Enthusiasm, Consent, Ethics, & Passivity

The other day luvtheheaven linked a good post about consent, and while its main point is one that’s good and important, I have some complicated thoughts about how it got there.

Content Note: This post is about ethics and preferences around intimate physical interaction and has talk of hypothetical physical situations (including sexual ones) involving non-responsiveness and complete passivity on one partner’s end.  I’m not sure it’s really a “tw: rape” situation, but you deserve a heads up in case that affects whether you want to skip this post.  You won’t be missing out on much, I promise.  As for the post I’ll be discussing, it includes a description of non-hypothetical actual sex, which you will only see if you decide to click the link to it.

Another Note:  I don’t like to talk about sex.  I love talking around it, the politics of sex, the ethics of sex, sexual culture, sexuality, sexual orientation, microanalyzing the differences between attraction and desire and pleasure — you know, the main shenanigans that occur on this blog — but I don’t like to talk (or listen to talk) about the stuff itself.  So, while I’m aware that making a public post on the internet and leaving the comments section open is equivalent to a public invitation to discussion, please bear that in mind.  What I’m saying is, if you leave a comment — and I do like getting comments! — please don’t tell me about your own sexual experiences.  I’m happier not knowing.

You can go read the whole post before resuming this one, but in case you’d rather not, the prime takeaway from The Pervocracy’s post Beyond not rape is this:

Having sex that isn’t rape is like cooking food that isn’t poison.  It’s the bare goddamn minimum.  If your list of sex tips consists of nothing but “don’t rape” and then goes straight into physical details, you’re missing something in the middle.

I agree with this.

And while the aside comment that asks “if these quotes aren’t sexy, what is sexy like on your planet?” was clearly not intended for people like me, the part that’s giving me mixed (complicated, conflicted) feelings is this one:

Few things worry me more than people (okay, men) who say it’s difficult to know if someone’s consenting or not.  This suggests to me not just that they could be violating someone’s consent, but that even if they aren’t, they’re having terrible sex.  If your idea of sex is limited to “one partner silently gets on and grinds away and the other tolerates it,” it can be consensual, but it’s probably not much fun.

I agree that people who think determining consensuality is difficult = people who aren’t to be trusted.  Sideline that for a minute.

Barring the possible implications about enthusiasm (for more discussion on that, I recommend reading this post and then this one), what concerns me about these remarks (or rather, what gives me confused inner feelings about my own self) is the idea that one-sided interaction is “probably not much fun”… because, if anything, that’s what most appeals to me.

When I say that, what I mean is, as a person who’s got unclear feelings about whether to ever try sex, I think the kind of sex that sounds the most repulsive and horrifying is the kind that involves lots of moving all at once from both people at the same time.

Hypothetical interjection, here: “Well, silly ace blogger,” a reader somewhere says, “that’s just because you’re sexually inexperienced.”

Yeah, maybe?

Except this preference of mine doesn’t just pertain to sex.

When it comes to nonsexual physical affection, I prefer for there to be one (1) person who is moving, at max — such as in the case of shoulder messages, arm stroking, that sort of thing.  I like it when there’s one person doing the moving and one person being still, doesn’t matter which.

This is something that I’ve been figuring out about myself rather slowly, without much direction from anyone or anywhere to crystallize an understanding, something that I’ve been gradually piecing together — the realization (or more overt acknowledgement to myself) that I’m rather partial to a group of activities/experiences that people don’t normally fixate on as pleasurable themselves: half-passive experiences such as when someone uses their hands to adjust the position of my head during a haircut, or (when I was a child) when adults would hold my hand and brush their fingers over the lines of my palm, pretending to read my future, or any time I’m manipulated or handled or positioned in a way that is considerate and gentle on the other person’s part but still, in that social context, allows me to be passive and just exist while the other person does stuff.

I enjoy those things.  And I like giving scalp rubs and playing with long hair and helping people with things that require them to hold still, and some of my fantasies about people I’m attracted to involve just sort of… examining their hands and touching their arms while “the other tolerates it”.

Maybe that means, as a person to interact with, I am “probably not much fun”.

