Most of us think we know what rape is. Whenever someone forces themself onto another person without consent, it’s sexual assault. It’s very black and white… except when it isn’t.
It took me ten years and ultimately a very honest and kind friend to tell me that when I was “taken advantage of” in high school that one time, I had actually been raped. I mean, had I said “no”? Yes. Had I been crying? Yes. Had I asked him to stop? I had. But in my mind, because he had not beaten me up and wasn’t holding me down, it wasn’t really rape – it was just a teenage guy “taking advantage of the situation.” For years I used that term. For years I made excuses for his behavior.
We live in an increasingly violent world, where most adolescent boys are brought up on a steady stream of pornography. The images they see are far from those in their father’s Playboy. They are inundated with women being dominated, overpowered, and placed increasingly in states of pain. Their natural, instinctual reaction to protect their partners from harm, or to stop when their partners are expressing discomfort, has now been replaced with the exact opposite. Inflicting pain becomes a turn-on. These boys confuse faces twisting in agony with pleasure based on the pornography they’ve fed their minds for years. Sexual intimacy is rapidly being replaced with violence in our modern-day society.
And it’s not just the guys who are learning this. Young women are constantly being told that their power lies in their sexuality; every magazine stand and billboard screams it. You want to exude confidence and strength? Become the ultimate sex kitten. Act like the girl in the porn or like Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Grey.
I didn’t get up and run away that day because the very thing that was supposed to make me confident and strong was now breaking me – making me feel scared and weak. I froze. Between the two of us, we’d created the perfect storm: a girl so insecure that she couldn’t forcefully demand that the boy stop violating her, and a boy who thought “no” meant “yes,” and that “stop” meant “go.”
As I watch Live Action’s latest undercover investigation into Planned Parenthood, SexEd, I want to jump through the screen and shake the nurse who thinks it’s okay to talk to a 15-year-old girl about “safe words” and BDSM – who’s telling this girl that words like “no” and “stop” can get “mixed up when you’re having intercourse,” or that “usually a lot of people will say ‘stop’ even though it feels good.” She has no idea of the long-term damage she’s doing – or, honestly, maybe she does have an idea, and it’s simply good for business.
When we tell teens to engage in this type of destructive behavior, we are telling them they are not worthy of love. We are saying they do not deserve to be cherished, that they deserve only to be hurt. We are telling them abuse is affection. And furthermore, when we instruct them that “stop” is not a good safe word because “usually people say ‘stop’ even though it feels good,” we are reinforcing the lie, to a generation of confused young men, that yeah, she really did want it. And we are telling the girls hurt by these young men that they were probably asking for it.
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is the Founder and President of New Wave Feminists. This article first appeared at the New Wave Feminists blog and is reprinted with permission.