Communication is sexy

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More news has come out that yet another Hollywood male who we have loved and admired was at best kind of a bad date and at worst your typical hegemonic trash can dude who lives his life based on toxic masculinity.

The website Babe.net broke the story of a 23-year-old photographer, whom they chose to call “Grace,” who went on a date with comedian Aziz Ansari last September. The date went poorly for “Grace,” who described it in vivid and disturbing detail to a member of the website’s reporting staff. Grace says she was continuously prodded by Ansari while she gave him what she thought to be very clear non-verbal signals that she wanted to stop. Ansari tells the story differently, claiming that he believed the night went well and that all sexual activity was consensual. Who is telling the truth? I suspect they both are.

I accept that this is a controversial opinion. People would prefer I take a side because there is a monster/slut narrative forming in people’s heads. However, I think it’s impossible to know exactly what happened. I believe Grace when she describes the situation and her feelings about it. I also believe that Ansari did not, and probably still does not, see the issue with his actions.

The issue here is with communication. Men and women are socialized differently when it comes to expressing our thoughts and feelings. Women are taught to be non-confrontational when turning a man down because, as we all know, the male ego is very fragile and damaging it can result in any number of retaliations from as insignificant as blocking your number to as serious as murder. We are taught that any man can resort to any of the potential retaliations on the list. We can’t know which guy will shrug and which guy will kill us.

Men are socialized differently. They learn that women “play hard to get” so we don’t appear slutty. They learn that if they don’t keep trying they are not a “closer.” In order to be a man you should always get the yes.

Here we see the communication problem. The signals are mixed because the people who are sending them are tuned into different frequencies. If we knew better how other people communicate it would help us to interpret what they’re saying or doing. Grace is trying to say no without being a bitch, prude, tease, or any of the other words that lots of people on the internet have now used to describe her. Ansari is trying to turn a no into a yes.

Rather than taking a side on this particular issue, I would offer some advice that I think applies to many people rather than just men and women but for the sake of clarity those are the headings I will use.

Women: your comfort and safety are more important than a man’s ego. You can say no and be neither vague nor bitchy. I understand your fear both physically and emotionally, but when it comes to this be honest and firm.

Men: you can’t turn a no into a yes. If a woman is not interested in your sexual advances – and you should ASK if she is rather than placing the onus on her to reject you – it is not possible for you to convince her. That is not what you’re doing. You’re wearing her down until giving in to you is easier and possibly safer than escalating her refusal. And then you become at best a very bad date whose texts she probably won’t return and at worst you become the guy she warns every woman she knows about because he won’t take no for an answer.

In conclusion: if you are in a situation where you might have sex with somebody, talk to them. I don’t mean find out about their brothers and sisters, or where they grew up. I mean ask what they are interested in sexually and what they are not. Set boundaries. Talk about what to say if you’ve changed your mind. Sex is about trust as much as it is about physical pleasure. Communication is sexy.

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