When I was 14 or so, I went on a bus ride by myself.
It was a busy bus, and the journey was about 1.5 hours long.
At some stage, the man sitting next to me has started pushing against my body. Hardly noticeable at first, I could feel something against my thighs pressing harder and harder.
I felt horrible but wasn’t sure what I can do. Lacking a good strong confidence, tears were swelling behind my eyes while I felt disgusted by a stranger touching my body, and I was at a loss.
After a little while that felt like forever, I muttered a loud “excuse me” towards him.
The man suddenly stretched his back and set up straight, and then I realized it was all a big mistake: the poor guy was simply sleeping. He had no idea that his body was slumping and leaning against my legs… And now that I understood that, I felt a tremendous amount of relief.
No clear-cut boundaries.
If you’re following the media, you might have seen many reports of sexual misconduct (the #MeToo campaign and the Henry Weinstein accusations are the biggest stories) lately. And you might have noticed that some people are calling this a witch-hunt (see Liam Neeson’s statement or the letter signed by French actress Catherine Deneuve).
Some people argue that this current attitude of naming and blaming is not doing any good.
Others are welcoming it and claiming it is well overdue.
Margaret Atwood was recently accused of being a Bad Feminist simply because she pointed to the fact that our society started punishing men before the allegations against them have been proved.
I think we’re in a bit of a mess right now.
Everyone has an opinion.
Truth is, we live in a world that sends us mixed messages about sexuality and romance. And boundaries are not well-defined or understood.
When the actions are on the far end of the scale, everyone will agree that they are wrong and horrible. But many actions are not on the far end of the scale. The interpretation of the action and the dynamics between both the people involved can be the difference between a sexual misconduct allegation and a story you laugh about with your friends.
I was sharing my #MeToo story not long ago, of an incident where someone grabbed my breasts. For me personally, that incident did leave a scar. Only decades later I connected the dots and understood why when men wanted to hug me, I was reluctant. I was under the subconscious impression they just want to feel my breasts. One Facebook friend shared that she was groped once, too, but she simply slapped the guy and didn’t think much of it afterward. My Facebook friend had no issues whatsoever after what happened to her.
One woman might see a man touching her knee while making a move on her as a positive sign he’s attracted to her, whereas another woman might think it’s creepy and feel violated.
One woman thinks that a man that keeps on pursuing her after she refuses as being consistent and sweet, another woman thinks it’s dangerous and disgusting.
The actions at the far end of the scale are undoubtedly unacceptable. No one questions that.
The actions on the less-obvious side of the scale are the ones that are sparking the debate.
And I don’t think we can ever find a boundary for everyone to agree upon.
We can, however, focus on creating a healthy approach to sex in our society.
What it looks like to grow up in a sex-positive world.
We need to learn how to accept our primitive sexual urges and incorporate them into what we have developed into: thinking, aware, human-beings.
In some religions that influenced our culture, the animalistic impulses that we experience are condemned and being seen as sinful, and this attitude is quite harmful.
Accepting our primitive brain does not mean we need to let it govern our actions. But suppressing its tendencies is also not doing anyone any good.
What we do need is to lovingly allow it to run its course while making sure no one (including ourselves) is being hurt by it. The fact that we feel aroused by thoughts of sexual misconducts is not a problem. The fact that we feel shame or guilt for being aroused by these thoughts is harmful. Acting upon these thoughts without considering how they might affect someone else is harmful. But allowing the arousal to just run its course, or finding a way to engage in a sex-play with clear boundaries where everyone is going to enjoy themselves, is very healthy indeed.
Imagine a perfect, sex-positive world. Young children grow up learning about sex and intimacy naturally and openly. They relish opportunities to touch their own bodies. And they see their sexuality, in all of its expressions and forms, as a healthy part of their lives.
As they mature, they playfully invite someone to join their exploration of their own body and sexuality. They do not associate it with manipulative power games, and they have the confidence to say “no” and the absolute joy to say “yes”.
Most probably, the far-end incidents of the scale will still happen. Sociopaths and psychopaths don’t care about hurting others and inflicting harm.
But I would like to think that the gray-scale incidents will be diminished to nil. I want to believe that men and women that grow up in a society that allows a free, loving, accepting expression of their sexuality will know how to navigate each other’s boundaries. They will make sure that their words and their actions don’t violate another person’s sense of safety. And they will have the confidence to clearly explain to someone else if their boundaries have been crossed.
Everyone has an opinion. Me too.
Obviously, my opinion doesn’t matter all that much. Unless you agree with me. At least to some extent.
By talking openly and maturely about sex, you are creating a shift in our society.
You are joining this revolution of creating a sex-positive society.
You have a choice. Either keep the status quo and stir clear out of talking about sex.
Or make the effort, step up, and put the cards on the table.
Talk about sex people, please. Talk about sex.