aziz ansari

Real Talk: A Simple Lesson to Learn From the Aziz Ansari Situation

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I am the outspoken feminist that Pat Robertson warned you about.

Earlier today Huffington Post’s Emma Gray published a really solid article on the importance of having difficult conversations about heterosexual sex. I say ‘heterosexual’ because the article was focused on seemingly cisgender men and women doing the deed. She rightfully acknowledged how cultural conditioning has played a role in sexual misunderstandings such as how women are taught to be accomodating and deferential — particularly to men — whereas men are conditioned to believe they are entitled to “women’s time, attention, and physical affection.” She states:

“Acknowledging this dynamic doesn’t require us to label all men monsters or all women ‘helpless’ weaklings in need of a fainting couch. It means that we’ve all grown up with a fucked-up sexual script ― governed by questions like “Did he/she/they say yes?” ― that ultimately works for no one.”

Great job, Emma! But I’m here to simplify this shit for you. Nobody seems to be saying that Aziz Ansari is a predator of Weinstein proportions. However, many of us recognize this situation as problematic because someone walked away feeling violated. A lot of folks (*cough* Caitlin Flanagan *cough) have been quick to dismiss this as a bad date or some sort of sexual buyers remorse. I’m not here to vilify Aziz Ansari. As Emma Gray said, we’re in the grey area of non-criminal sexual behavior that feels coercive and violating but doesn’t cross the line that we’ve historically held up as consent. Those lines, of course, need to be redrawn. And that’s exactly what I think we can learn from this.

There is one absolutely foolproof way to know if you have consent and it’s enthusiasm. Does the person/people you’re with seem totally DTF? If not, you need to stop and check in. The person/people you’re with should be undeniably excited to be doing the things with you. It’s obvious when someone isn’t into it. For example, looking away, not responding to touching, not reciprocating with sexual acts, or suddenly becoming withdrawn and quiet. Also, you need to notice if their affect is scared, sad, or anything other than fucking happy. If you make someone dinner and they take a bite, you can absolutely tell if they hate it. This is the same damn thing. If someone does not appear happy to be doing exactly what they’re doing, STOP.

Some other important things about consent that we should all know: True consent does not involve coercion. This is something a lot of men need to realize. You don’t get to keep asking until you wear her down. That’s a manipulation. Men may not realize how tricky that is for women but due to the social conditioning to be accomodating, there is pressure behind what the man is saying. Behind his words of “Oh, come on, let’s try it” are years and years of social conditioning playing in her head about not hurting his ego, being polite, blah, blah, blah. It’s exhausting and I hate that we’re still affected by that crap.  Almost every woman I know has been in a sexual situation where they have let something continue that they weren’t into because they didn’t feel right about challenging it, myself included.

Consent is also continuous. Just because you get the greenlight for kissing, doesn’t mean you have the greenlight for sex. Keep the dialogue going. It’s not weird to simply ask, “Do you want to have sex?” which leads to the other thing: Consent should be informed. Don’t try something if you’re not sure the other person would want to do it. For example, anal sex. You need to get air traffic control approval before landing that plane.

Consent should also be sober or sober-ish. If the person you’re with is not able to walk straight, slurring their words, or nodding out, they cannot consent regardless of how enthusiastic they might be. It’s the one caveat to that rule so don’t have sex with drunk people, okay? If you know you’re both going out drinking, it doesn’t hurt to have a talk before the drinking about what the plan is for the night because people’s boundaries tend to fall by the wayside when they’ve had the alcohols.

This doesn’t need to be difficult, folks. I have no doubt that if Mr. Ansari had paid a bit of attention to her cues and had simply made sure that the consent was enthusiastic, continuous, informed, and non-coercive, that he wouldn’t be a topic of #MeToo conversations right now. There is something to be learned here, not just for Aziz but for all dudes. Start a dialogue with your potential lady partner about sex. Nobody is saying you have to do stupid shit like get an app that requires your partner to complete a sexual consent agreement. We’re humans. We’ve evolved for millions of years to have these big old brains we have. I’m pretty sure we can figure out how to have a conversation so that all parties can mutually agree on what they want to and don’t want to do sexually. I have faith.