This past fall I hooked up with a guy at a party and regretted it. Before the party I pregamed at a friend’s apartment and got very, very drunk. While most of my friends were barely tipsy, the vodka I drank hit me all at once and I ended up very drunk very quickly. The party was not particularly fun, and we wandered between the basement (where no one was dancing, much to my disappointment) and the backyard. I was sitting on the porch steps next to my friend when a guy I vaguely knew walked up the back steps. It took me a minute to recognize him because at this point everything was a little fuzzy, but when I did I leaped up, shouting his name and engulfing him in a hug. There was another guy with him who took that opportunity to wrap me up in a hug as well. I immediately felt weirded out by it because I didn’t know him, and I felt like he was maybe just excited to have found a really drunk girl.
I said I was bored and wanted to go dance, so my friend and the guy I didn’t know, Pete*, went downstairs to the basement. I stumbled down the stairs as Pete kept touching me- my arms, my shoulder, my waist, the small of my back. I realized at this point that he wanted to hook up with me but I had decided that I didn’t really want to hook up with him. I tried to talk to my friend and ignore him, but he was persistent, and wouldn’t stop touching me. My friend turned away for a minute, and Pete took that opportunity to kiss me, pressing me up against the brick wall behind me.
I realize that I should have stopped this all from happening, but I remember feeling like I just didn’t have the energy. So instead of shoving him away I just turned my head away. And when he kissed me again I let it happen, and this time I kissed him back. After a few minutes he suggested we go upstairs, but I protested that I wanted to stay in the basement and dance. He ignored me, pulling me up the stairs behind him. When we arrived in the backyard he kissed me again before suggesting we go to his house. I said no, and in response he kissed me. Then he asked me again if I wanted to go back to his place, and as he pulled me closer to the gate I said no, again. I remember telling him that I was having a good time at the party, that I didn’t want to, couldn’t, leave my friends, and that I didn’t want to go. He ignored me. This process repeated itself a few more times before he unlatched the gate and stepped out onto the sidewalk as I continued protesting.
He held me up as we walked down the sidewalk, and I remember feeling deeply discontented with the situation as we walked along. At least once I remember saying, drunkly, sloppily, “No, but I said I didn’t want to go home with you. I wanted to stay with my friends!” to which he would reassure me that we would see my friends and we were just going to have a little fun.
He unlocked the door to his house and I stumbled into his bedroom. I wished I wasn’t there but at the same time didn’t feel like I had the energy or willpower to leave. At that point I figured I might as well stay, hook up with him, and get it over with rather than leave. He led me over to the bed and I fell back onto his mattress as he climbed on top of me. We began kissing again, and almost immediately his mouth left mine and trailed down my neck to my breasts as he pulled my dress and bra down. We continued on like that for maybe ten more minutes, and then, without warning, he slid my dress up and his hand down beneath my tights, and slipped his fingers into my vagina.
I was shocked, caught totally off guard. I decided I would let it happen, but it began happening before I made that decision. After a few more minutes I sat up and told him I was ready to leave. He seemed frustrated and asked me to stay, but I refused, pulling my clothes back on and standing up. As I walked to the door he passed out on his bed and I went back to the party to rejoin my friends.
What happened that night was not sexual assault or rape, and I am not claiming it is. I ultimately consented to what happened that night and I take responsibility for that. But it matters that a guy decided to finger me without asking for my consent, and without thinking to check in with me first. This is not what consent should look like. Both people involved in a hook up should clearly give their consent, and it is not ok to assume the person you are hooking up with is consenting to everything that is going on. Simply because you are consenting or you haven’t heard otherwise from your partner does not mean that they are consenting. Pete had no idea whether or not I consented that night. I did consent, and that is important, but he never asked and never tried to ask. That is not ok. When we were making decisions about where to go earlier in the night he ignored me, and that is not ok. People need to understand, respect, and ask for consent.
It is also important to recognize the agency I had in this situation, the agency that for the most part I didn’t use. I protested when we left the party, and I ended the hook up before things went further than I wanted them to again, but there were other times in the night when I could have said something and could have stopped what was happening. I could have stopped Pete after he kissed me, and I certainly could have said no once I was hooking up with Pete in his room. For stupid reasons I felt like it was easier to go along with it, and that’s fucked up. I should feel like I have more sexual agency than that, because I do have more sexual agency than that. That is both my responsibility and the responsibility of a society that does a shitty job of teaching teenagers, and especially girls, about sex.
I have thought about writing this piece for a while, and was finally pushed to do so after reading Anna March’s piece My Bad Sex Wasn’t Rape. Her article was in regards to a particular sex scene on Girls, the ubiquitous T.V. show, in which Natalia is sexually assaulted by her boyfriend Adam. March contends that this was not a rape scene, as Natalia has more sexual autonomy than we give her credit for, and that just because a woman does not give consent does not mean that a woman was sexually assaulted. There is a lot wrong with March’s argument, not least of which is that her writing discredits and diminishes the stories of many survivors, but I also think it is worth discussing consent and how we talk about consent. It is not valid to assume every woman is capable or willing to say “no” even when she is not consenting.
Part of why I wrote this is because March wrote in her article that, “We can say yes and we can say no…We have to respect that agency no matter how someone chooses to enact it, whether that’s having sex they don’t really want to have in silence, or saying yes to it, or saying no and walking away.” While I agree with many parts of her message, she stresses again and again that women have this indomitable agency that is being miscategorized as rape or sexual assault in many cases. I disagree. I think that often it is hard to say no. And while sometimes consent can go unspoken and still be present, as in my case, other times someone might not feel strong enough or safe enough to say no, and that is not simply a failure on their part to act on their sexual agency. I think empowering women (and everyone else) to act on their sexual agency is wonderful and necessary, but it is also important to recognize that there are many times when people do not feel they can act on their sexual agency. And those times are not “gray areas” or “murky sex” or “bad sex”- those times are rape, and they are sexual assault, and it is important that we recognize that, act on that, and take the stories and experiences of survivors seriously.
*Name has been changed