Get Real! Is Intercourse A Violation?


stullis asks:

I’ve
been with my girlfriend for nearly six months now. I’ve always had a
bit of a problem having sex with people (keeping it up) but this
problem has never occurred between me and her. However, lately I’ve
begun to feel very guilty about the physical action of having sex. The
act of penetration is a great experience physically, but when I think
about what I’m doing I feel like I’m stabbing her, or performing some
kind of violent act on her. We haven’t had sex yet since I started
REALLY feeling like this (which was a little more than three weeks ago)
but if we are making out and begin to have dry sex I often start to cry
from the idea of what I am doing to her. She’s very compassionate and
understanding, and I have told her all of this, but I want it to stop.
I need to know how to make myself stop feeling like I am abusing her
when we have sex because considering the times we’ve had sex before I
had this mindset, it’s been an incredible experience of expressing our
love to each other, and I’d really like to have that back.

Heather replies:

I think it might help if you made some adjustments to the way you think about intercourse and sex as a whole.

You use the word penetration, and talk about what you’re doing as
stabbing or a kind of invasion. I also hear you saying that sex is
something you are doing to your partner or on your partner rather than with your partner, or as something you are doing together. You frame sex — as many people do, unfortunately — as something you have, rather than as something people actively and jointly do or create.

Physically, metaphysically, and often emotionally and intellectually
(sometimes even spiritually), sex is about people and their bodies
interlocking in any number of ways, and about BOTH sets of genitals (or
other parts), both bodies, both people being actively engaged, doing
something together, not about one person doing something to, on or at the other.

I know that can be quite the mental headstand when there are so many
ideas and presentations of intercourse as men forcing themselves into
women, as vaginas or vulvas as somehow passive and only penises as
active, and with heterosexual sex, as what men do to women, how men
dominate women, but those ideas come more from political agendas and
sexism — and reactions to inequality and those agendas — than they do
from what is really happening with intercourse or other sex when any
two (or more) people are sharing an experience that is mutually wanted,
about mutual pleasure and real connectivity.

Let’s take a look at a bit from Let’s Get Metaphysical: The Etiquette of Entry:

There are debates within different feminist perspectives
about how we construct the ideas of entry and intercourse, and whether
these actions can ever truly be based in equality. Some feminists argue
that patriarchy has institutionalized both intercourse and sex as a
whole, making it not about merging or sharing of pleasure, but about
dominating someone and expressing power over someone, particularly when
you look at intercourse between individuals that could possibly result
in pregnancy.

Plenty of men have been reared with these kinds of ideas about sex
so intensely and unilaterally that they either don’t know that it’s not
about conquering or forcing their way into someone or something, or, if
they do realize that this is not an accurate portrayal of sex, it can
still take some time for them to relearn sexuality outside of that
limited and dangerous construction. Women, too, have received these
messages, and some will still hold closely to the idea that they should
play a certain role in relationships or sexuality, or that they are
obligated to "do one’s duty" as a romantic or sexual partner.

But is mindfully entering into a woman’s body, or anyone’s body, who
WANTS you there, with respect, a violation? If so, how? There seem to
be some profound flaws in some theories which critique these kinds of
sex and suggest it is violating, flaws which include heterosexism (as
men can be entered, too), dismissal of the fact that a woman’s body is
not passive (again, our mouths or vulvas and vaginas or anuses don’t
"just lay there" when we are excited and wanting a given kind of sex),
and, at times, assumptions that relationships between genders can never
come from true respect and equality.

If a given person thinks about entering someone else’s body who
wants them there, who takes them in gladly and with a strong desire to
do so, as a violence or a violation, in some sense, they may be
dismissing that person as a whole person; an equal person with equal
agency, equal want, equal desire, equal sexuality. It may be thinking
about your body as having a power or force which her body does not, or
which her body has less of.

In other words, if your girlfriend very much wants you inside her
body, if she welcomes and takes you into her body, and makes clear
that, for her, this is not about being violated, but about her desire,
about pulling and holding you inside of her (the vagina is a strong,
active muscle, after all, and it can pull in as well as resist), having
you be part of her? To stay stuck in the idea that it MUST be a
violation in some way denies her full personhood, full embodiment, and
kind of insists she must be an object in some sense. In other words, it
can be kind of sexist.

In case that’s too esoteric, let’s try a different example of a
similar dynamic. I apologize in advance for yet another cooking analogy
from me on the site: I cook a lot, and sex and food have a lot in
common.

I want to make a dinner for a friend as a surprise, I buy all the
groceries myself, do all the cooking. They come over and insist that to
share that meal with me would be robbing me of my food or my labor, or
being self-centered since they didn’t help pay for or make any of it.
They’d be denying my own motivation and intention to give them a gift,
to take part in something with me, and to share something I wanted to
share. They’d also be denying the pleasure I got — and sought out, of
my own free will — from planning that surprise, buying and choosing my
ingredients, cooking and serving the meal and enjoying the pleasure I
expected them to have in a lovely, surprise meal. See what I mean?

