Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.
On Sunday, I wrote about how honesty is hard in a sexual/dating context. My previous post was an attempt to address what I see as a problem, where people hide their true intent in social interactions due to politeness, social expectation, fear of punishment, or maliciousness. Today, I’d like to highlight one of the misconceptions of that post, namely, that I advocate cold-propositioning in inappropriate situations. The previous post was meant to address what happens in social interactions, which is why the focus was on dishonest behavior.
A few people have suggested to me that the arguments that I make could be used to justify things like catcalling, interrupting, and other rude/unacceptable behaviors, all in the name of “I’m just honestly communicating.” I do not feel that I made any arguments advocating in favor of such things, but if anyone disagrees, I invite reasonable, calm discussion on the topic.
The difference between what I’m advocating and something like catcalling is that catcalling is rude for reasons other than the sexual content. Yelling “nice tits” at a woman on the street is rude because (a) it interrupts whatever she is doing, and she’s given no indication that she is interested in socializing, or that she is interested in your opinion; (b) it’s not designed to start a conversation; (c) it’s clearly meant to intimidate, not actually to compliment.* This behavior is rude because it involved showing nudity to a non-consenting person, and because it violated the conference’s policy on propositioning (but not for any of the other reasons set forth in the post).
Propositioning someone for sex is rude in any case where propositioning someone for any other activity is rude. If it’s rude to ask someone if ze’d like to go ice-skating, it’s rude to ask for sex. Conversely, if it is NOT rude to ask someone to go ice-skating, then I don’t believe it’s rude to ask hir to have sex (unless of course, that person has made clear that ze wishes not to be propositioned in that manner).
What is also rude is saying “wow, that’s really interesting” when you mean “you’re really hot.” It’s rude to say “I would love to, but I have plans” when you mean “I don’t want to.” It’s rude to pretend to care about someone’s problems when you really just want to get in hir pants. In short, it’s rude to communicate things that you don’t mean and/or take active steps to hide the way you really feel/think. They key, of course, is ACTIVE steps. There’s nothing rude about seeing an attractive person and NOT telling hir that you think ze’s hot (and, depending on context, it can be very rude to just go up to someone and announce that). It’s only rude if you’re actively concealing that fact.
When a woman says things like “I would love to, but I have a conflict” or “I wish I could,” (especially to a sexual invitation) these are generally understood by all parties as clear refusals. Some people have taken this to mean that there is no miscommunication involved in such a refusal. But the fact that it’s a refusal is as far as the clarity goes. All refusals are not created equal. Saying “no, I’m not attracted to you” sends a much clearer message than “I would, but I’m very tired.” The former sends the message that sex is not an option for the foreseeable future, the latter send the message the woman in question would like to have sex under other circumstances. Both are refusals, but both contain different information in addition to the refusal.
Couching a refusal in terms of being unable to do something as opposed to being unwilling is generally seen as polite. I do not see it this way. I see it as a lie, and a very unfriendly thing to do to someone. As I said in my last post, hurting someone’s feelings by telling them the truth is a brave and awesome thing to do.
There is, of course, a grey area in between catcalling on the street and admitting your intentions once conversation has been started. It’s hard to say exactly when it’s ok to approach a person, and when reasonable boundaries are being crossed. What I propose is that sexual desires are given the same treatment as any other desire to participate in an activity with someone. I’m serious about the ice skating thing. Interrupting someone reading a book to ask if ze’d like to go rock-climbing (or bike riding, or going for a walk in the park, or playing video games, etc.) with you is rude; just as doing the same thing with an invitation to sexual activity is rude. Asking someone you just met to go rock-climbing is not rude if you’re already engaged in mutual socializing. However, asking someone if ze’d like to have sex in such a situation is often considered rude, which I don’t agree with. It’s also considered rude to see a person as merely a means to partnered rock-climbing, and not as a human with independent desires of hir own, just as the same thing is rude with sex.
I’m not advocating unbridled communication of sexual desires. I’m just saying that if you’re going to communicate, communicate honestly and bluntly. If someone is going to be creeped out by your desire, hiding your desire is not the answer. Ze should be creeped out by your desire if you have creepy desires. Masking them in subtlety and politeness might make you appear less creepy, but really you’re just hiding them.
In conclusion, I’d like to highlight this comment from Ginny:
part of approaching people respectfully is making yourself the vulnerable one. I highly advocate beginning a sexual advance with, “I’m very attracted to you,” rather than putting the other person on the spot by asking if they’re interested. Stating your own attraction puts yourself in the vulnerable position, and doesn’t instantly demand something of the other person.
Good advice! I heartily agree.
*this is a non-exhaustive list. There are probably a lot more reasons why such behavior is rude and/or unacceptable.