You ever have sex in a haunted house? You sneak in together and you’re both laughing and you got it all planned out because you both worked there last year and know the layout of the building, and then a werewolf jumps out at you and it’s like “Agh,” but then you find that one spare room and it’s like, “Ahh.” Yeah, it’s different, it’s outside the box, but there’s nothing wrong with it.
You ever go to your roommate’s fringe festival show and end up hooking up with one of the supporting cast members, but they’re a method actor in the middle of a series of performances, so they never break character? It’s cool, but their character is this alternate universe steam punk Mercutio and their blunderbuss keeps getting in the way, and you both laugh about it, and yeah, it’s memorable, it’s beyond the norm, but there’s nothing wrong with it.
You ever have sex inside an enormous bowl of fettuccine alfredo that is suspended by chains between two sequoia trees because you’re dating this super avant-garde performance artist and wanted to draw attention to their new vanity publishing press, but only got a hundred Twitter followers? Yeah, it’s squishy, and definitely an experience that is not easily replicated, but there’s nothing wrong with it.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these scenarios, because in all of them, both partners are 100%, flamboyantly, beyond any shadow of a doubt down with what is happening. The communication of that, verbal and nonverbal, is clear and constant. This is consent. Wrong would be the absence of that, in any context, for any reason.
It would be silence. It would be, “I don’t know if this is what I want right now.” Because maybe that’s not a no, but it is definitely not a yes. It would be just about everyone agreeing that rape is bad, but only when it’s called rape. How the amount of men who will admit to getting someone drunk, or otherwise manipulating, coercing, or forcing them into a sexual act is so much larger than the amount of men who will admit to raping someone.
How wrong is it to continue to talk about sexual assault like it’s always that stranger lurking in the bushes, or always that cartoon caricature of a predatory frat boy, and never the boyfriend or the girlfriend or the best friend or the ally or that really sweet guy from class?
This is for that really sweet guy from class who might be asking, “What about the gray areas? What if we’re just both really drunk? What if she sends mixed messages? What if I’m trying to do the right thing, but I read those signals wrong?”
Have you ever had sex while skydiving, where you talk about consent the same way you talk about wearing a parachute? No gray areas, no assumptions like “I’m pretty sure I’m wearing a parachute.” No questions like “I asked her to check my parachute, and she didn’t say anything, but it was okay last time, so I’m sure it’s good this time, too.”
Have you ever had sex in a burning building, when smoke and cinder wrapped itself around your neck, but coming was more important to you than going? Have you ever had sex on a life raft in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by sharks? I’m not saying that the water can’t be cloudy, I’m just saying we are under no obligation to swim through it.
Have you ever not had sex, just watched a movie, maybe made out, maybe made plans to get up again later? Then maybe days or weeks later, when you’re both there and both ready and both smiling and both completely alive in your own bodies and both listening to each other, fully, and maybe it isn’t love, maybe it’s just sex.
That is perfectly okay, but love is so much bigger than “Let’s spend our lives together.” It is also, “Let’s spend this moment together as two or more people,” presence electric, the opposite of gray. The embodiment of human, hands, eyes, lips, everything.