The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Kate Smurthwaite Headshot

How Bad Is the Sex Everyone's Having?

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

While Julian Assange stares forlornly out of the front window of the Ecuadorian embassy like a bed and breakfast guest regretting ordering the full English the media is in disarray. How, they wonder, can someone who does something good (Wikileaks) also do something bad (rape)? It goes against everything Harry Potter taught us. Or something.

George Galloway is no stranger to saying stupid things. Last year live on his radio show he tried to explain to me why women don't make good comedians. Ooops.

Now he insists, despite a botched attempt at "clarifying" his remarks, that Assange is guilty only of "bad sexual etiquette". He refers to having sex with a woman who is asleep. Passing the lubricant to the right during group sex is "bad sexual etiquette". Having sex with someone who is asleep is rape. It simply is not possible to consent while sleeping.

He goes on to say that this is "not rape as most people understand it", which may be absolutely true but if so only serves to highlight how prevalent and dangerous myths about strangers and dark alleyways are. All the more reason for someone in a position of influence like himself to be careful to get it right.

Brendan O'Neill is suddenly supporting Galloway. He takes issue with the notion that "sex without consent is rape". It does seem a waste of time for him to be arguing this one with feminists when he could go argue with a dictionary.

O'Neill claims that in order for rape to occur we must prove "the man knows she did not consent, or was utterly reckless as to the question of her consent". The implication is that as long as you pause long enough for her to shout "no" or punch you in the face, it's no longer your problem.

Which leads me to wonder: How bad IS the sex these men are having? When I have sex I say things like "that feels great", "do that some more" and "let me go on top". There's no confusion about whether or not I'm consenting. Because I'm consenting enthusiastically. If I stop responding in that way, my partner asks if I'm ok and stops until I respond. Not because he fears a lawsuit but because he's trying to please me.

After all why do we have sex? There can only be two reasons: reproduction and pleasure. Sex for reproductive purposes requires a great deal of consideration and discussion around consent. Presumably no-one thinks "well she's asleep, she's not moving, that probably means she wants to have a baby with me".

And what pleasure are we getting from sex? Is it just our own sexual gratification? Are we simply using the other person as a human rag to masturbate on/in/against? That paints a deeply sad picture of human relations in the twenty-first century.

No, the proverbial joy of sex must be about pleasing the other person and enjoying their response and enthusiasm for pleasing you. In that context there is no mystic hinterland of confusion about consent. It's obvious. Or to put it another way:

Assange, Galloway, O'Neill ... you're doing it wrong.