Writer’s Wednesday: Yes Means Yes! by Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti

Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape is a fantastic anthology edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti. It is groundbreaking in dismantling our beliefs around rape, but instead putting in a framework of enthusiastic consent and respect for female sexual pleasure.

Friedman and Valenti have found an incredible array of writers from all areas of life, including people like Jill Filipovic, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Hanne Blank, Stacey May Fowles, Lisa Jervis, Brad Perry, Latoya Peterson and many more. They cover such diverse topics as masculinity, female sexual pleasure and autonomy, incest, rape culture, queer sexuality, racial sexualization etc.

My favourite paragraph from Jill Filipovic, that in my opinion pretty much sums up the anthology in its entirety:

Feminism and anti-rape activism challenge the dominant narrative that women’s bodies aren’t our own, they insist that sex is about consent and enjoyment, not violence and harm, and they attack a power structure that sees women as victims and men as predators. Feminists insist that men are not animals. Instead, men are rational human beings fully capable of listening to their partners and understanding that sex isn’t about pushing someone ot do something they don’t want to do. Plenty of men are able to grasp the idea that sex should be entered into joyfully and enthusiastically by both partners, and that an absence of “no” isn’t enough – “yes” should be the baseline requirement. And women are not empty vessels to be fucked or not fucked; we’re sexual actors who should absolutely have the ability to say yes when we want it, just like men, and should feel safe saying no – even if we’ve been drinking, even if we’ve slept with you before, even if we’re wearing tight jeans, even if we’re naked in bed with you. Anti-rape activists further understand that men need to feel empowered to say no also. If women have the ability to fully and freely say yes, and if we established a model of enthusiastic consent instead of just “no means no,” it would be a lot harder for men to get away with rape. It would be a lot harder to argue that there’s a “gray area.” It would be a lot harder to push the idea that “date rape” is less serious than “real” rape, that women who are assaulted by acquaintances were probably teases, that what is now called “date rape” used to just be called “seduction.”

This book, and the discussions that arise from it are so incredibly important for all of us and in my opinion it ought to be a mandatory part of any sex ed class.


My past haunted me still, but it came to me in strange ways. I am surprised by how much sex I have had in my life that I didn’t want to have. Not exactly what’s considered “real” rape, or “date” rape, like my first time, although it is a kind of rape of the spirit – a dishonest portrayal or distortion of my own desire in order to appease another person – so it wasn’t rape at gunpoint, but rape as the alternative to having to explain my reasons for not wanting to have sex. You do it out of love sometimes, to save another’s feelings. And you do it out of hate sometimes, because you don’t want to hear your partner complain – like you hate their voice so much that whenever you aren’t made to hear it, it is a blessing. This is all sex I have said yes to, and sometimes even initiated – that I didn’t want to have. Often I would initiate the encounter just to get it over with, so it would be behind me, so it would be done. It is the worst feeling; it is like unpaid prostitution, emotional whoring. You don’t get paid in dollars, you get paid in averted arguments; you get paid by being able to avoid the truth another day. You hold your breath and you don’t feel your body, and you just let go of yourself. Your body responds just enough to make them think that you are into it, that you want it, that this is really sex. But it isn’t. I hate it, but I have done it, and I really don’t ever want to do it again because it is dehumanizing and demoralizing.
– Margaret Cho, Foreword

Male sexuality, and maleness in general, are socially enforced by requiring men to be Not Women. Men who transgress and exhibit characteristics that are traditionally associated with femaleness – passivity, gentleness, willingness to be sexually penetrated – have their masculinity questioned.
– Jill Filipovic, Offensive Feminism: The Conservative Gender Norms That Perpetuate Rape Culture, and How Feminists Can Fight Back

The kind of consent I’m talking about isn’t concerned just with whether your partner wants to have sex, but what kind of sex, and why. … When we passively respond or assume we know what the other person’s thinking, we could very well be wrong. By not speaking up or waiting until the other person can share their desires, we are simply guessing. There are exceptions, of course. Some people get off on having one person take charge and set the tone, pace, and position for sex. That’s fine, as long as this is spelled out at some point in advance and isn’t simply assumed.
…Besides, consent should be a baseline, the rock-bottom standard for sexual activity, and shouldn’t necessarily have to be sold as “sexy” to count as something vital and important.
– Rachel Kramer Bussel, Beyond Yes or No: Consent as Sexual Process

There are certain people who feel it’s their sacred duty to inform us, again and again, that rape is a compliment. (Or, more precisely, “Rape is a compliment, you stupid whore.”) Rape is not a violent crime meant to control and dehumanize the victim, see; it’s evidence that you were just so ding-dang attractive to some perfectly average guy, he couldn’t stop himself from fucking you, against your will, right then and there! He thought you were pretty! Why are you so upset?
– Kate Harding, How Do You Fuck a Fat Woman?

