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November 29, 2001
I thought maybe an outsider could give me some insight into my heartache. I dated this guy--call him Ron--for seven months. We were deeply in love, but broke up. Almost a year later we tried to be friends. We hung out a couple of times but he kissed me, and there was a lot of confusion. One night two weekends ago, Ron asked me to go out with him and two friends. We had a great time. Soon it was four in the morning. He said he'd stay on the couch if I wanted to sleep over. Anyway, after we kissed for a while and moved into the bedroom and confessed love for each other, we started to take off our clothes. He removed his pants and started rubbing against me.
I didn't feel comfortable going this far right away so I pushed on his shoulders and said, "No, I'm not ready." But he didn't stop. I kept saying, "No, no, no." He didn't have sex with me, but he came all over my stomach. After he came, he apologized, whispering, "I'm sorry." I wound up sleeping over, left in the morning, and now it doesn't look like he wants to get back together with me anyway.
We argued the last few times we've spoken but I've never brought up what happened that night and it's bothering me. I'm 23 and confused. I don't want to make a big deal out of this but I feel violated. What am I to think?
New York City Girl
P.S. I'm sorry this letter is long, but I wanted you to have all the details.
You feel violated because you were violated.
I wanted to say that right at the top of my response. And before I write the words that are going to fill my in-box with furious e-mails, I also wanna say this: Go and find yourself a shrink. Advice columnists can address big, scary issues but we're not in a position to help anyone work through them.
Okay, here's the bit that's gonna get me in trouble: I don't think you were raped. Violated? Yes. Raped? No.
Here's why: You apologized for the length of your letter, but you wanted me to have all the details. I'm running your entire letter, so no detail you felt was important enough to include has been omitted. And nowhere in your letter do you say that Ron--a man you made out with, confessed your love for, and began to get naked with-- intimidated you physically. He didn't threaten you verbally, hold you down, or hit you.
I know, I know: He also didn't stop. Ron kept on rubbing against you after you pushed once and said no repeatedly. "No" means no, of course, but in a fluid sexual situation a reasonable person can become confused about what exactly a "no" refers to. If Ron thought you were saying no to penetration, and not to rubbing, he may have believed he was honoring your "no" by not making any attempts to penetrate you. You kept saying no, he kept not penetrating you, and you made no further efforts to push him away. Then he came and apologized for making a mess.
I also found this sentence in your letter to be very revealing: "I wound up sleeping over, left in the morning, and now it doesn't look like he wants to get back together with me anyway." I get the impression that you wouldn't feel quite so violated if you and Ron had gotten back together. So what I hear you saying is this: "I might be okay with what happened that night if we'd gotten back together, but since we didn't, I feel violated." If part of what's making you feel bad is knowing what you know now about Ron's intentions, well, that's a good indication that this incident falls into a murky gray area. Rape is pretty black-and-white--and rape is rape as it's happening, not once you look back with 20/20 hindsight.
So while the scene you describe is distressing, again, I don't think it was rape. Ideally, in any sexual encounter the sound of the word "no" should send us scurrying off to opposite corners of the bed. Once we're separated, we should communicate like crazy until the "no" is thoroughly processed. In your case, it's too late for that kind of in-the-moment processing, but it's not too late to tell Ron you felt violated and, hell, tell him he's a total shit. And if, G-d forbid, you should ever find yourself in a remotely similar situation, I would urge you to act in such a way that there can be no misunderstanding. If "no" doesn't get through to a Ron, then a swift kick in the balls is called for.
Finally, NYCG, there are a lot of people out there reading this who doubtless disagree with me. I'm all for getting a second opinion, so over the next couple of weeks I'll print other people's letters and advice for you. Stay tuned.
We all agree that an unwanted sexual advance directed at a woman by a man is rape. But what about undesirable gay men who make unwanted sexual advances at sex clubs? I'm a very good-looking gay boi. What makes them think they get to cop a feel? Isn't this male-on-male rape?
Can't Touch This
If I don't think what happened to NYCG is rape, CTT, I certainly don't think anything you've suffered counts. Groping is a commonly accepted way to make new friends in sex clubs. If the grope is unwelcome, the gropee gently pushes the groper's hands away. Don't like it? Stay the hell out of sex clubs.
I am writing in response to your comments to Chilled in Chicago. CIC's husband exhibits classic sex-addict behavior. The fact that he's been jerking off at the computer is one aspect of sexual addiction. And his lessening interest in lovemaking is more likely than not due to the exhaustion created by routine masturbation. All too often sex columnists like yourself put the blame on the non-addicted partner in these situations. Rather than put the blame on his spouse, you should encourage her to seek the help of a therapist who has experience dealing with sex addiction.
Christ almighty, I hate friggin' 12-steppers who cry sex addict every time a guy gets caught jerking off in front of his computer. Sex addicts may spend a lot of time jerking off in front of their computers, but it doesn't follow that all men who jerk off in front of their computers are sex addicts.
And in the case of CIC's husband, his "lessening interest in lovemaking" might have something to do with the fact that CIC refuses to have sex with him. CIC is withholding sex because she isn't satisfied with her husband's communication skills. That's her right. But under the circumstances, only an asshole could fault her husband for seeking a little release in front of the computer. He's not a sex addict. He's a horny, faithful husband making do until he and the wife can patch things up. Your efforts to pathologize his normal, healthy, and, yes, routine masturbation betray a hysterical fear of male sexuality. Most men are routine masturbators, NW, and the rest are liars. If routine masturbation left men too exhausted to ever have sex, no one but lesbians would ever get laid.