The Difference Between Sexual Assault And Bad Sex

There are solutions to avoiding both.

“I told him I was tired, as he asked to go the third round while reaching for yet another condom. As if an agreement had been reached. He lay on top of me, and thrust and thrust, until he finally ejaculated. I lay still and unmoving underneath him. Days later, I was filled with regret and anger. I had enjoyed the first round, the second was unnecessary and not satisfying, but the third round was objectionable, greedy and one-sided. Why did I not protest louder? Did I give consent? What is consent?” (Lucy, aged 20)

I wonder if you would define this situation as sexual assault, or “bad sex”? Keep reading…

I thank Harvey Weinstein for forcing (excuse the pun) society to rethink sexuality, specifically female sexuality, coercion, harassment and assault, and most significantly, to reconsider the concept of “consent”. I am in awe as I observe men in my social and professional circles tread with caution and respect around physical contact with women.

One man who always gave me perfunctory kisses on both cheeks now shakes my hand when we meet. Another asked me if he could place his hands on my shoulders when we were doing a photo shoot that required him to do so.

The #MeToo campaign, like a new baby learning to crawl, walk and face the world, has expanded to be about more than the undisputed physical acts of sexual harassment by powerful men towards women. It expanded the definition of rape to include situations that aren’t just forcible rape, but coercion, manipulation and abuse of power. Then Aziz Ansari happened, and a whole new conversation cracked open – a conversation called “bad sex”.

I invite you to consider the difference between “sexual assault/harassment” and “bad sex”.

Sexual Assault: Being stalked around a room, having fingers pushed aggressively into your mouth, and being ignored when you say you want to slow things down. Threatened with divorce, a sex worker or an affair when you say “no”. Feigned ignorance of your verbal and nonverbal cues, all saying “no”. Any sexual touching without consent.

Sexuality is messy and happens in the moment. Hence consent is messy, the fact is consent is not a binary “Yes” or “No”.

Bad Sex: Bad breath or awkward moments. Uncomfortable, gross and entitled sex. A regretful hookup.You feel objectified and absent during lovemaking. He is sexually pushy. You experience no sexual pleasure or satisfaction. He seems not to care about your right to pleasure. Waking you up at 2 am for sex you don’t want. Insisting on his “right” to oral sex as part of sexual play. Or when you’re menstruating. Sex that is painful as you are not aroused, and he doesn’t care or notice. You feel as if he takes the sex. It feels coercive and manipulative.

Let’s go back to Lucy’s story – perhaps your story. There was a mutual attraction. They both arrived at their first date equipped with a set of expectations of themselves and each other: he is entitled to sexual pleasure and easy orgasm, he has to be seductive to get into her pants. Is she trained to be pleasant and pleasing and to hide her sexuality and desire for pleasure – orgasm? What orgasm? It takes way too long. So she expects to either fake it or forget about it.

Consensually, perhaps with alcohol involved, they begin to make out. Is he aware that it takes about 15-20 minutes of arousal to bring her to clitoral orgasm? Is he considering how to train his tongue to go for that long, or his fingers to dance around her clitoral area until she comes? Is she willing to teach him, to insist on her right to pleasure?

If she doesn’t do it on the first date, it may be way harder to change the game plan on the dates that may follow. Does he know he is being a selfish lover? Does she know she is allowing him to be a selfish lover due to ignorance about her own sexuality or her deeply embedded patriarchal beliefs? This is Bad Sex 101.

Academically and sitting in the comfort of my chair, I know that the way through this confusion is enthusiastic consent. Affirmative/enthusiastic consent practice is meant to empower women and couples to communicate their needs and desires as a way to combat victimisation.

However, this is a naive solution. Sexuality is messy and happens in the moment. Hence consent is messy, the fact is consent is not a binary “Yes” or “No”. He thinks everything is okay; she thinks it sucked. Both their experiences are true. Neither sexual assault nor bad sex is acceptable expressions of healthy sexuality. I am quite sure each one of you has a story about “bad sex”. Do share this with me. By having this conversation, we are able to tease out the important difference between “bad sex” and “sexual assault/harassment”.

Accept that during a sexual episode, hormones take over and what you agreed to yesterday no longer feels good today. The only way to manage this messiness is communication.

Solutions To Prevent Bad Sex:

1. Women have a responsibility to know their sexual anatomy and physiology. Read my book PIllowBook.

2. Masturbating to orgasm is a sure way for women to learn the power and pleasure of orgasm. They have a better chance of vocalising and educating their orgasmic need to partners.

3. Men have a responsibility to learn female anatomy and physiology.

4. Leave unhealthy societal gender messages out the bedroom – accept that men and women desire and have a right to sexual pleasure

5. Accept that during a sexual episode, hormones take over and what you agreed to yesterday no longer feels good today. The only way to manage this messiness is communication.

6. If you can’t talk about sexuality, at the moment, afterwards, and before, you should not be engaging in sexual play. Then it’s hard to call “foul”.

7. If it feels coercive and manipulative, it is. He may not intend this. Enlighten him.

8. Expect messy bad sex for the first time. Immediately talk about it, if there is a second hook up.

9. If it feels unsafe to voice your need for sexual pleasure, question what you are doing in a situation that feels emotionally and sexually unsafe.

10. Trust your body. When it screams “stop”, “pain”, or “bored”, do something.

11. Routinely practice “enthusiastic consent ” in all your sexual encounters.

12. Women, if you invite a man to spend the night in your bed, own that you want sexual play – of whatever nature that may be. Denying this sets you and the man up for mutual pain. And if you don’t want any form of sexual play, say so at the get-go and give him the option to opt out of your bed. Or else it becomes “bad sex” – even sexual assault or rape.