To change your mind on this, I think it could help to change your language, even if it feels weird at first.

I would suggest — even just in your head, which should be easy
since you probably don’t say "I want to penetrate you," when initiating
sex — switching out "penetration" for something like "interlocking" or
"intercoursing." You might even flip the script entirely for a while
and make it about ONLY what her body does and think of it as something
like engulfing or surrounding. I’d suggest exchanging the idea of
"doing to" or "doing on," with "doing with." I’d say words like
"stabbing" just need to go in the rubbish bin, full-stop.

It might also be of value to you to give some thought to your ideas
around masculinity and femininity, both overall, and when it comes to
sex: you may find some culprits in your ideas around, or personal
definitions of, those concepts at play with this. You seem to express
discomfort with the physicality of sex on your part: that, for example,
might be something about how you think about men and women, and it
might help to remember that women have and enjoy physicality, too.

On violence: I’ve personally experienced a lot of violence in and
around my life, including sexual abuses, and I have found the literal
definitions of violence to be helpful to me, so I want to share those
with you:

1 a : exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse (as in
effecting illegal entry into a house) b : an instance of violent
treatment or procedure
2 : injury by or as if by distortion, infringement, or profanation : OUTRAGE
3 a : intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive
action or force b : vehement feeling or expression : FERVOR; also : an
instance of such action or feeling c : a clashing or jarring quality :
DISCORDANCE
4 : undue alteration

None of those definitions sound like any kind of wanted, consensual
sex to me. Even for people who negotiate and wantedly, mutually choose
to enact sex that is very aggressive, very rough, or which explores the
line between pain and pleasure, I still am not seeing a match here. The
definition that includes fervor can perhaps be an element of sex
sometimes, but if you really look at that definition, you’ll see that
none of it is about a mutuality. Mutual fervor, intensity or force in
the interest of shared pleasure or connection is not in dischord, is
not an abuse, is not an injury or violation.

If it helps, I can absolutely assure you that on the receptive end
of things, when a person physically, emotionally and intellectually
wants some part of their body entered, someone else’s body in their own
in some way, when they are turned on, when they are attracted to and
like or love who they are with (and sometimes even when they’re not!),
so long as they don’t have any kind of condition that makes entry
painful, and no one gets injured in any way, it does not feel
like being stabbed, cut open, punched or any of those traumatic things.
It also does not feel like being abused or sexually assaulted (though
if you have a partner who has rape or abuse history, PTSD or body
memories can sometimes influence that experience). I promise. Nothing
about being stabbed or assaulted feels good: wanted physical entry and
wanted sexual interlocking usually feels very good.

I think it might be smart for the two of you to do some more talking
about what your girlfriend’s experience of sex with entry is like.
Listen to what she says and give her feelings and words value and
merit. She’s the expert on what something feels like for her, after
all, not me or you.

By all means, if she says any kind of sex has felt painful or
violating, then talk about that to find out what has created those
feelings for her, and change up what you are doing, whether that means
being more gentle or slow with intercourse, engaging in more activities
first or with intercourse that aren’t about entry, having your
girlfriend be a more active or communicative partner during
intercourse, ditching intercourse altogether if it’s not something you
two like or feel good about and/or addressing some problematic dynamics
in your relationship as a whole which might be cause for feeling this
way. You may want to make any or all of those changes just for yourself
to alter your own experience: for instance, you don’t have to go very
fast or be forceful if that doesn’t feel emotionally or physically good
for you, even if it does for her.

It might also be helpful, as well as enjoyable, for you to
experience what entry is like on your end (no pun intended), so that
you have a better idea of what entry really feels like. You can have
your own experience in that way with a partner or by yourself with
receptive anal sex or stimulation on your part. Your mouth is also
something that can be receptive, so even having oral sex with a female
partner — particularly where you’re really having your mouth filled,
such as when that partner is positioned sitting on your mouth, rather
than lying in front of you — can fit that bill. What it’s like to
experience entry doesn’t have to be a mystery to you if you don’t want
it to be.

All of that said, how you feel about this matters and is valid, so
I’d consider if intercourse is truly something YOU want to be doing
right now, or is right for you in this relationship at this time; with
whatever given dynamics you have in the relationship, and in terms of
how you feel about yourself and your sexuality now. No one has to do
any given sexual activity: none are required. It may be that you need a
break for a while, which is absolutely okay, and I’d say sounds a lot
better than feeling like this when you try to have intercourse. It
might help to scale things back, perhaps even just thinking about how
entry is in some way going on with things like deep kissing, oral sex,
or even when one person’s hand closes over the other’s when we hold
hands.

I’m curious about this sudden change in how you feel about this, and
what may have spurred it on. You’re not the first guy who has asked me
about feeling this way, and sometimes when it’s been posted on our
boards, or been in a context where I could have an in-depth discussion
about it, I’ve had a couple common situations that I’ve noticed can
bring up these concerns or feelings.

