Six years ago a woman accused me of rape.
Here’s the story. I met a woman in Houston while on tour as a musician. We exchanged numbers and when I came back to town a few years later I looked her up. We met for food, then went back to her place and decided to have sex.
Actually, I assume we decided to have sex because clothes were coming off and body parts were being pushed together, but there was never any words exchanged, enthusiastic consent or verbal confirmation that we both wanted to have sex. I simply made a move, and she didn’t say no.
I leaned in for a kiss, she didn’t say no.
I put my hands on her breasts, she didn’t say no.
I reached down her pants, she didn’t say no.
I went through the motions, all the way up to and through intercourse, and she didn’t say no, so I assumed she was enjoying herself and everything was good. Then after sex was over (it didn’t take long), she turned to me and said the three words no decent man ever wants to hear.
You raped me.
I was stunned. It was like she told me “you have a carrot growing out of your forehead”. I was very clear I didn’t have a carrot growing out of my forehead, and I was equally as clear I didn’t rape her, at least according to my definition (I’ll talk about that later).
Thankfully, what I decided to do next was more helpful than my previous decision to have sex. I stuck around and listened. On the surface, I wanted to help her feel better, but the reality was I felt scared and I needed reassurance that I wasn’t a bad guy.
I didn’t defend myself, mostly because I was still in shock that I could even be capable of such a thing. I knew I screwed something up, but I also knew that I had no intention of hurting her, so I stayed and listened, desperately trying to demonstrate that I wasn’t the guy she thought I was.
Six hours later and me making a few runs to the local convenience store for cigarettes and snacks, we seemed to be at peace with everything (or maybe we just gave up trying). The sun was coming up and we parted ways. Although I still felt confused, I felt I had communicated that I genuinely cared about her, which at that point was all I could hope for.
I wish I could say I immediately turned things around, but the truth was I had no idea what I did wrong. I thought that because she didn’t say no, that I did my job, but I was wrong.
I realized that to understand consent and permission I didn’t just need to get an unequivocal “yes” but I also needed to understand a woman’s experience, and when yes really means yes.
When Yes Doesn’t Mean Yes
The more I talked with women about their experience, the more I realized it wasn’t at all like mine. I rarely feel unsafe. When I leave a bar at two in the morning, I’m mostly thinking about where I can find an all-night taco shop, not “will I get assaulted on the way to my car”.
I’ve never said no to someone and been afraid they would become violent. I’ve never walked through a crowded bar and been afraid someone will grope me.
When I began to understand this, it changed the way I talked with women about sex. I wanted to communicate that my standard of “yes” was no longer “I’m ok with this” (as it was in the past) but nothing short of a 100% enthusiastic, full-body “yes”.
I was also clear that I would celebrate their “no”, if that was true for them.
“No” was just as valuable to me as “yes”, because the goal wasn’t to move things forward sexually, it was to create an environment where we felt both the freedom to speak into what we wanted and the patience to discover what that was.
Using our voice was the foundation on which anything we did together was built, and if that wasn’t there, nothing was possible.
A funny thing started happening after I communicated this to women. I would hear things like:
I’ve never had anyone actually care about what I wanted.
So you mean I can tell you what I want and you’ll listen?!?
Thank you for asking me for permission.
The more I talked with women about permission and consent, the more I saw how rare it was, even for “good” men or “conscious” men to show this kind of concern over a woman’s experience. Often I would talk with women for hours before we had sex, because I refused to move forward if there was even the slightest doubt about it being a true “yes”.
Fighting Popular Culture
The more I stressed the importance of communication with romantic partners, the better my experiences became. The more I slowed down our interaction and brought awareness to speaking our desires, the hotter we would get for each other.
I started having experiences that were incredibly fulfilling both sexually and emotionally. Women would tell their friends about me. One even joked about starting a yelp page and writing me a 5-star review.
I don’t say this to make myself look good, I say it because I’m desperately trying to have men understand that emphasizing communication doesn’t make sex worse, it makes it better, and it makes both people want to do it again afterwards.
We need to challenge the commonly held belief that asking for permission will “kill the mood”, because it’s the #1 complaint I hear from men when I tell them my story.
They tell me “but it’s lame” and I get it. I used to believe that too. I used to see movies where men forced themselves on women until they said yes, and believe that was how things should be.
There was no stopping and checking in, there was no asking her what she wanted, there was only persistence and aggressive behavior, and here’s the thing — I can still be persistent or aggressive, but what happens before is a conversation where the woman makes it clear that she would like me to be persistent or aggressive, then that’s what we do.
Enthusiastic consent is what changed, not the kind of sex we have.
When I slowed things down I also noticed that not only was I not checking in with her, I wasn’t checking in with myself. Am I really ready to move things forward sexually?
Once I started asking myself that question honestly, I found there were a lot of things I wanted to communicate, especially because I wanted to create something special, to not just check the boxes.
I wanted to know if there was anyone who would be upset if we were together. I wanted to know when the last time she got tested was, and I wanted to share my results. I wanted to know a few things that really turn her on and a few things that turn her off, and I wanted to share my own.
Most of all, I wanted to know that she had a clear mind, and I wanted to know what was in the way of her being a 100% yes, not because I had an agenda to get somewhere, but because it would help us feel safe with each other.
If I could insert myself into the brains of every man on earth and drop one piece of wisdom it would be this:
When women don’t have a voice, everyone loses.
That’s the thing I never got, until I did. Everything I wanted sexually, everything I worked so hard to get in my twenties was available all along, and it wasn’t because I didn’t have enough “game”, it was because I believed that on some level that I had to convince women to want sex.
Well my friends, this may not come as a big surprise, but it’s worth repeating.
Women don’t need to be convinced to want sex.
In fact, women love sex (maybe even more than men) but they only love sex under the right conditions — otherwise it’s pointless. Much like a garden won’t grow without the right soil, water and care, most women can’t access their sexual desire unless they feel safe, and we as men have the brilliant opportunity to create that, and when we don’t we’re simply shooting ourselves in the foot.
When women don’t feel safe, they don’t want to have sex. Then because no one is having sex it becomes scarce and men chase after it more, and women withhold it more. Now we have to play games to coerce each other to do something we both already wanted in the first place.
Welcome to the insanity of today’s culture.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are places on earth where women feel safe and men take a stand for things like permission and true consent. I’ve been there, and you know what happens at these places? People have sex, or they don’t, but either way they feel great afterwards.
When women don’t have a voice, everyone loses.
But — when women have a voice, everyone wins.
That’s the world I want to live in.
My friends Christina & Stephanie discussed this article in an episode of their podcast T&A Talk Sex. It’s a fun and sexy show, click here to listen.
Andrew Nino blogged about what he realized from reading this article in his blog for men. Click here to read it.
Have some thoughts on this and want to discuss them? Go to the Facebook thread.
Dave Booda is a writer, teacher and musician. He is the co-founder of IntimacyFest, an annual festival in Southern California that celebrates connection, sexual self-expression and community. He writes weekly at Boodaism.com and his work has been featured on ABC, NBC, National Geographic, Elephant Journal, Good Men Project and Thought Catalog. He is the host of three podcasts, Dude Panel Radio, Darken the Page and Boodaism. He also moonlights as his alter-ego Boodananda, a spiritually satirical Kirtan singer who travels the world performing high-vibrational music for enlightened audiences.