.