Back in the days when sex was a hot and often unresolved debate between single men and women, there was a lot of discussion on whether or not “no” really meant “no.”
“No” in those days was more of a starting point for pursuit, persistence and a lot of hands-on activity.
According to The Washington Post and the Kaiser Foundation, who polled more than 1,000 college students from the last four years, the debate continues today.
More than half say they suffered some sort of sexual assault. They say that when they said “no” it was not always taken seriously.
To avoid ambiguity about terminology, the Post-Kaiser survey asked respondents about specific types of unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault and the scenarios in which they occurred. Respondents were each provided the same definition of relevant types of sexual contact, which included five different types of assault: forced sexual touching, oral sex, sexual intercourse, anal sex and sexual penetration with a finger or object.
Definitions of “consent” varied. Some said taking clothes off with a partner should not be considered a “yes” for sex. Others said oral activity did not mean consent for intercourse.
People, they said, should have the right to change their mind along the way, including up to engaging in an actual sexual act.
Twenty-five percent of women in the survey said they were victims of sexual assault.
A 25-year-old woman recalled a date in her freshman year with a classmate at the University of Pittsburgh. They went to a friend’s house. He handed her a drink. It might have been a juiced vodka. A very strong one.
“I woke up the next morning without any pants on,” the woman said, “and without any recollection.” A few weeks later, she said, the man “made a comment about wanting to see me again and do what he did before. It led me to believe we had some sort of sexual contact.”
If so, the woman said, it was without her consent; she was incapacitated.
“I was in no state of mind” to say yes to sex, she said. “The memory is so, so foggy.”
One coed at Virginia Tech told us last year that she was kissing a young man at the campus and the “petting” led to removal of her clothing. When she was naked, he was ready for sex. She wasn’t.
“I decided I didn’t want to have sex with him. I had to push him away, slap him and finally knee him in the groin. I ran out of his room naked with my clothes in my arms.”
At one time, there was a difference then between “force” and “coerce” in intimate relationships It was a game that both sides played. A decade later, in the 70s, the rules had changed. “No” was not a word you heard much then. Sex between unmarried partners was acceptable and even expected, even on first dates.
In politics, physical affairs co-exist in affairs of state. President John F. Kennedy played the field while reporters and supporters looked the other way. Years later, President Bill Clinton tried to suggest that oral sexual activity was not really sex. Teenagers in the 1990s equated oral sex with a casualness one relegated to simply kissing.
Debates continue today. No may mean “no” or it could mean “maybe.” It may depends on how you say it and when.
Like truth, acceptance or rejection may or may not be resolute.