Feminism: Communication vs Transgression

[Content Note: Rape Culture]
[Repost Note: This is a repost of an article that previously appeared on Shakesville.]

Emily Esfahani Smith at The Atlantic: Is Sex Still Sexy?

There are fully one-billion things wrong with this article which seeks to chastise Maine college students for writing and acting out a series of skits in order to talk to fellow students openly about sex in a sex-positive manner that will reinforce Yes Means Yes narratives and reduce slut-shaming and rape culture mentalities on campus (from their website: "A performance-based presentation about consent, boundaries and healthy relationships").

Smith leads by criticizing the skits for being too open and too heavy on communication -- which we all know is Not Sexy! -- by saying:
But the exhibitionism of Speak About It kills this mystery and longing—it leaves little to the imagination. As the writer and critic Cristina Nehring, author of A Vindication of Love, tells me in an interview, "Where there is no distance and no sense of transgression at all, where anything goes and everything shows, there is no erotic chemistry.
And ends with:
If we want sex to be sexy again, perhaps we should speak less about it.
Did everyone get that? Where there is no sense of transgression (and since Smith and Nehring are both professional writers, I assume they understand that the commonly used definition of "transgression" is "a violation of limits") there is no erotic chemistry, and therefore we should stop communicating so much about sex, even if the goal is to educate people on sexual assault and healthy consent.

I really hope that Smith is not outright suggesting that sex isn't sexy if there's not always the lingering change that it is actually rape instead. And yet that is what she is effectively advocating, even if she doesn't realize it. She is recycling old "communication kills the mood" narratives, and those narratives are an integral part of rape culture since they are regularly used to silence people in order to preventing them from asserting boundaries until whooops those boundaries have already been crossed. And these harmful narratives are deliberately employed by rapists in order to render their victims vulnerable to transgressions against their will.

What frustrates me most about this intellectually lazy article is that there is no way that Smith immersed herself this deeply into the Speak About It performance materials to write her article that she could somehow miss why and how communication is integral to preventing sexual assault. Speak About It very clearly explains how communication empowers the vulnerable to assert their boundaries and provides crucial visual representations of what healthy sex can look like in contrast to the misinformation disseminated through popular culture. I can only assume that Smith did grasp the fundamentals but felt like they were less important than criticizing these proactive students for Doing Sex Wrong on the grounds that their sexuality doesn't align with her personal narratives of what is erotic and what isn't. 

I invite everyone in the comments to pick out there favorite utterly-terrible quotes from this garbage article, but mine will always be the part where Smith criticizes a man for asking his partner if she wants a Gatorade after sex. Smith thinks this is a perfect example of non-erotic sex; my personal response is that hell, yes, I want a drink after sex. There's ice in the freezer, and cups above the sink. And thanks.

Hat Tip to Jackie.


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