TL;DR: I feel that recently the EA forum became pretty judgmental and unwelcoming. I also feel that the current discourse about sex misses two important points and, in a huge part of it, lacks maturity and is harmful. Let me attempt to address it.
Trigger warning, point 2 involves a long description of personal stories connected to sex, some of them were difficult and may be triggering. The post also may not be very well structured, but I preferred to write one long post instead of three short ones (but I've edited just a structure today, to make it a bit more readable).
This is obviously a burner account, but when you see those stories you’ll be able to see why. For the record, they don’t involve people from the community. I'm a woman (it's going to matter later on).
Acceptable dating and sexual behaviors vary between classes and cultures.
The devil is in the detail, and rules you live by and perceive as “obvious” may be so clear for anybody else. Also, the map of the US is not in a shape of geode.
People vary in gender and sexual orientation. They vary in a level of sexual desire. They have different kinks, ways of expressing sexuality and levels of self-awareness. Different needs. Various physiological reactions to sexually tense situations. Various ways of presenting themselves when it comes to all of the above.
People come from different cultures – regions, countries, social classes and religions. As a result, dating cultures vary around the world. Sexual behaviors also. Acceptable level of flirt, jokes, touch and the way consent is asked for and expressed sometimes just vary. Problems and how i.e. sexism looks like also has various shapes and forms. There are some common characteristics, but details matter, to a huge extent.
Many people in the recent discussions stated that various nuances are obvious and should be intuitively followed by everyone. I think it’s problematic and leads to abuse.
Believing that your values and behavior associated with your culture and class are the only right ones and everybody should know, understand and follow them, is fundamentally different from assertively vocalizing your boundaries and needs. The second is a great, mature behavior. The first feels a bit elitist, ignorant and has nothing to do with safety, equality and being inclusive.
Additionally, I want to draw your attention to one thing. I have a strong belief (correct me if I’m wrong) that the vast majority (if not all) of sexual misconduct causes which were described over the last couple of days in the articles or here, on the forum, come from either US or the UK. EA crowd is definitely not limited to those.
So my honest question would be – is it EA who has a problem with sexual misconduct? Or is it an Anglo-Saxon culture which has a problem with sexual misconduct? Or maybe – EA with a mix of Anglo-Saxon culture has this issue? Shouldn’t we zoom in on that a bit?
Human sexuality is complex. Consent is also sometimes complex.
People often talk a lot of “what consent norms should be”. But such disputes do not give a full picture of what people’s actual behaviors around consent actually are – and it’s a bit crucial to this whole conversation.
If you start having more intimate talks, however, you end up seeing a much more complex and broad picture. And often consent is easier said than done.
I encourage you all, regardless what’s your gender, to have those talks with friends, who are open and empathetic. I’ve learned a lot and they made my life easier.
Yet, some people may have no opportunity to hear such stories. So let me share, why do I think that consent is not all that easy. I'm going to talk about myself here, because maybe somebody needs to hear somebody being open and vulnerable about stuff like that. It sums up 12 years of my experience, from which the vast majority was super great, but focuses on the parts where this sex and consent was difficult.
My message is - it's ok to sometimes struggle, feel insecure and have doubts, doesn't matter what your gender is, and especially if you are young.
(To be clear and open here - it happened to me a couple of times that I had to physically hit people in the face, as they plainly broke my consent and didn’t react to open, direct “no” repeated loudly three times. I felt pretty shitty after. I’m not going to get into those situations here. They don’t add anything to my “consent is complex” point. In those cases, it was plain and simple, and they simply tried to break it. )
I really like sex, I think human body is beautiful and overall, the whole context can be a form of art. Still, I believe consent is complicated. During my life, for me it was sometimes hard to figure out what do I want, and where are my boundaries - and it was hard to figure out what do others want, and what are their boundaries.
It’s all not that simple, but I also think that the whole life is not that simple and all I can do is just actively work to understand myself better and be better in listening to others. I know I'm not alone, and many people have similar doubts and situations.
Let me start gently, from slight doubts I have or used to have.
- Flirting is sometimes hard to understand for me. Dancing is also hard.
I can do it now, sure, but I don’t really get the culture around it and when I was younger, I felt super scared. Some very monogamous, married people dance with other folks in a very sensual way – and don’t see anything bad about it, even though they regard “flirting” as cheating. I’m just a bit confused by what I perceive lack of consistency there.
To be frank, some parts of flirting seem to be overall heavily based on ambiguity and uncertainty, and mixed signals. To me, people seem to be in the same time scared and attracted by it. Which often was confusing.
- It happened to me to clearly flirt with a guy, then say that we won’t have sex just in order to increase tension, and well, it worked wonders.
Later on I was the one who initiated sex. But, I’ve heard from some girl friends of mine that they like to flirt and not being asked for consent directly at all. One even said that there are two different types of “no” – one is just flirting, one is a lack of consent, and which one is which depends on context. I don’t really get it, I even felt angry at them for some time for not wanting to be precise about it (now I'm not).
- What I also discovered, is that I prefer being asked for consent, than ask myself. I sometimes do that and it’s super scary and make me feel vulnerable.
- Also, one more fun fact, recently it happened to me that I got attracted to a man in a position of power and had to stop myself from initiating flirting, not to put in a stupid situation.
Despite I think the rules for instructors and students not to flirt are right and should be in place, in this particular situation I felt sad about it (still followed the rules though).
Now, some heavier stuff.
- So, it happened to me enthusiastically consent to something, even partially initiate it, and then regret it (a day after the event).
