Help – I don’t understand enthusiastic consent!

// 16 July 2012

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6872609548_d9154db0f7_b.jpg This afternoon while skimming the titles of the articles in my feed reader, my eyes settled on a blog titled “Help – she won’t give me oral”, a post written by a famous ‘sexpert’ by the name of Tracey Cox on the blog of LoveHoney, an online adult shop.

In the post, a reader complains that his wife has refused to perform oral sex on him for the past decade, since he “accidentally came in her mouth”. Ooh, I thought. Cox will certainly explain to him that his wife is perfectly within her rights to decline to participate in a sexual act with which she is uncomfortable for whatever reason, and that he should respect her boundaries, perhaps with a little something about the need for enthusiastic consent. I mean, that’s the obvious response to such a complaint, right?

Apparently not. Cox takes a different approach, one which made me feel very uncomfortable about the advice it is apparently acceptable to give men with regards to their entitlements and expectations during sex. Cox reacts with disbelief: “Wow! This happened TEN YEARS AGO and she’s still using that as the reason why she doesn’t want to give you oral sex?”, implying with that first sarcastic “Wow!” that his wife’s discomfort is laughable and silly by ridiculing her.

She outright states that he is “within [his] rights to suggest, nicely, that perhaps it’s time she, well, got over it.” There are so many problems with this statement that I barely know where to start. Nobody is within their rights to demand a sex act from another person, once they have been told that the person is not comfortable with that sex act. And to suggest that the wife should “[get] over it” is outright stating that it is the wife with the problem (because of course, there’s no way that it’s acceptable for her to just not like fellatio), not the husband (because it’s perfectly acceptable for men to demand sex acts from women regardless of the woman’s comfort levels).

Cox goes on to give some ‘tips’ on how the man can encourage his wife to perform fellatio on him, giving ideas on how he can make it easier for her and prevent the unexpected ejaculation from happening again. Here was where my blood really started to boil, because Cox is addressing entirely the wrong problem. Instead of addressing the man’s entitlement issues and the concept of enthusiastic consent, she becomes a co-conspirator in his attempts to coerce an unwilling partner to participate in unwanted sexual acts. Within these ‘tips’, she further belittles the wife’s feelings by trivialising the triggering act (“If – shock horror – it happens again”). And then, the icing on the whole rape-triggery cake, she says “Course, she could try swallowing it and stop behaving like semen is sulphuric acid” – again reinforcing the idea that this woman is wrong and abnormal for not wanting to engage in a particular sexual act.

I am thoroughly disappointed that Tracey Cox, and LoveHoney by proxy, would encourage and promote the bullying and pressurisation of women into participation in sexual acts that they have verbalised their discomfort with. As a so-called expert in the field, Ms Cox should be more than familiar with the concept of “enthusiastic consent”. Enthusiastic consent is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – that a “yes” is not really enough, because a “yes” can be coerced or unwilling. Instead, what should be required is true enthusiasm, and for that good communication between all parties involved is paramount.

Instead LoveHoney and Tracey Cox are perpetuating the misogynistic trope that it is acceptable for men to wheedle and persuade women into sex, and this sets a worrying tone indeed for it is this attitude that means that rape is so prevalent in society. I fear that other men with entitlement issues will read Cox’s post and take her advice – that it is perfectly all right to try to force an unwilling participant into sex – as some sort of truth. Because that is the last thing these women, and all people, really need.

[The image is a photograph of the sculpture “Le Nomade” by Jaume Plensa which reads ‘YES’ in yellow letters against a blue sky. It was taken by Nicholas “LordGordon” Fiorentini and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

Shadow // Posted 16 July 2012 at 9:16 pm

Why doesn’t Tracey Cox just state in plain English ‘men you have the inalienable right of sexual access to any female and even more so if said female is your wife (sexual property) or partner because women have no rights of sexual autonomy whatsoever.’

As regards ‘enthusiastic consent’ what exactly does that mean? Does it mean a male has the right to presume if he coerces/threatens/pressurises an unwilling woman into submitting to sexual acts he demands this is “enthusiastic consent?” How about the straightforward statement ‘women own their bodies and consent is irrelevant because unless and until both parties agree without any pressure/coercion/threats of male violence or male sulks and only then can sexual acts between two parties be presumed to be ‘mutually agreed.’

Oh but wait men will decry this because men must never be held responsible for their sexual behaviour since men have the right to demand sexual servicing from women, and it is women not men who ‘consent’ or refuse men’s sexual demands. Missing of course from Tracey Cox’s male supremacist claims is fact men are the ones with the power to coerce/force an unwilling woman into submitting to being raped by a male.

Tracey Cox is a supporter of male sexual coercion/male sex right to females. But I expect no less given she has written on a Pornstitution website.

Quinn Capes-Ivy // Posted 16 July 2012 at 11:04 pm

As regards ‘enthusiastic consent’ what exactly does that mean? Does it mean a male has the right to presume if he coerces/threatens/pressurises an unwilling woman into submitting to sexual acts he demands this is “enthusiastic consent?”

