Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Absence of No

(This is a repost from one of my other blogs Hot Chicks & Strangers, where I often riff on dating issues in preparation for turning them into more polished articles. I'm posting it here, because I'm actively soliciting people's opinions on the issue and this seems to be the blog that hits the broadest demographic)

There's an idea a lot of folks in the dating advice biz(including myself sometimes)encourage, especially when we're dealing with the male side of the equation and even more especially when dealing with shyer, less confident males.

When it comes to approaching women, asking for phone numbers, or even "physcial escalation" (a euphemism for everything from hand-holding to kissing, you know, THAT), we often encourage guys to err on the side of assertiveness. Better to be too aggressive, we tell than not aggressive enough.

A lot of guys are uncomfortable asking women out or making moves on them. One of the things we try and reinforce is that it is okay to be attracted to someone. It is not bad to strike up a conversation with a stranger and ask for her phone number. You are not a bad person for wanting sex.

We also try to educate them to the fact that women, for the most part, are not going to be mean to you or embarass you for talking to them. In fact, many women enjoy meeting attractive guys. To paraphrase Hitch, "No woman wakes up in the morning thinking, 'I sure hope I don't get swept off my feet by some awesome guy today."

However, some men--some of whom sadly enough are giving advice to other men--take it too far. According to them, "anything that is not a 'no' is a 'yes.'"

And that's simply not true.

The party line to support this argument goes something like this:

1 - Women like sex.
2 - Society punishes women for having sex.
3 - Therefore, any resistance a woman has to sex that isn't an outright 'no' is just societal programming.

In other words, she wants it, but she doesn't want to feel like a slut. By not forcing her to give us an explicit 'yes', we're leaving her the 'it just happened' defence.

And you know what? Sometimes that's exactly true. But using it as an across-the-board argument for steamrolling ahead in the absence of any explicit resistance... That makes me nervous.

I am friends with many women. I have heard a lot more stories about women having sex when they didn't really want to than times when they wanted sex and didn't get it.

Why would a woman have sex when she doesn't want to, you might ask? And if she didn't want to have sex, why wouldn't she resist or say something?

Believe it or not, there are reasons. Maybe she was worried about her physical safety. Maybe she was impaired. Maybe she DID say no and the guy didn't hear it or recognize the signal.

And then there's that whole social pressure thing. While it's true that society isn't always the most encouraging about women having sex. But there are also times when there is an equally strong social pressure on a woman to have sex even when she doesn't want to.

Most of all, I'm uncomfortable with anyone presuming to know what someone else "really" wants. When people do it to me, it pisses me right off. Not only that--even if you have good intentions, it's a dangerous attitude, whether the subject is sex, religion, money, power, or anything else.

I'm not against well-meaning guys approaching women and screwing it up. It sucks to be on the receiving end of these graceless attempts and I wish women didn't have to go through it, but I just don't know any other way for guys to learn but making mistakes.

Most of the women I know have dealt with worse problems than an awkward conversation at a bus stop. If it eases the sting, think of it as a compliment that the guy was interested or as a public service to other women--you're helping a guy learn so he's maybe a little more poised with the next woman he meets.

It's when guys don't take no for an answer--or don't recognize the signals of the 'unspoken no' that things turn scary. And when you bring sex into the equation and all of its potential physical and emotional consequences...not recognizing someone's comfort levels can have some pretty dire consequences.

The absence of no is not a yes. Moreover, deep down, I think we all know this. Telling lies to the contrary--to women, to less-experienced guys, and to ourselves--is a dangerous path to tread.