Because I’m a feminist who enjoys domination, bondage, and pain in the bedroom, it should be pretty obvious why I often remain mute and, well, pretty closeted about my sexuality. While it’s easy for me to write an impassioned diatribe on the vital importance of “conventional” women’s pleasure, or to talk publicly and explicitly about sexual desire in general, I often shy away from conversations about my personal sexual choices. Despite the fact that I’ve been on a long, intentional path to finally feel empowered by and open about my decision to be a sexual submissive, the reception I receive regarding this decision is not always all that warm.
BDSM (for my purposes, bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and the concept of female submission makes feminists really uncomfortable.

Patrick califia, writer and advocate of BDSM pornography and practice, wisely states that “internalized kinkophobis is the unique sense of shame that many, if not most, sadomasochists feel about their participation in a deviant society.” This hatred of self can be particularly strong among feminist submissives, when an entire community that they identify with either dismisses their desires or pegs them as unwitting victims.

The safe, sane, and consensual BDSM landscape is made up of stringent rules and safe practices designed to protect the feelings of everyone involved, and to ensure constant, enthusiastic consent. The culture could not exist if this were not the case; a submissive participates in power exchange because a safe psychological space is offered up to do so in. That space created an opportunity for a displace of endurance, a relief from responsibility, and feelings of affection and security. Before any “scene” begins, the rules are made clear and the limitation agreed upon.
– Stacey May Fowles, The Fantasy of Acceptable “Non-Consent”: Why the Female Sexual Submissive Scares Us (and Why She Shouldn’t)

Not rape comes in many forms – it is often known by other names. What happened to me is called sexual assault. It is not the same as rape, but it is damaging and painful. My friends experienced statutory rape, molestation, and coercion.
What happened in the courtroom is a by-product of rape culture – when what happens to women is marginalized, when beyond a shadow of a doubt still isn’t enough, when your past, manner of dress, grade point average, or intoxication level are used to excuse the despicable acts of sexual violence inflicted upon you by another.
Internalized shame is what I experienced, that heavy feeling that it was my fault for allowing the sexual assault to happen. So many of us are conditioned to believe that these actions are our fault, that if we had done something differently, if we had made a better choice, if we had been smarter, then we wouldn’t be in that situation. many of the girls I grew up with knew that sexuality was something to be guarded, something not to be discussed, and something not to be displayed. We were curious, but we knew that there was a pervasive idea of “get what you get.” If you were alone with a boy, you were asking for whatever he did to you. If you were raped at a party, you were asked why you chose to go in the first place. If a man followed you down the street, the question became “What were you wearing?” The onus is always on us to keep ourselves safe – even in impossible circumstances. I was afraid that if I spoke up, people would look at me differently, as something damaged or dirty – or, worse, they wouldn’t believe me at all.
– Latoya Peterson, The Not-Rape Epidemic

For me, real sex education is something more. I believe that it requires actually teaching about sex. Real sex education requires, in addition to teaching about protection, teaching sex as a normal and healthy part of life that is varied in terms of both preferred partners and preferred acts. Real sex education teaches that sex is more than heterosexual intercourse and should be consensual and pleasurable for all participants.

The fact is, many abuse victims don’t realize that they’re being abused. They undergo the trauma and just don’t understand why it hurts. I was never taught about enthusiastic consent. The phrase entered my vocabulary only a couple of years ago. It pains me to think of how different my life would have been if someone had taught me that I was supposed to want sexual contact and say so; otherwise, it was wrong. I truly thought that fearfully giving up after saying no twenty times counted as consent. If taught differently, I don’t know that I would have avoided the initial assaults, but I do believe with all my heart that I would have gotten myself out of that situation sooner. At the time, I knew that rape and physical assault were inexcusable acts of violence generally committed against women. I just didn’t realize that what was being done to me was rape. For that reason, it took me years to realize why I felt so traumatized.
– Cara Kulwicki, Real Sex Education

Let’s look a little more closely at that correlation between rape and alcohol, for example. That’s not a correlation between female drinking and rape. It’s a correlation between all drinking and rape. In fact, studies have shown that it’s more likely that a male rapist has been drinking than that his female victim has. So if we want to raise awareness about the links between drinking and rape, we should start by getting the word out to men (who are, after all, the overwhelming majority of rapists) that alcohol is likely to impair their ability to respond appropriately if a sexual partner says no.
– Jaclyn Friedman, In Defense of Going Wild or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Pleasure (and How You Can, Too)

As always I invite you to find me and connect with me on Goodreads.

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