Jan 29, 2018

Do we need to renegotiate the language of sex and consent for the #MeToo era?

With stories of sexual experiences flooding in under the terms "sexual misconduct" and "bad sex", we explore the legal, social and linguistic context of the "grey areas" of sexual assault.

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Freelance writer

As #MeToo discourse continues to ripple out, well past the hashtag, we’re hearing a lot of discussion about a “grey area” of consent. From the viral New Yorker story Cat Person to Babe’s controversial reporting of an unnamed woman’s date with comedian/TV auteur Aziz Ansari, coerced (though not technically unlawful) sexual encounters have been thrust under the spotlight.

Vaguely described as “sexual misconduct” or “bad sex”, these experiences have many grasping for understanding. If it’s not assault, but it’s not a positive, comfortable sexual experience either, then what is it? How can we place it in the current debate, if we can’t settle on a name for it first?

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18 thoughts on “Do we need to renegotiate the language of sex and consent for the #MeToo era?

  1. Neil Williams

    I am a 74 yr old male. If I was a young man today, I would not invite a woman out, and would stick to having beer and a yarn with my footy mates. The whole business of what is appropriate behavior always is and will be personal between two individuals. It means that relationships between a man and a woman now need to be initiated and negotiated by the woman. Would women like that? Seems no other option, or maybe that is how women want it. Beers all round was that?

    1. 124C4U

      Yeah Neil I’m with you there, stick to the beer and Mates and only go out with women who come over to the bar and invite us home. We need the mates as witness if she changes her mind.
      Here is a story from my past.
      After a pleasant night out, I escorted my lady friend home. Being invited in for coffee my spirits started rising and I got my hopes up.
      Now cutting out the details of the foregoing activities, which were mutually enjoyed, or at least no complaint was made, I moved to develop a deeper relationship.
      The lady said no, I moved back to a more preparatory and persuasive attempt. This happened a number of times. On the final attempt ,I asked if she meant “Really no “. She said “really no””, I kissed her goodnight on the lips and departed.
      The next few times we met she was really off me. I asked why and she replied that I had left her in the lurch, frustrated and angry.
      I was floored and said “but you said NO “. She replied “a girl is supposed to say no “.
      Explanations from Mat D-R, Helen R and any other women people out there would be appreciated.
      I’m also developing a conspiracy theory around recent events worldwide, Is this leading up to homosexuality becoming compulsory. It must be really really difficult for young blokes today. Or bring back arranged marriages for all and cut out the mating game.

      1. zut alors

        In the interests of clear communication it’s overdue for the Macquarie Dictionary to redefine & update the word ‘coffee’. Having been bandied about for decades, the secondary meaning needs to be legitimized.

        It could become the 2019 Word of the Year, of more practical use than twaddle like ‘milkshake duck’.

        1. AR

          Wasn’t it once, “come up & see my etchings”?

          1. Hunt Ian

            Sorry that trying to change a text results in submission of it: to try to complete what I wanted to say: a reflective person would recognise that a woman who utters “A girl is supposed to say no” is not candid about her feelings. Recognising that a reflective person then recognise you cannot justifiably be angry with the person you have deceived but only with yourself.
            This sort of bad luck has to be expected in a world where sham standards of modesty, derived from protecting oneself from unwanted pregnancy, have no place in the modern world, where only religious beliefs can get in the way of other ways of preventing unwanted pregnancies.
            There is no conspiracy behind it at all.

      2. Hunt Ian

        Strikes me you were just unlucky to meet a woman who is confused about what to do and does not have much

    2. klewso

      I’ll be glad when the dust has set on this and the new rules are spelled out – when men won’t use their position to force women to do what they don’t want : and women won’t have to flirt and act coquettish to get what they want.

      1. 124C4U

        Neither situation applied here.
        It just seems that “NO’ in this case actually meant “hurry up and get on with it”.
        BTW even back then Coffee invites on the doorstep was accepted to have a defined meaning, subject to a closer inspection, of course.

