Stories are written by people who don’t necessarily work or study in fields related to sexology. They convey emotions, perceptions, and subjective perspectives. Opinions voiced in the stories are those of their authors, and in no way represent Les 3 sex* position.
Translated by Chloé Sautter-Léger
When I decided to start collaborating for a sexology magazine, there were dozens of subjects I eventually wanted to address. The issue of consent was not on the list at all.
Not that I thought that enough had been said or written about the topic. I believe that it’s an incredibly important notion. When I’m animating sexual education workshops in high schools, I am very careful to spend as much time as necessary to answer everybody’s questions and make sure that all students understand what consent is. I show and explain the “cup of tea” video. I actually even spend more time on this topic than the program suggests, because I realize that high school students (boys in particular) have very many questions about consent.
Actually, we don’t have much of a choice these days—the issue of consent is all over the news… Newspapers, social media, and television are full of stories of sexual aggression in Université Laval dorms, confessions of UdeM Law frosh students feeling sexualized, or testimonials of victims of sexual assault… It is fair to say that in this current atmosphere, there is a ton of material to inspire an article about consent. And yet, the nonconformist in me didn’t feel like writing about such a “fashionable” topic.
Everywhere, we can find articles about rape culture (the tendency to blame victims rather than aggressors and the normalization of sexual violence), about slut-shaming (the stigmatization of women who defy traditional sexual roles), and about consent.
In other words, the issue of consent is getting people to talk, and all the better, because there is clearly work to be done. Not to make a Melania Trump out of me, but Michelle Obama’s latest speech related to sexual aggression committed by one of the presidential candidates (He Who Must Not Be Named) illustrates the situation pretty well. Mrs Obama stressed that the current state of affairs is unacceptable, intolerable and that it is not a matter of politics but of human decency. It’s a matter of right and wrong.
It would be nice to think that these challenges have been dealt with by 2016… Apparently not. Despite a large amount of “inspiration” in the media, I wanted to write about something else, for a change. But that will have to wait.
The two stories that follow are about two young women victims of harassment by two young men. I do think it’s important to recall that the situation could have been reversed, or that the aggressor could have been of the same sex as the victim.
Costa Rica, a humid summer evening. A girl, not feeling so well because the tacos from lunch didn’t come down too well. A guy from her dorm just came to lie down in her bed.
She struggles to break free, telling him a few times to go away, that she doesn’t want this. He doesn’t understand: “Why? Why not?” She answers that there is no reason, that “no” simply means no. He insists for a while, pressing himself against her, touching her; she continues to tell him to stop, but is increasingly uncomfortable, and starts to truly feel attacked.
The guy ends up letting go.
End of story, in theory. But an episode like that stays in your head. Even if you are super confident and comfortable with yourself, it affects you. Maybe you don’t really want to speak about it and maybe you tell yourself that the guy “actually did not do anything.” Still.
This girl was my friend.
It angers me that this happened to her. I ask myself why the guy did not leave after the first “no.” I tell myself that fortunately, it ended there. We should not have to think, “fortunately, it ended there.” We should be appalled that unfortunately, these things still happen today. They happen to an exhausted girl ungracefully recovering from some not very fresh tacos.
One week later, Montreal, the backyard of a typical suburb house on a warm summer evening.
A few guys with their beers, a few girls with their pink sugary drinks, wet beach towels, card games, ping-pong balls made of aluminum foil (we had thought of everything except for ping-pong balls). We’re having fun. We put on latin music because why not and start dancing salsa. We switch partners, we laugh.
One of the guys is being pretty pushy with one girl in particular. The girl (let’s call her Mathilde) seems a bit uncomfortable. Still, she dances a bit with him. The situation eventually becomes normal again. Less beer, less music. The girls are talking on the terrace. The guy who was being pushy (let’s call him Renaud) comes to sit next to Mathilde. He starts caressing her legs. She tells him that she doesn’t like it, that he should stop it. He continues. She tells him two or three times; he continues.
Oh well. Mathilde tells herself that it doesn’t matter. “We’re playing, we’re joking around.” Renaud comes to play beer pong in her team. “Why not?” she thinks.
Each time it’s her turn to play, Renaud holds on to her hips. She breaks off each time. And each time, she tells him to stop touching her. Still, he continues, every round.
She repeats her requests to stop, looks at her best friend as if to say, “My god, he thinks he suddenly became irresistible for every female or what?”
We laugh, she tells herself that it’s not the end of the world.
Let’s fast forward a bit because this is becoming redundant. Mathilde is pretty fed up with Renaud. She has stopped being polite with him and tries to make him understand that she has never been interested, not in the past and not this evening.
Not many people are left at the party.
Renaud takes the opportunity to corner Mathilde in a room, blocks the door, and obliges her to kiss him. “Come on! Kiss me. I’m not letting you go without a kiss now. Come on. Just one little kiss.” Pretty irritated, Mathilde gives him a kiss on the cheek to calm him down. She doesn’t find it funny anymore.