My partner behaved absolutely ok, he was not in any position of power and did not make me feel intimidated, checked if I’m fine and respected my consent. I felt bad, it was hard ,but I had to deal with my emotions and have absolutely no hard feelings to anybody. Now I know my boundaries better. Live and learn.
- It happened to me to experience a pretty serious miscommunication when it comes to sex.
Basically a guy thought I gave him consent by coming to his house to sleep over. For me, in turn, it was just coming to his flat for a movie night and I didn't even think about sex. Thankfully, we realized something is off soon enough, nothing happened, we talked, we laughed and even slept in one bed - he respected my consent perfectly and wasn't even slightly creepy. We were close friends for a long time after, then I moved to another country.
- A couple of years later, at some point I ended up being pushy towards my partner, as I basically wasn’t taught that woman can be pushy at all.
I misjudged how big of a difference there is between the level of our sexual desire. Also the whole situation was super new and unexpected to me. To be frank I literally didn't notice what I'm doing until he told me to stop. Thankfully, he assertively gave me his feedback and we talked. We are still a couple.
- On other occasion, I heavily overreacted to one guy’s attempt to sleep with me.
He basically raised his voice, was very judgemental and talked without what I perceive to be empathy to other person (not me and not in a sexual context, I also was free to leave a situation, it wasn't about me at all). Ironically he did it in a context of “protecting people who are more vulnerable than him from unwanted behavior, i.e. people who are younger or women”.
The point is, which I learned about much later on, aggression is my trauma trigger. And I perceived him as aggressive.
So when he asked for my consent I was very uncomfortable, ended up being afraid of saying “no”(despite the fact that I’m usually very outspoken) and didn’t know how to deal with the situation. He wasn’t aggressive while asking and did it in a considerate, “good” way, gave me space to say, "no", we also knew each other quite well at that point. It didn't help. I pretended everything is ok in front of him, because it is my defense mechanism.
Finally, I ghosted the guy and bitched quite a bit about him to my friends. I didn't say he committed a misconduct. But I said he is dangerous, mentioned that I did not like his attention and have trouble being assertive to him, I was also very emotional and had trouble communicating clearly without even realizing that.
It thankfully did not end up being a “he is a sexual abuser” gossip. My friends did not escalate situation without my clear request and did not twist my words because of their fears or emotions. I’m more than grateful for that.
Sometime later I calmed down, I understood what happened and I felt, to be frank, shitty about it. I've talked to my friends again. Still didn’t have a courage to talk to the guy yet - but again, thanks to other people being mature, he did not got a backlash for something he didn't do.
The situations above, especially the last ones, were usually hard to me, and sometimes not only me. They also required a lot of clear and assertive communication from both sides, and I'm lucky I have friends and partners with whom I can talk this way.
I try to do my best to avoid similar situations in the future, I work on myself, learn about my triggers, educate myself and as I'm older, any problems are less frequent.
Consent is not easy, especially when you are young. Emotional maturity, clear communication, self-awareness and understanding others, being socially not awkward and finally sex and consent themselves are skills to be learned.
It all becomes easier with time - the majority of those stories happened a good couple of years ago.
Yet, many people, and me also, would not trade if off this (to be frank, still pretty rare) hardships for less sexual experiences.
Some of the most beautiful and empowering events in my life are connected to sex, and I will remember some of them till the end of my life. I had sexual situations, significantly more than one, which was emotionally so purifying and intense, that I cried during them. In my case, it often creates a special kind of intimacy between people, and a feeling of safety and belonging. Some of my insecurities and even traumas went away due to positive sexual experiences, and I’m not exaggerating here.
And to those, who think that those positive experiences can be achieved only in marriages or similar, exclusive and long-lasting relationships - it's not my experience.
EA openness in talking about things makes it more susceptible to seem weird
Yeah, so is all of I’ve written above weird? Am I now weird to you? Are those experiences normal? Do you judge them as healthy?
Again, it may be my echo chamber, but those experiences are not very special. I’ve heard many people saying similar things. My psychologist did not find any pathology there.
But, in my culture, they are not very much talked about, or if they are mentioned, it is for sensation, with judgement, without gentleness. I don’t think I’m weird here. I think I’m open and vulnerable. And people are not used to it.
My theory is that EA is open to discussion about pretty much everything much more than an average crowd, and therefore seems “odd” to those who are not used to it.
In my culture, there are things people don’t really talk about and ideas which are “just thought, not said”. EA people like to break this taboo and share stuff which is more intimate than average. They also state opinions which people usually keep to themselves (maybe share with closest friends). Of course, in some ways EA is not a “perfect population average”. Yet, it’s not as weird as it likes to think. I’ve seen many weirder communities, to be frank.
Anyway, it’s less important part of this point. More important is as follows:
it's ok to be different.
If you are non-neurotypical, I want you to feel safe and heard. I’m happy to adjust my communication on behavior so it works between us, even if it requires stepping out of my comfort zone or active effort (as long as it doesn’t break my boundaries, needles to say).
I feel deeply disturbed by amount of ableism which was recently exhibited at this forum (even if it wasn’t direct).
I feel that in the recent month, some people put zero effort into understanding what others mean, rather attempted to strawman every single argument which made them feel emotionally insecure. It may have been very heavy for those, who have not-neurotypical communication style, as it may be harder to understand for some and steelmaning would be particularly helpful.
I believe in a healthy, inclusive society both not-neurotypical and neurotypical people should work together towards better communication, understanding and integration, respecting each other’s boundaries and fulfilling needs.
Ok, let me finish this super long text with saying – hope you are all safe. Be gentle, first of all to yourselves. Be gentle to others. Love and kisses.