Well, alright.

Admittedly it must sound significantly underwhelming to anyone who isn’t as easily overstimulated as I am, but lest I commit the Internet Sin of thinking I might be different, I’m afraid to frame this as if I think my preferences are anything apart from the norm.  Maybe these feelings aren’t all that uncommon; maybe more people are this way than they’re letting on.  How should I know?

I’ll grant as much, but in the context of reading that passage, I start to doubt that I really feel this way at all and begin wonder if maybe I’m wrong — maybe I do actually want the things I think I don’t want, maybe passivity is less ideal for me, maybe I will like what other people say is more fun, even if it sounds less appealing…?

Fine, but I still don’t like to hear things that I (currently) actively like be demoted to a pronouncement of “probably not much fun”, and until something changes, I’m going to continue preferring the kind of fun that’s actually fun for me.

Congratulations, Internet; even in succeeding to discipline me to doubt and curtail myself, you have still failed to dissuade me.

Anyway, I don’t anywhere disagree with the original post.  The connection drawn between passive stillness and begrudging ambivalence was more an inference of mine than a direct statement, and the interpretation is arguable.  I agree that it’s most important to view partner-isn’t-moving-or-responding as being a red flag, in most cases.  I don’t care about making other people acknowledge an exception for enjoyable passivity; I just want to acknowledge it to myself.  And between the two, we should be way more concerned about prioritizing The Pervocracy’s point — the point that you should find out what your partner actually likes — than mine, which is not incompatible with that one.

It’s just that I continue to be resistant to anything that smells of the idea that enthusiasm and dual activity are inherently, universally superior — and that they’re the ideal that everyone should strive for.

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5 responses to “Enthusiasm, Consent, Ethics, & Passivity

  • Calum P Cameron

    If it helps, the existence of individuals who prefer to remain still and passive during intimacy is sufficiently common that I seem to recall I once saw an Agony Aunt in a women’s magazine (I assume it was a fairly mainstream one, but I just found it on the floor of my sister’s room one time, so I can’t verify) reply to a woman’s concern about her husband’s lack of movement during sex with words to the effect of “I wouldn’t worry too much, that’s probably just what he likes.”

  • epochryphal

    Ooohh yes talking about mono-directional touch and overstimulation. You may find the words stone, paper, and paper mache to be useful (or, new words and ways of talking about this idea)!

    I think this is enough of a thing, a Difference, that words are super useful and we need more. Because yeah, there is this pervasive fictional idea that Awesome Sex involves simultaneous orgasms from constant n-way touch, where n is the number of participants. And that one-way is 1. selfish to want to receive, and 2. dysfunctional to want to give. (A lot of “if you don’t want to touch your partner, why are you together?” and “how can you not want to be touched?” Lots of overlap with ace issues.)

    Even giving oral sex, usually construed as pretty one-sided save for maybe a hand in the giver’s hair, is very often framed as something that begs (immediate) reciprocation. There’s a misogyny intersection here, and there’s a common line in movies of “that’s it?” when the (usually dude) recipient makes no move to reciprocate. As if there’s a scale of received touch, rather than actual pleasure, that has to be balanced at all times.

    Granted, the above is more about a long-term never-switching dynamic, but it definitely applies on the micro level, too. Multi-directional touch is seen as more passionate, as a sign of interest and correct functionality. One-way is cheating, and liking it is weird and probably kinky. Passivity as *pleasure* (rather than obliging another’s pleasure) is met with pejoratives like “pillow queen.”

    Basically yes this is totally a thing that bears more talking about.

    • acetheist

      Ugh yes thank you for articulating more of that for me. I wish I could write more about it, except — even with just cuddle-type things, I don’t have a main person to try stuff out with. And I don’t want to keep writing about hypotheticals without doing some more tests and trial runs, so to speak. So I guess what I should write more about first is how frustrating it is that casual cuddle partners are so hard to come by and how are there are approximately zero standard social scripts for that, oops.

  • again | The Ace Theist

    […] reminded me about the other time I wrote a scattered journal entry on the same kind of idea: the idea that good & right non-violating physical intimacy requires a […]

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