She becomes angry, pushes him, and gets out of the room. He follows her. He comes to speak with her a few minutes. Asks her what her problem is; why she doesn’t want to kiss him. Calls her “prude,” tells her she is fucked up.
She answers that she simply does not want to. That’s enough of a reason.
He answers that this is not a reason.
The discussion goes in circles. Mathilde really is not happy. It’s not the first time; of course, she’s known other pushy guys when she was 14 or 15. She’s learned to stand her ground and has built a little shell against guys who don’t know how to let go.
Five minutes turn into ten.
He keeps telling her things like “I don’t know how you can sleep at night,” “How are you able to live with yourself?” or “You have a serious problem, girl, you’re not well.”
Renaud keeps touching her but now, it’s too much. She’s tired. She doesn’t have the energy to answer. Renaud is too convinced that Mathilde is the one who’s wrong.
She doesn’t want to get into it anymore and leaves.
Renaud’s friends come to apologize for his insistence. “We don’t get it. He hadn’t even drunk that much.”
As if that were a valid excuse.
The following morning, Mathilde recalls the ruined evening. She realizes that she was really angry. There are so many things she should have said to make him understand. But she didn’t say them, and that bothers her.
This girl, Mathilde, was me. And this really happened. All of it.
For real. I told a friend about it and she said that this counts as aggression. At first, I told her that it didn’t. I know that it really was not the end of the world, that it was actually almost nothing. But thinking about it again, I can see that it does count as aggression.
To be clear: it is not comparable to rape, to fondling, to physical or psychological violence. It does not even come close to that, but…
But it angered me so much that I wanted to write about it. “A quick little therapy, why not?” After all, the notion of consent is everywhere. Everybody speaks about it. Even so, a boy I’ve known since we were eight, who has now grown up, did not seem to understand the notion and when to apply it.
This is why I decided to dedicate an entire article about the subject. Another one in this long list of articles, because the message still does not seem to be clear. Maybe if we keep reporting these things, we can fight the problem.
No means no. No need for a reason. No is a reason in itself.
If someone tells you no, you stop. You don’t insist. It’s as simple as that. Yes, I like to talk about sex and I speak about it openly. I study in that field, so it’s normal that I like to talk about it.
Does that mean that I automatically consent to have intercourse or to kiss any guy present at a party?
Not in any way.
Honestly, I don’t even see a link between those two things, although it seemed pretty clear to Renaud.
The same goes for the clothes a girl chooses to wear, or the attitude she has. Regardless of the way you dress, of the way you act, these choices have nothing to do with your desire for intimate sexual relations with another person or other people.
No means no, end of discussion.
Whether it’s said firmly or implicitly. If you’re having trouble understanding why, it means you’re part of the problem. And I’ll go even further—it seems to me that the word “no” is understood by everyone. I have the impression that those who aggress make the decision to ignore this explicit or implicit “no.”
And that’s where the problem is.
Consent is not optional. It is important to listen to and to respect the verbal or physical response of the other. It’s not to be taken personally, it is simply a no. No one has to look for excuses.
I recently read an opinion piece in which the author argued that even if people are taught that no means no, some people, craving opposition, will always want to counter the “no.”
I hope with my entire soul that this is false and that one day, everyone will understand that no means no and nothing more.
Whether it be for a kiss, a fellatio, a sexual relation with penetration, or anything else. Imagine all the people… asking for consent… Aha ahh
Renaud, you angered me. Not just a little. I refused your sexual advances more than once, so you tried to manipulate me. To convince me that I was the one who was not right. As if I were the problem. For ten minutes, you proceeded to what is called victim shaming. And for the duration of an entire party, you continued to touch me, although I had clearly instructed you to stop.
And you know what?
You succeeded. You made me feel guilty for an entire day before I decided to write an article about it. Not guilty of having said no to you. That, I said clearly with zero ambiguity. But guilty of not having said to you in person that what you were doing was far from correct and very disrespectful.
I do not want to over-dramatize a situation here, which was altogether minor, from my point of view. This was far from rape, without a doubt. I repeat that in my view, what happened was almost nothing. Almost. I simply want to get you to realize—Renaud, and all the others who don’t notice when they go too far (with or without alcohol—that’s beside the point)—what it means when someone says no.
Tomorrow, I’ll wake up and not think about it anymore, because it did not overwhelm me that much. The same probably goes for my friend, who is back in Costa Rica. These things happen so often that we grow accustomed. We build ourselves a shell.
But this has to stop.
To all the young people reading this text, stop doubting yourselves. You are not in the wrong. A no is a no. If there is no yes, it also means no.
Renaud, your insistence did not work with me, but it could have overcome another girl, in which case it would have affected her—maybe very much.
A girl might have given in. The next morning, she would perhaps have been ashamed to have yielded. Although the problem would not have been her; it would have been you. Renaud, I am not exaggerating a situation which was not dramatic, but it should not be played down either.
We simply have to keep in mind that for sex, just as for a cup of tea, consent is everything.