'Mixed Signals' Are Not An Excuse For Sexual Assault

by Sara Farrell Baker
Originally Published: 
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I do not know a single woman who has not had this experience.

Being with a man you trust, or are having fun with, maybe someone you’re newly dating or a partner you’ve been with for years, but having different ideas of where things are heading sexually in that moment. We’ve all pushed a hand away, asked him to slow down, or stiffened up when things started to go too far, too fast.

And at one point or another, we have been ignored.

We have had to repeat ourselves, retreat to the other side of the couch, and excuse ourselves to the restroom. Many of us have felt our bodies tense up before going limp. We’ve gone through with things we didn’t want to and engaged in acts we weren’t comfortable with for reasons ranging from fear of conflict or violence to seeing compliance as the quickest or safest way out.

And after they push and coerce and ignore, the burden is still on us. Whether we give an inch or they take everything they wanted, any wavering designates us as the responsible party because we have sent “mixed signals.”

And that is complete bullshit.

Mixed signals are not a thing.

If someone is throwing cues indicating they’re not completely into what’s happening and peppering it with half-hearted attempts to placate you because you won’t back the fuck off? That’s still a no. If it is too hard for you to figure out that “Not tonight. No, not right now. Let’s just cuddle. I’m not comfortable with this. That doesn’t feel good. I really don’t want to do that,” followed by a woman detaching her soul from her body while she just gets shit over with — if it is too hard for you to figure out that is not consent — then here’s a valuable life hack:

Don’t fuck her.

“Mixed signals” is code for “I don’t respect her enough to listen when she gives cues that she does not want to fuck me because I still want to fuck her.”

We have been conditioned to think that sexual encounters are either consensual or they are violent rape. In the middle is this expansive gray area of what sexual assault is. This is where your Frankens and Ansaris and countless others exist. And while a gray area usually implies that there isn’t a clear answer on where something falls, most encounters in this gray area aren’t considered assault by much of society because our particular society is founded upon some fucked up patriarchal bullshit. One of the most important things the #MeToo movement is doing is taking on that gray area.

The argument that sexual assault is not black and white is simply not true. Sexual assault is as black and white as it gets. It either is or it isn’t. No one is saying that there are not degrees of sexual assault or that serial rapists and gropers should be given identical criminal sentences. But degrees of sexual assault are still sexual assault and those who commit it should lose their positions of power and influence. There is nothing in the Constitution that says you get to keep your Netflix series after you sexually assault someone.

If frequent and enthusiastic consent is not being given, it’s not consensual. If that makes some men uncomfortable, that’s a “you” problem, guys. It is not the fault of women that you can’t deal with the possibility of missing out on a maybe, whether it be actual or perceived. Men and women should be able to check in with each other at any given moment during a sexual encounter and exchange a joyful high-five because sex that everyone is enjoying is awesome and deserves some high-fives, or pull back (without hesitation) because someone isn’t feeling comfortable in the moment.

If you are nervous about whether or not you’ll be able to tell if you have been given explicit consent, take a moment and ask if she’s comfortable. If you’re afraid that’s going to kill the moment and make your dick flop over all sad and shit, stop whatever you’re engaged in and take time to think on the fucked up sexual and power dynamics you need to work out.

Do not guide us to your dicks. We know where they are and we will access them if we’re interested in hanging out with them. We do not need a Google Map to find your boner. If we pull away, it’s not because we’re lost. It’s because we don’t want to grab your dick.

Do not try to ease a woman’s apprehension by telling her you’ll just sit with her and chill and then proceed to not sit with her and chill. Turning on Seinfeld to get her to relax before you start poking her with your dick again is an asshole move and no one wants to fuck to Seinfeld anyway, no matter how eagerly they’re consenting.

Do not tell yourself we are into it just because we haven’t stomped on your testicles and run screaming from your apartment. Recognize that you benefit in a million ways from a culture that works to keep women small and gentle and polite and afraid to hurt feelings. I know women who can’t send back soup in a restaurant. The absence of an explicit no is not consent.

The bar for stopping and preventing sexual assault is routinely raised for women and lowered for men. If a woman is paralyzed by fear and having her initial protests ignored, she should have said “no” clearly and forcefully. She should have fought him off physically. If she tried to fight him off, she should have been able to escape as well. If she tried to escape, she shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

We can’t swipe on Tinder without a survival plan in place, but all men have to worry about is not touching us when we don’t want to be touched.

If you feel like you’re receiving “mixed signals,” then stop whatever you’re doing immediately and back all the way off. The only signal you’ve received is to stop. There’s nothing confusing about it. So, just fucking stop.

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