  2. Venise Alstergren

    While sympathizing with the genuine cases of sexual molestation, I find it hard to believe there are thousands of females ‘out there’ who are claiming to have been assaulted, (apologies if I have used the wrong word). There appears to be an army of wrongly treated ladies. What on earth happened to the female fighting spirit? Or a swift kick in the cods? Or the squirrel grip?
    So much bleating by virginal females is enough to make me throw up. (not to put too fine a point on it)

  3. electme

    Like other areas where the notion and concept of ‘consent’ is important (like the health arena) it seems it’s only really considered deeply when something goes wrong. We’re all apparently happy to sign multi-paragraph and sometimes multi-page documents detailing what can go wrong, on the trolley outside the operating theatre, understanding little of what we read: how much more difficult to truly obtain ‘consent’ in the labyrinthine area of human relationships?
    Courts are where both instances are now decided-and it’s probably equally unlikely that either party will believe they got a fair result.
    It’s for this reason it’s probably good that the vast majority of consents given, in relation to sex, and surgical procedures, are the subject of trust between two people who implicitly acknowledge they know what’s going on (or what will go on).
    Using the law to address a later discovered or unconvered imbalance, if that comes to pass, will solve the legal problem, but, not the human one.

  4. 2sheds

    Linguistic challenges aside this whole area is problematic because it is a continuum. When does rape/sexual assault turn into unreasonable pressure or into “I didn’t like that” or “he was creepy and didn’t listen”. I think the #metoo movement is a great thing, it is about time that women socialized to please stood up and said – no not good enough, no that’s wrong or yes I need to report an assault. I think the greater good will be in the empowerment of women. It will though take a bit of sorting out.

  5. old greybearded one

    Well the suggestion here would remove uncertain signalling. I would not have initiated most of these behaviours, perhaps any of them when I was young. But I saw plenty who did and I saw plenty of women go along with it smile and encourage a good deal of what would be now called problematic. Now I was not always comfortable with the behaviour of these blokes, but the women were giggling and smiling and a bit more than that. I wonder where some of those encounters finished, In some cases I knew, but none of the women said it was assault. They might have said so and so was a fuckwit or whatever.

  6. AR

    Given that the cognitive dissonance of the majority of people, in most aspects of their lives, is so great as to obscure the ever so slight difference between their arse & a hole in the ground, I am not optimistic that this current madness will end well.

  7. Hunt Ian

    I am unsure whether it is all that hard. Most of the men who pressure women are interested only in their own feelings. If men recognised, first that one should care for others, second that unwanted sex is no better than masturbation for themselves and third that they are harming the women they force themselves upon, then they wouldn’t in a fit find themselves in a position where they had any trouble with recognising consent. I rule out being so drunk you have no idea of what’s going on because nearly all men in nearly all circumstances are unable to have sex when they’re too drunk.
    Men don’t care for sex where the satisfaction is not mutual, will also take the trouble to try to make sure that the sex is not bad sex. It might not always work but at least the chances of revenge publicity will be less.

    1. lykurgus

      “I am unsure whether it is all that hard”
      It’s not – at least not for the type of well-adjusted person for whom the famous tea analogy clearly wasn’t written. And its content probably struck you as obvious.

      But if you were from the “can’t we even pat the new girl on the bum any more without it being a big deal?” generation (or long to return to those days)… or if the content of the tea analogy were a revelation… you’d probably find this all VERY confronting.

  8. Tino .


    Hi, my name is Guy and would like to have sex with you after the coffee. Can you please fill in your name and address in block capitals below, and tick all the boxes for the activities for which you give me consent? And sign on the dotted line. My mate Wilfred will sign in the next column and be present all the time as witness.

    [] kiss
    [] cuddle
    [] hands on bum
    [] hands on breast
    [] hands inside bra
    [] hands under skirt
    [] hands inside underwear
    [] taking off your clothes
    [] kissing your breasts
    [] perform oral sex on me
    [] perform oral sex on you
    [] vaginal sex in missionary position
    [] vaginal sex, doggy style
    [] anal sex
    [] other (please describe below)

    Your name:
    Your address:

    Wilfred (witness):

  9. Itsarort

    Ladies choosing ‘chisel man’ over Mr Soggy-Podgy in their early twenties may be fraught with dangers but studies have shown that this tends to be a natural phenomena. Soggy-Podgy with the good job gets a run in the thirties once the kids need a nice home but, all too often, the damage has been done.

  10. lykurgus

    What grey areas??? Glossing over the assorted nostalgia for the days when talk of equal pay caused major scandals (or even the stigma of job-having women, but I’m not THAT old)…

    Aziz wanted to be noshed off, and wasn’t about to let his prey leave without noshing him off. She had no obvious way to avoid noshing him off – her clearly enunciated resistance to having his cock anywhere near her mouth, wasn’t getting through to him (kick in the cods? What if he kicks you back?).
    Not seeing a lot of grey in that one – just an awful lot of obviously unwanted cock in someones mouth (it’s obvious to me, and I wasn’t even there – so what’s his excuse?).

    And the “Time’s Up” lapel pin he still wears to remind us all of how totally-not-rapey he is. You never wondered why they were selling so well?

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