On March 12, 2018, The New York Times published an article How Does Submissive Sex Work in the Age of #metoo. On February 25, 2018 they published one on Navigating Sex in a Gray Zone to ask for submissions on consent in young adults. In December, 2017, The New Yorker published a short story Cat Person in which two people engage in that particular “gray zone” of bad sex. And of course there is Aziz Ansuri. I am sure the list can go one.
We have reached a moment in time when sexual confusion around behavior has reached an all time high. While the #MeToo movement has finally allowed women’s concerns around sexual misconduct to be given a platform, it has not offered a way to change the sexual relation patterning between people. While we are dismantling the systems of sexual discrimination brought on by patriarchal sex-negative cultural standards, we need to reconstruct this by taking a radically different approach: talking about sexuality and sexual behavior positively and proactively.
Sex-negativity and the shame surrounding our sexuality, have made it almost impossible for people to accept and take responsibility for our desires, boundaries and intentions with one another. We have created a confusing and complex dance around negotiation and consent by relying on guessing and non-verbal cues. Speaking about what one desires is seen as “ruining the mood” or just being “weird”. The #MeToo movement has swung the pendulum in the opposite direction where men are frightened of making a first move, or need to ask for verbal consent all along the way. Women are confused about their desires. “The last thing a woman wants to be worrying about while in the heat of the moment is whether her arousal is an expression of her own distinct eroticism or a symptom of patriarchal oppression. Yet, in the #MeToo landscape, many 30-and-under women and men are finding it harder to untease the two as we navigate dating and fledgling relationships” writes Haley Phelan in the NYT article. The more we can begin to accept our sexuality, move away from the stories of shame and need to pretend it doesn’t exist, the easier it will be to express ourselves in an empowered way. This is the next step in reconstructing our sexual culture into one of consent and equality. Talking about what one desires and needs are the building blocks of respect.
So how does one integrate some guidelines into our sexual dance and flirtations without making it prescriptive and predictable? By bringing pleasure and maturity into the conversation. “We don’t need different rules; we need two empowered individuals liberated and secure enough to explore each other’s impulses, to listen to each other, and ask for what they want-even if that includes permission to not ask for what comes next.” writes Michaela Boehm, a sex and intimacy therapist and psychologist.
Using a safer sex talk, one that is done at the onset or beginning of a budding relationship is a how we move from the gray zone into clarity. STARS, which stands for STI Status, Turn Ons, Avoids, Relationship Intentions, and Safer Sex Etiquette is a model that we can use to guide us in this conversation. It can be thought of as a conversation “condom” for safer sex.
STARS covers all the important aspects of creating consensual and healthy sexual relationships: sexual health, boundaries, expectations/intentions, and desires. While it may feel prescriptive at first, since it hasn’t been taught to be part of the dialog with a new partner, it can be done in a playful and sexy manner.
A safer sex talk, such as STARS, gives everyone the space to better understand our own sexuality. It changes the cultural paradigm of silence, guessing and shame, towards one of affirmation, acceptance and authenticity.
How does one create healthy sexual relationships in the #MeToo age? We start by talking about sex. Openly and honestly. Instead of a world of accusations and bad sex, imagine a world where people could express their desires and intentions as part of their courtship. A world where we honored and loved our sexuality enough to value an authentic conversation with another person. When we reach for the STARS not only do we heal our current cultural wounds, but we prioritize speaking and listening to our truths, respecting our sexual health and create a sex positive world.