Absolutely not. In fact that is exactly what proponents of enthusiastic consent are trying to get away from. Plain old consent is just the statement “yes” which can easily be obtained by coercion/threats/pressure. Enthusiastic consent is what a lover gives freely, it’s the grabbing, the passionate kissing, the smiling, the laughing, the relaxed attitude, the free and easy communication. That’s what enthusiastic consent is all about – it’s the absolute opposite of “Oh all right then, if it’ll make you leave me alone.”

How about the straightforward statement ‘women own their bodies and consent is irrelevant because unless and until both parties agree without any pressure/coercion/threats of male violence or male sulks and only then can sexual acts between two parties be presumed to be ‘mutually agreed.’

And there you have hit the enthusiastic consent nail on the head!

RadLib Fem // Posted 16 July 2012 at 11:11 pm

Bang on, Anji. Not liking or wanting a particular sex act gives that person the right to refuse it. End of. Thank you for articulating this so well.

Shadow, you’re right that Tracey Cox’s answer is loaded with the assumption that the guy has the inalienable right to sexual access to his partner and she should just “get with the programme” so to speak. However, I strongly take issue with this:

“As regards ‘enthusiastic consent’ what exactly does that mean? Does it mean a male has the right to presume if he coerces/threatens/pressurises an unwilling woman into submitting to sexual acts he demands this is “enthusiastic consent?” How about the straightforward statement ‘women own their bodies and consent is irrelevant because unless and until both parties agree without any pressure/coercion/threats of male violence or male sulks and only then can sexual acts between two parties be presumed to be ‘mutually agreed.'”

Do I understand correctly that you are saying there is no such thing as “enthusiastic consent” in sexual activities between women and men? That consent is “irrelevant” and not to be taken seriously because of the possibility of “pressure/coercion/threats of male violence or male sulks” influencing the decision? I hope I’ve misunderstood because if I haven’t, I find what you’re saying immensely patronising.

Has it not occurred to you that some women (of which I am one) successfully manage to negotiate sexual encounters with men that do not involve the sex acts we don’t want or like? No pressure. No coercion. No threats of violence. No sulks. Maybe my bloke’s a rare breed? Well, it seems I got lucky because the last one accepted my preferences too. And the one before that. But it seems that, as far as you’re concerned, people like me don’t exist. Thanks for erasing my experience with your dogma.

You write off any possible criticism of what you say as male supremacist but has it not occurred to you that some women -feminist women- might decry what you’re saying on the basis that you are denying our precious moments of autonomy in a patriarchal world and increasingly making this site a hostile place for women? Your incessant hectoring is frankly unbearable.

Amanda McIndoe // Posted 17 July 2012 at 12:25 am

This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. I’ve seen Tracy Cox give dodgey advice before. In fact a lot of these so called “sexperts” give advice that sounds suspicisously like the same old cliched male fantasies. Watch porn together, dress up for him, etc, etc. Doesn’t matter that maybe the women doesn’t actually want to do those things. It would be equally bad for a man to be coearced and bullied into giving a woman oral when he didn’t want to. It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong.

Sex should be about mutal enjoyment not the pleasure of one person only, if someone really, really doesn’t like a certain act then you can’t just force them to by whinging about it over and over. Enthusiastic consent is required for good sex, for both parties. It worries me that Tracy Cox is giving such advice and being so flippant about it, how does she think the women at the recieving end of this guy’s moaning feels?

Is Cox forgetting something? Namely that sex isn’t a right but a privalige.

Louise McCudden // Posted 17 July 2012 at 8:53 am

I am tempted to write to Tracey Cox under the guise of a heterosexual woman who wants to take her hubbie with a strap on. He won’t let me! Help! One I accidentally stuck my finger up there and now he’s using that as an excuse! What will I do!

I wonder what response that would get?

sian norris // Posted 17 July 2012 at 9:17 am

Tracey Cox has form in this area, i remember reading Cath Elliott’s blog where she told a husband who’se wife didn’t want to have sex that she should have sex with him anyway.

Wonder how often this guy goes down on his wife?! As you say Louise, be interesting to see how it would be taken if the roles were reversed. It’s really troubling that a woman with such a wide audience has no regard for women’s bodily autonomy.

Louise McCudden // Posted 17 July 2012 at 10:27 am

“Is Cox forgetting something? Namely that sex isn’t a right but a privalige.”

Absolutely! I get so fed up of men thinking they have it hard because they aren’t getting laid. “Yes yes I know you ladies have to live under basically a permanent threat of sexual violence BUT DUDE MY WIFE WON’T SWALLOW!”

Mr. Rude Word // Posted 18 July 2012 at 2:10 am

“Is Cox forgetting something? Namely that sex isn’t a right but a privalige”

Whose privilege? I was under the impression that sex was an act that occured when 2 or more people consent to have it, rather than the bartering tool that both your statement & Cox’s advice suggests.

In the end, Cox makes her living from offering “sex advice”…if a man writes & says his female partner is put off by fellatio, I wouldn’t assume his partner was traumatised by the thought of oral sex anymore than I’d assume that the man is traumatised by the fact that he’s not received any for several years. I’d assume that the man found it difficult to address the matter with his partner…not certain how the rather jaundiced conclusion that he thinks he’s “entitled” to oral sex comes from, surely if he thought that he would not have “put up with” 10 years without it.

