The conversations around DJ Khaled’s comments are completely forgetting about consent.
Let’s be clear, we have a problem with consent. We have a problem understanding what consent is, accepting it is the fundamental building block of sex, and we have a problem with seeing consent as something which applies to everyone, even those we don’t like. This has been made starkly clear by the responses to DJ Khaled saying he wont go down on his sexual partners.
I am going to tell you something which may blow your mind;
No one has to do any sex act which they do not want to do.
Shocking I know, there is an entire article in Bustle dedicated to telling you how to shame, blame and blackmail partners into doing certain types of sex. I am going to quote quite heavily from it, but it is representative of every piece I have read about DJ Khaled, rather than being an outlier. In the Bustle article (and here I start to despair of my profession) actual sex therapists offer these pieces of advice;
Find out what is the emotional reason behind it. If it’s not emotional and its just because ‘I don’t want to,’ time to consider what that means for your relationship.
Sarah Watson, a professional sex therapist doesn’t think “I don’t want to” is enough. And there is more;
Perhaps you need to educate your partner for them to understand. If a partner is ‘not willing’ to go down on you and that is how you experience pleasure, then how much do they really care about your pleasure?”
That’s Rachel Hoffman, another trained and licensed professional putting being unwilling as a minor issue compared to your sexual pleasure. If that sounds okay to you, replace oral sex with anal. If a person was “not willing” to have anal sex with someone with a penis shall we advise them that they are being selfish? Imagine if everyone who didn’t want to bottom was told they didn’t really care about their partners? I don’t know about you but I would call that emotional blackmail. Which brings me to this quote;
“Over a date night you can say to your partner, ‘Is there anything you’re interested in trying sexually that we haven’t tried yet?'” Hoffman says. “They will probably ask you in return. You can say, ‘I know you are not particularly interested in oral sex but it really is how I experience the most pleasure.
It may be that someone only orgasms from oral sex, technically this is called a paraphilia. It is not okay to pressure a sexual partner into sex which they have already clearly said they do not want to do because you have a certain paraphilia. Again to use a comparison, if your fetish was latex, and it was the only way you orgasmed, it would be okay to suggest it, but when a partner said no, actually I don’t find that arouses me, emotionally blackmailing them into doing it is coercion. Offering to trade sexual favours, whilst ignoring their already voiced refusal, is coercion.
We have a problem with consent. We have a problem with recognising what consent it, and what ignoring consent looks like.
We have a huge problem when even sex therapists think giving suggestions which override a partners consent is okay.
Part of this is a problem with sex therapy. It is a very heteronormative profession which tends to reinforce kyrarchical views of what sex is – for example, seeing the orgasm as the end goal for all sexual encounters. In her ground breaking book, New directions in Sex Therapy Peggy Klienplatz argued that sex therapy opts to promote conformity to a toxic norm rather than pressing for social change.
Pressuring a sexual partner into sex acts is a toxic norm.
Ignoring a partners dislike of a sex act is a toxic norm.
Shaming a partner for not wanting to do a certain sex act is a toxic norm.
Emotionally blackmailing a partner into a sex act is a toxic norm.
Having a belief sex acts should be traded and reciprocated is a toxic norm.
(‘Traded’ here does not mean consensually selling sex acts, but expecting someone to do X because you did Y)
Only at the very end of the Bustle article does someone suggest that if a partner has a boundary, maybe you should respect it. That is how big our problem with consent is, actually hearing, and respecting someones boundaries is a post script to the sexual consent conversation.
I want to talk a bit about pleasure. Some people experience sexual pleasure, some do not. Some people go through phases where they do not experiences sexual pleasure, other people need to be in a pair bonded, or similarly deep emotional relationship to experience sexual pleasure.
All of these people are okay. All of them have the right to say “actually, I understand this brings you pleasure, but right now, I do not want to do the thing”. Variations in sexual pleasure are only an issue if they are an issue to the person experiencing them.
Erasing asexuality, demisexuality and grey sexuality is a toxic norm.
Every single piece of advice in the Bustle article and in the thousands of other words the internet has spewed out at DJ Khaled for not wanting to go down on someone has been said at some time to ace people.
“If you really loved me you would.”
“But it is how I get off.”
“Don’t you care about my pleasure.”
“You are being selfish.”
Ignoring that someone doesn’t have to put your pleasure above their boundaries is a toxic norm.
Lots of wild claims have been made about oral sex, largely around it being the only way cis women can come, and that every cis woman adores it. I can guarantee that if I got 50 people with vaginas in a room, there would be a whole range of responses to receiving oral sex. I know from talking frankly about sex with people that some cis women dislike it, often because cis men giving oral can act as if they just discovered a cure for cancer. Hardly surprising when the discourse is that all any cis woman wants in order to orgasm is oral sex. Others find it meh or something which is okay as part of the smorgasbord of sex, but not the be all and end all. There wont be many afab (assigned female at birth) people who have been active on dating sites who haven’t received the “I can breathe through my ears” email. Men have been told all afab people want is oral sex for so long that actual conversations about consent, and pleasure are being neglected.
Part of the pleasure conversation needs to address some of the myths, and the most important one is that it is hard for afab people to orgasm. In fact, whilst masturbating afab people reach orgasm more quickly than amab people. I believe that one of the toxic norms which the “you must go down on afab people or they wont come” narrative is reifying is the idea that our orgasms are complex, demand special treatment and a certain amount of self-sacrifice on the part of cis men.
The idea that vaginas, vulvas and clitoris’s are so difficult to navigate, and only respond to “hard work” on the part of cis men is part of a patriarchal othering of non cis male bodies. Insisting that cis women can only orgasm one way, and that is from oral sex is making their sexuality so complicated that failure to engage with it is excused. Cis men are allowed to explore, discover other things which make them come. If a cis man said I can only orgasm from X a sex therapist would support him, believing that he had a right to experience orgasms in other ways. The orgasms of afab people however are seen as so difficult that even being able to have one, is something you are supposed to celebrate, and think yourself lucky for, rather than asking for more options or variety.
I know nothing about DJ Khaled. I do not know if he even believed what he said, or if he was repeating misogynistic tropes about oral sex for attention. I do know that whilst it is important we challenge the toxic norm of vaginas being unpleasant, dirty or disgusting to interact with, we must not do so by erasing consent.
Demanding someone have sex in a way we believe is acceptable, and ignoring their no is a toxic norm which permeates our culture so deeply even sex therapists do not understand that no means no.
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