I’m wondering if you could help me puzzle out a hook-up experience I had recently. As a bit of context, I’m 21 years old, a senior in college and, until last weekend at least, I was a virgin. For the past year or so this hasn’t really been by choice. I was ready, but I wanted to find someone that I knew, trusted, and was comfortable before I did the deed, and I hadn’t run across that quite yet.
Fast forward to a few days ago. Late at night I got a text from an attractive guy who’s sort of an acquaintance of an acquaintance asking if I wanted to come over and hook up. This isn’t the kind of thing that happens to me very often (read: literally ever) and I told him okay, but clarified that I wasn’t interested in HNDing. Originally he said this was fine, but once I got over to his place things escalated pretty quickly and he started trying to go for it. I reminded him that I didn’t want to, and he backed off at first, but over the course of the hook up he tried a couple more times and once he got far enough that I would consider my V-card officially swiped. Since I left, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how I feel about the experience. For 90% of the time we were together I would say that this guy was attentive, understanding, and good about…erm…keeping things equal. But I keep going back to that other 10%. I didn’t go into the hook up intending to have sex, and at no point did I indicate that I had changed my mind about that, but it still happened. That means, pretty much by definition, that it wasn’t consensual even though the vast majority of what we did was, right? At the same time, though, I don’t feel as though I’ve been violated or assaulted. Mostly I just feel like I wasn’t listened to about this particular thing that maybe wouldn’t have been as big of a deal if I wasn’t a virgin.
Basically I’m just really confused. I know that what happened to me wasn’t right, but was it assault? Is there any gray area here? Am I just defending the actions of a scumbag?
I mean, it’s certainly conceivable that this guy is a world-class a-hole. You experienced his behavior as a flagrant disregard for your clearly-stated limits—and that’s totally understandable, because from your perspective, that’s exactly how it felt. But to be fair, what makes him a scumbag (or not) is really a question of his perspective: Did he know exactly where your boundaries were and make an intentional decision to ignore them?
I don’t know the answer to that question—and neither do you, it seems, since you haven’t asked him about it. This could be a case of malicious scumbaggery, but it could also be a misunderstanding. Even the most decent, generous, respectful people are capable of miscommunicating about sex, particularly if they don’t know each other very well—and even more particularly if they’re coming at the situation with vastly different sexual vocabularies, where a seemingly straightforward statement like “I don’t want to go all the way tonight” can mean something very different to a virgin than it does to an experienced person. Depending on your respective definitions of “sex” (and how aware he was of your relative lack of experience), it’s not impossible that this guy believed he was stopping short of intercourse, even as you felt that he’d gone “far enough” to have swiped your V-card.
And of course, “not impossible” is not the same thing as “a sure thing.” It’s just one of several potential explanations for what happened between you. And even if this was just a product of poor communication and crossed wires, that wouldn’t make your feelings about it any less real or valid. But it does mean that when it comes to sorting through your feelings, “Was this assault?” isn’t really the right question (unless you were thinking in terms of pressing charges, but that doesn’t seem to be your goal.) Because when you ask if there’s a gray area here, the answer is that of course there is. There is a vast, murky world of sex that falls well short of being criminal, but is still not what you wanted. People can be pushy, or selfish, or clueless, or manipulative in bed just as they are in life, and an encounter doesn’t have to be nonconsensual to be something you’d rather not repeat. This is exactly the kind of muddy communications mess that “affirmative consent” policies try to address—pro tip: if you are getting intimate with someone, anything short of enthusiastic consent should be your sign to slow your ride.
But since there’s no law against being a jerk about sex (at least, not yet), the best thing you can do in the aftermath of a situation like this one is to learn from it. What will you do if a future partner is pushing your boundaries in a way you don’t like? What, if anything, do you wish you’d done differently with this guy?
Your answers to those questions can be anything, of course, but you know now (thanks to this experience) the feeling of your boundaries being crossed—an experience that troubled you enough to seek out advice. So know that this is not all on you. (And if you haven’t told the guy that you’re unhappy with the way he kept knocking on heaven’s door, so to speak, I hope you’ll at least consider it. I know it’s a tough conversation to have, but it’s one I think you would benefit from, and if he actually is a scumbag, he deserves to be called out on it.)
Finally, if what you conclude is that you aren’t ready to deal with this kind of situation again in any way, any time soon, that’s okay. It just means that until you’re more comfortable being really assertive and specific about what you do and don’t want, or until sex isn’t such a high-stakes game for you, accepting midnight booty calls from casual acquaintances is probably not your best bet. And that’s fine! Save the varsity level hooking up for later. It’ll give you something to look forward to—and when you’re ready, it’ll be great.
If you have been the victim of a sexual assault, please give RAINN a call on 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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