There’s a lot of talk on college campuses about rape. There’s a lot of media coverage around rape cases. In theory, it’s great that there’s a push past the concept of “No means no,” towards the fact that only “Yes” means “yes.” This is the 21st century; women are not coy about their sexual desires. I’m certainly open and expressive of my sexuality. Yet, I know when I want to be having sex and when I do not want to have sex.
So maybe I didn’t fully understand the gravity of the push for clearly defined sexual consent, until I was put in a situation where my will to refuse was disrespected. We don’t have to be experience an uncomfortable situation to understand the serious problems with our culture’s view on consent though. So let’s talk about condoms and consent.
A few weeks ago, I met another graduate student for drinks, and because the date was going well, I agreed to go for a walk with him on his campus. We were in a part of Philly that I’m unfamiliar with, and as we wandered farther from the train station, I began to become uneasy. He suggested going to watch a movie, which I realize is a euphemism, but I countered it by telling him that he needed to “behave himself” and that I didn’t want to have sex.
The fact that he laughed at my set boundary should have been a hint. Yet, the further we walked from the station—I started to realize that I didn’t have cab fare, or my mace—so I felt stuck with this jerk. This bulky, muscular jerk who works out and who I’ve just met via online dating.
He didn’t tell me that he lived in a dorm either. Dorms always have “rape-y” vibes to me, since I was always really careful about them in college, but knew plenty of unpleasant stories about the “walk of shame” culture developed around women for the benefit of male sexual “showing off” exploits.
In short, I thought I was going to an apartment with a couch and measurable personal space. Nope. So we put on a movie and he suggests I sit on the bed. We start making out. I tell him “no” when he tries to unbutton my pants. He ignores me. I push his hand away and we keep making out. He puts his hand in my unbuttoned pants and pulls them down. I tell him “no” and “stop, I don’t want to.” And he puts his hand in there anyway.
So I truthfully tell him that I’m on my period and have a tampon in. Even though I’ve already told him “no,” he physically checks to see if I have a tampon in. He finds it, and I tell him “no” again, but he still positions himself to enter me. That’s when I push him off me and tell him that if he’s not going to stop, he’d better wear a condom.
This is the point where I get caught up. Was it date rape? I absolutely did not want to have sex with this man. There’s no doubt in my mind. But he still wore a condom, demonstrating that he didn’t violate me in a violent way. I’ve had a few medical professionals, including my psychiatrist pause at this point in the story.
“But he wore a condom? That’s not rape. A condom means yes.” He’s a healthcare professional for christsakes! I wondered then if my psychiatrist would feel the same way if this happened to his daughter.
I firmly believe that a condom does not mean consent. A condom is not an agreement to have sex. It is not a clear and defined “yes.” And I wonder: how many people have had to question themselves over a valid case of rape because their rapist wore a condom? All a condom stands for is protection. The fact that it is being used to protect rapists because our culture privileges a man’s agreement to wear a condom over a woman’s right to say “no” is problematic. We clearly need to include the reality that a condom does not cancel a woman’s refusal to have sex in the conversation about sexual consent.