I imagine a female complaining that her male partner refused to “go down on her” would illicit a rather different response from F Word readers, but why should it?

sianmarie // Posted 18 July 2012 at 9:05 am

Mr Rude Word – the point is that no one should have to feel pressured into a sex act that they don’t want to do. So if it was a man who really didn’t like going down on his partner, and he was basically being told ‘put up and shut up’ as Cox’s advice does, then the reaction would be the same.

There are also other issues about women’s confidence in expressing their desires and preferences in a culture that still sees women’s sexuality as passive and men’s sexuality as active. but that’s for another day.

Amanda McIndoe // Posted 18 July 2012 at 10:03 am

Mr Rude Word, I actually stated that if a woman was pressuring a man into going down her when he was unwilling or uncomfortable for whatever reason is wrong as well.I think many feminists would agree with that. Nobody, man or woman has the right to someone else’s body, I sure as hell don’t wouldn’t want someone going down on me just to stop me pestering them, I would want their enthusiastic consent, because then I would know they were doing it because they really wanted to not because I had weedled at them for ages because it’s my right as a woman, because, as controversial as it may sound to some, it’s not. I don’t have the right to pester someone for my own pleasure

It’s not this fellow’s right as a man to get a blow-job eitheir. I know how it feels to be constantly pressured into performing sex acts, it’s not nice. It’s exhausting and really brings you down. Yes, I did consent to shut him up, but I was far from enthusiastic. It took me a while to discover that he didn’t actually have a right to my body. Without sounding too cliched he really was lucky to have gotten that close.

So yeah, I stand by my statement sex is a privilage, I love my current partner, I feel very privilaged that he feels the same and wants to have sex with me. I know he feels the same about me, (six years on he still thanks me very politley for letting him see me naked, bless). I would also like to add, however, that it is fine to suggest trying something new in the bedroom (nicely) but if your partner really isn’t up for it, be gracious and drop it.

Amanda McIndoe // Posted 18 July 2012 at 10:06 am

Louise McCudden, on wanting to write to Tracy Cox pretending to be a wife who wants to take her husband up the arse with a strap-on, you have sooooooooooo tempted me to do that myself lol!

Louise McCudden // Posted 18 July 2012 at 1:51 pm

Mr Rude Word

Why do you imagine that it would get a different response if the genders were reversed? What’s the based on? The article seems to say the complete opposite if anything.

Mr. Rude Word // Posted 19 July 2012 at 10:46 pm

@Louise…actually the article explicitly suggests that the man & Cox are both complicit in making it seem that to be fellated is the man’s “right” as her sexual partner, therefore it makes any counter argument in the man’s defence impossible to defend, unless you agree that every man has a “right” to be fellated by his partner.

Men’s sexual concerns are routinely presented in terms of “conjugal rights”, with the focus on the man’s desires being in conflict with his female partner, whereas women’s sexual concerns ( such as her partner not wanting to give her oral sex ) are broached holistically…a letter from a woman re her male partner’s reluctance to give her oral sex would not be viewed in terms of her unreasonable “demand for oral sex” as if it were her “right”, so no such argument re her unreasonable “demands” would take place. Instead the argument would inevitably be about women & sexuality per se, with some men’s reluctance to perform oral sex as symptomatic of a wider prejudice re women’s vaginas.

In a nutshell, when a man expresses concern that his partner dislikes oral sex, he’s portrayed as a person who “expects” & “demands” & cares only about his “dick being suck”, whereas when a woman complains that her male partner dislikes the smell or taste of her vagina, her concerns are greeted with sympathy & it’s the man who is at fault for buying into the widespread prejudice re cunnilingus.

LauraB // Posted 24 July 2012 at 9:30 am

Mr Rudeword, what counter argument *is* there in the man’s defense?

Tracy Cox has let him and his wife down with her advice here. Why is it such a problem that she won’t go down on him, I wonder. Maybe he feels rejected and like she thinks he’s gross, boohoo. Maybe he just thinks its his inaliable right as a man to get his todger sucked. Maybe he just really, really enjoys blowjobs and misses them. the thing is, Cox hasn’t addressed why he is upset or encouraged him to talk openly with his wife and reach a harmonious solution that both can feel good about – apparently his wife’s feelings aren’t important. That’s what angers me.

Cosmo give hilariously awful sex advice (I don’t read it, I read Vagenda ripping the piss out of it… honest). One good bit was to slap your boyfriend’s willy around! Don’t be too gentle ladies! But Cosmo is mostly read by teenagers who aren’t getting any decent sex-ed at school which kindof stops it from being funny and just makes it sad. They had an article once with a sword-swallower giving advice on giving blowjobs… the pressure to be sexy (a plaything) rather than sexual (with agency) is subtly woven into so much of what young women are spoonfed.

I have some sympathy with Shadow here cos it is very difficult at times to negotiate heterosexual relationships and there’s a lack of decent advice. It would be great if there was a feminist agony aunt somewhere redressing the balance… volunteers?!

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