One is seeing or hearing some sort of representation of sex that did
very much present it as a violence or violation — and sometimes really
applauding or fetishizing that violation — or did really objectify the
receptive partner. Hearing a lot about rape, if you don’t understand it
as being a very different thing than consensual sex, can also have this
kind of impact, as can seeing or hearing a demonstration of the idea
that male sexuality is some sort of terrible, uncontrollable beast
(which it is not).

If you’ve had good feelings about this so far, but then saw or heard
something like that, it can make you question your own truth, your own
feelings and experiences, and leave you wondering if perhaps your truth
wasn’t true and that one was. If something like that happened, I’d
encourage you to be critical of what you saw or heard, and also to
privilege your own experience and that of your partner. Even if a given
activity was, or was presented as, a violation for or to someone else,
that doesn’t mean it has been for the two of you. In other words, trust
what your shared experiences have been and have felt like: it seems
like up until recently, it has been very positive and loving for you
both.

Another common link I’ve seen with people feeling this way is
previous guilt or shaming around sex (or certain kinds of sex), around
their gender or previous sexual abuse. I don’t know anything about your
sexual history beyond what you have shared with me here, but if you
have any shaming, sexual guilt and certainly sexual abuse in your past
or present, that may also have to do with how you are feeling right
now. If any of that is so, I’d suggest getting connected with a
resource — be it an online support group or a counselor in-person –
who can help you work through that history or those feelings, both for
the quality of your sex life and the quality of your life as a whole.

I don’t know what caused this change, or if it was even anything
concrete like this. But I think it’d be good for you to think about if
there was something that might have — or absolutely did — spurred
this change of heart on, and if you can identify what it is, to just
give some big, focused thought around it, and liberally apply plenty of
perspective.

Okay? By all means, I think reading the rest of that piece I quoted
from about the etiquette of entry will be a boon to you, but I also
want to leave you with a few more links that may be of help. I’m going
to include some links on rape and abuse to help illuminate the
difference for you between sexual violence and wanted, consensual sex.

Before I do that, though, I want to leave you with a reminder that
you came here asking about this. You came here concerned about yourself
and your partner, and you came expressing a very mindful,
loving, caring dynamic and a want for same. In other words, I’d like to
encourage you to trust yourself, and see if you can’t grow some real
faith in the fact that nothing you are expressing here suggests that
you are a violent or abusive person, or that you are likely to commit a
violence towards your partner. I am personally not concerned that you
are, have been, or will become sexually violent. I hope you can again
feel the same way about you.


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  • invalid-0

    I would just like to add some perspective here, just in case it is helpful at all…

    I’ve been in the same sort of situation on the other side. I’m a hetero girl, in a loving relationship with my boyfriend that just capped 3 years. I’m pretty involved in women’s rights and sexual health advocacy. I’ve never been a victim of sexual abuse or molestation, and I’ve had pretty healthy sexual relationships all of my life. And as a maybe TMI (but relevant) note, I used to never be able to get enough sex with my boyfriend.

    All that contributes to why I was really surprised and disturbed when I found that having sex with my boyfriend felt strange and violating. It didn’t hurt in any way, but the act of penetration felt just wrong. (Other sex acts weren’t particularly enjoyable for me anymore, but didn’t feel wrong in the same way) This would make me really sad because I wanted to have a healthy sexual (and otherwise) relationship with my partner. I was afraid that this wouldn’t change.

    In the end, they did. I’m not sure exactly when. But one this “phase” passed, I could see many factors that were probably contributing. First, I went off my birth-control pills and back onto another set, which was like my hormones and my reproductive system riding a roller coaster. Second, and I think more importantly, I was incredibly overworked, stressed out and unhappy with my life. Balancing school and work was getting hard, money was tight, and I hated the house I lived in (with my boyfriend… and 5 others). These personal stressors took a major toll on my relationship, but I didn’t expect them to manifest in the physical relationship so severely.

    Sorry that it is such a long story, but what I am getting at is that there may be more to stullis’s experience than the conscious or subconscious knowledge of what violation is and isn’t. (I was certainly aware, but it didn’t change my feeling) It may not be as obvious as dealing with a past/experience with sexual violence. But it does seem to indicate a personal problem. Possibly some underlying stress in the relationship or in his life.

    I think the advice offered in this response are wonderful. I just wanted to expand it to say that even if these specific reasons don’t apply, it still might be a good idea to seek counseling or at least do a lot of introspection. What is affecting your sex life might have nothing to do with sex or your body at all.

    • http://www.onehostgator.com invalid-0

      I commend you for sharing your views. To help you resolve your issues, I think that you should seek counseling, as well.

  • http://www.dr-roller.com/ invalid-0

    I think this shows that he is very sensitive to his girlfriend and she is very lucky. there are not many men who would even consider this concept, let alone let it affect them to this degree. :)