An accidental rapist?

The Good Men Project put together a powerful package on rape and sexual violence today. I recommend the particularly powerful pieces from GMP CEO Lisa Hickey and my wonderful colleague, Emily Heist Moss. My offering is called The Accidental Rapist. It begins:

“Sometimes I say ‘yes’ when I’d rather say ‘no.’”

It’s been nearly 25 years, but I can still remember the beautiful Berkeley fall afternoon when I heard those shattering words. Katie and I were sitting in a coffee shop just off campus. What had started as a “friends with benefits” situation had blossomed into a sophomore year romance with this dark-eyed dance-and-philosophy double-major. Katie and I had been sleeping together for more than two months—and saying “I love you” for about a week—when she summoned up the courage to bring up this one very painful truth.

At first, I didn’t know what she meant. She spoke so softly I had to lean across the table to hear her. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” she said, “but sometimes I really don’t want to have sex. Sometimes I do, but not as often as you want it. And sometimes I want to tell you ‘no,’ but I can’t bring myself to do it. So I try and send you signals, hoping you can just tell how I’m feeling. But that doesn’t work, so it’s… it’s just easier to say ‘yes’ or just say nothing at all.”

My face flushed. I felt nauseated. I thought instantly of the previous night, where we’d grabbed what I thought was a hot half-hour when my roommates were both gone. Katie had seemed so passionate when we’d been making out, but then gotten very quiet once all our clothes were off. I’d told myself she wanted to have one ear cocked for the sound of a key in the door. I hadn’t considered—or hadn’t wanted to consider—the more obvious possibility: she was trying to tell me that she didn’t want to have sex.

I looked out the window. I couldn’t meet Katie’s eyes. My gaze fixed in the distance, my voice trembling, I asked what seemed the only possible question: “Are you trying to tell me I raped you?”

Read the rest here.

16 thoughts on “An accidental rapist?

  1. How does taking someone at face value when they say “yes” make one an “accidental rapist?”

    Doesn’t that make the person saying “yes” manipulative and dishonest? I’m not sure I’d want someone who lies to me about their intent as a sex partner. I find it disrespectful that one of my partners would think so lowly of me that they would lie to me about something like this.

    Sure, I’ll be disappointed when they say ‘no’ and I’d expect my partner to validate my feelings of disappointment. But I’ll soon get over it, and they should too.

  2. Hugo, you’re attempting to foster open communication in sexual relationships, but you aren’t also pushing your language and your words in the same direction. You want to have a fresh discussion, but you’re using stale terms like “rape” and “coercion”. Those words don’t work in this frame. You want to change the frame; you must also change the language.

  3. Right… so we should believe women when they say “No,” but we should doubt them when they say “Yes”? Is that your argument here?

    Try this on for size–adults are responsible for their own choices AND their own statements and decisions. Yes means yes.

  4. *This is a copypasta of my response to the same article on GMP…I think it bears repeating:

    God forbid, Hugo, that you actually might look at the woman who says this to you and reply with something like ” You know, darling…..you are (presumably) an adult, and are (presumably) not intellectually or verbally compromised in such a way that would prevent you from opening your mouth and saying ‘Not tonight Hugo’. ” Why on earth do you not hold the woman accountable for making the CONSCIOUS CHOICE to have sex when she doesnt really want to? Why do YOU absorb the blame and cast women into the role of not having the effing BRAINS to be able to say no?

    Im angry Hugo, and mostly, Im angry because you have put me in the utterly loathsome position of having to defend YOU from YOURSELF

  5. Right with you Hugo. I’ve had this experience, though it itself did not kill that relationship. That took more bs from me… ok, maybe some from her…

    We need a model that recognizes that neither partner, male, female, gay, straight, transgendered, whatever necessarily understands precisely wtf h/s/c/it is doing and all its implications *after the fact, still less in the heat of the moment…

  6. “Katie” sounds like an emotional manipulator who likes to control people with guilt through passive-aggressive sexual head games.

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  8. The myth that “friends with benefits” actually works still amuses me with several shows and movies using this as a central plot, such as Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached. In these sorts of encounters, merely stating your feelings or opinions are frowned upon as the real reason for a causal relationship is just sex. I can never see myself having sex with a person and not having any sort of connection. To me, having sex is the most exposable act that we can commit. When I was finished reading the whole article, I got to thinking to myself that I was guilty of this act to my girlfriend. Sometimes there’s built up of sexual tension and I just couldn’t help myself and one thing leads to another despite her protests. We both have been guilty of doing this to each, does that mean we raped each other? I don’t really think it does as we both love each other. But there have been instances on the news and television of partners and husbands/wives being raped by the other. How are we supposed to know if no really means no or yes or if it really means anything at all anymore?

  9. This is an incredible piece.

    Despite the fact that we are all, indeed, adults in charge of speaking for ourselves and asking for what we want (and denying what we don’t want), what it seems is being called for here is that extra level of sensitivity that takes a man from “not a rapist” to being an emotionally present and responsible man. Of course there is nothing technically wrong with having sex with a woman who says “yes” – but perhaps Hugo is saying that he wants more for himself than the defense that he wasn’t technically wrong. Perhaps he wants engagement, presence, partnership and full participation in sex in order for it to feel like it’s the right thing for him to do.

    Hopefully Katie learned from this experience that she needs to use her voice earlier. She is certainly no exception to the way college girls and even older women relate to sex. We are supposed to want it, and we want men to be happy with us, we want you to be pleased by us, we want you to want us again and more. CTD can call this emotional manipulation, and that may alleviate CTD’s own feelings of guilt over whatever, but in this story Katie sounds like a typical woman who is young in her sexuality and just starting to find her voice.

  10. This is a great read but super disturbing. It’s a good discussion, but the comments on MamaMia definitely get bogged down in the “what is/isn’t rape” argument, which often just reads to me like a lot of people trying desperately to defend a perceived attack on actions they may have taken in their lives. The whole article also ignores the context of women and consent involving our safety in regards to sex, in that some people may not feel SAFE just “saying no,” and that’s is NOT necessarily because they just need to gain the courage, but that general discourse about rape and sex and consent has to change so they don’t ever feel like they CAN’T just come out and say no. Because a woman coming out and saying NO doesn’t even mean the man will just back down. He might continue to hound her, like has happened to me multiple times, and is probably why I am still a virgin. I keep up with the saying no, and am very lucky to have people looking out for me, but I know in slightly separate situations I could have woken up in the morning, hungover, with a guy in my bed who I did not actually want to be there but was pressured into letting stay.

    So, as much as Hugo wants to think so, it is NOT as simple as having the courage to say no, because saying no once, twice, even multiple times will not always make a guy back down–and in my experience one no is no where near enough. And this is in just the “hey, we’re at this party tonight” scenario, where IMO it’s probably even easier is some ways to say no (and in others harder, when we bring alcohol into the equation.

    Anyway, I appreciate the enthusiastic consent idea being brought up by a male writer, and seen by others who are that as well, but I would love to see that more widespread and more in depth.

  11. Except a rapist is someone who takes sex without permission and this scenario clearly involves someone who had sex with permission. Someone who has sex with their partner’s consent isn’t an accidental rapist or any other kind of rapist. They still had consent.

    This is really a case of “accidental sex”, not accidental rape.

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  16. I was accidentally mugged by a man in front of Walmart recently. He was ringing a bell and asking for money, and although it didnt want to give him any, i felt like it was easier to just say yes rather than say no and hurt his feelings. So i gave him the money, and became mugged. Sometimes when i think about it, i cry, and cant stop shaking at the memory of being violated.

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