Get Real! Rape Is Not Her Fault

Heather Corinna

No one is responsible for "making someone horny." In fact, much of the time, none of us has any control at all over whether or not someone experiences sexual desire.

James asks:

Heather, I just found a question from ‘samy-baby’  on Scarleteen concerning rape. I’m afraid you appeared all too eager to label the bloke as unsafe and
‘stay well away from him’, given that the girl openly admitted within
the first words of her sentence that she gets her boyfriend
stupid-horny then says "no sex", that’s just cruel, and I doubt many
men would tolerate it. I’ve made it abundantly clear with my girlfriend
that if she makes the effort to turn me into a horn-monster, she should
finish through or I’m usually very pissed off; not to say that I’d go
ahead and have sex with her anyway. All I’m saying is you failed to
advise this girl that if she doesn’t want to have sex, then she
shouldn’t get her boyfriend horny.

Heather replies:

a person, behaving in a healthy way, chooses not to tolerate a certain
dynamic in a relationship they dislike or which makes them unhappy,
what they choose to do is set a limit. If that limit is not respected
by a partner, they then terminate the relationship and potentially
contact with that person. If the young woman asking the question had
indeed been cruel to her partner in any way, the appropriate response
from her partner would be to either address that cruelty with her and
come to some agreement on how to be assured it would not happen again,
or for her partner to choose to leave the relationship to end that

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A healthy, humane response to a cruelty is not to be cruel in your
own way back. A healthy, humane response to wanting something from
someone which they do not also want is not forcing them to give it to
you, or making them feel that they are obligated to provide it — or
face your anger — when they do not want to do so.

No one is responsible for "making someone horny." In fact, much of
the time, none of us — not you, not me, not Samy, not your girlfriend
— has any control at all over whether or not someone experiences
sexual desire.

If we could actually have that kind of complete control, a whole
genre of books and magazines for men and women alike which pull in a
bundle in profits every year, all about endless strategies on how to
arouse desire in others, written for masses of people very frustrated
that they do not have that magical ability, would be wiped from
bookstore shelves. And that, my friend, is a LOT of books which would
be missing. It’s silly, for sure, that by now people don’t realize that
even when they want that power, they can rarely have or harness it, and
it’s silly for people to spend untold dollars trying to get that
elusive power, but here you are, among their number.

My telling someone not to "make her boyfriend horny" would be a
really ineffectual and ridiculous thing to say. Not only does any of us
have the vaguest idea how to avoid doing that, given how arbitrary and
random sexual desires among people tend to be, it’s also far beside the
point, and how her boyfriend behaves around her in terms of his sexual
desire is not her responsibility. It’s his. Nothing she can do,
sparing taking his hand and putting it in her pants, makes what his
hand does her responsibility, and none of us — of any gender — are
not the person in complete control of how we choose to behave around
other people.

The fact that young women often feel responsible has an awful lot to
do with the fact that men tell them they’re responsible to deny or
evade their own responsibilities. And it’s very typical, in any kind of
abusive dynamic, sexual or otherwise, for the abuser to blame the
victim routinely in order to refuse accountability. In a physically
abusive relationship, for instance, after a man hits his partner, he
might often say to her, "If you’d only do what I ask you to do, I
wouldn’t have to hit you like this." His partner hears that often
enough, and she starts to believe him. Given it seems like Samy is
expressing a history of parents who have not been healthy when it comes
to sex, she likely thinks a lot of things are in her control which
aren’t, because these kinds of tactics are very common with abusive
people, and she’s probably heard them before. That same kind of belief
despite reason — Samy’s or yours — can also happen through cultural
indoctrination with certain ideas. The idea that women are responsible
for male desire or arousal, however ridiculous — especially since much
of the time, that desire is aroused when women not only don’t intend to
do so, but when arousing it is the last thing we’d want to do — is
pervasive because men feeling entitled to women when they want them,
entitled to sex with women when they want it, and entitled to call all
the shots when it comes to getting what they want is pervasive.
Thankfully, plenty of men are smart enough, strong enough and
compassionate enough — and see sex as mutual pleasure, not
masturbation on someone else — to see the profound error in that way
of thinking and resist that baloney. Thankfully, over the last few
decades, we’ve had more cultural awareness about rape, sexual abuse and
attitudes which enable rape so that even those who once thought that
way — and perhaps still fight feeling that way — are dedicated to not
behave in alignment with those kinds of ideas which harm and devastate
all of us.

Even the way that you’ve said you’ve addressed your girlfriend
speaks to the kind of projection of responsibility and entitlement I’m
talking about. The fact that something she does arouses your desire
does not obligate her to perform a given sexual activity you want or to
bring you to orgasm, or justify you in being angry with her if she does
not share that same desire. The way you’ve summed up Samy’s post is
pretty inaccurate and telling. She did not, in fact, say she makes a
habit of "turning her boyfriend into a horn-monster," then telling him
they can’t have sex. She described one situation in which she felt
responsible for her boyfriend’s sexual desire, but was not interested
in a certain kind of sex he wanted, declined that sex, and he did it to
her anyway, while she continued to decline it, then later rationalized
what he did then and how he has done this to her before, by telling her
what she likes and that she likes this. You appear to be trying very
hard to make this her fault and take the responsibility away from her
partner and other men like him.

I’m not sure what you think went on here, but based on the years I
have spent talking to young men and women alike about sex, usually when
someone says they "made someone horny," they do not mean they came out
in lingerie, gave them a lap dance, told them all the sexual things
they were going to do with them, then turned around and said "Psych!"
(In the event that is what happened, I, in fact, DID address that using
sex as a manipulation is not sound, safe or kind.) Rather, what they
usually mean when they say that is simply that they were around that
person, or doing something like making out with that person or doing
another sexual activity which they both wanted to do, which aroused
their sexual interest.

But it’s pretty easy to show up the double standard when it comes to
the idea that any of us creates desire and are obligated to meet it:
when you say this, you don’t mean this applied to any of us. You likely
mean it about women and men, and not in a vice-versa kind of way. If I,
as a woman, am around a man who arouses my sexual interest and he does
not feel the same interest for me, or wish to indulge my interest
sexually, do I then have the right, somehow, to force my hand into his pants?
To continue doing something to him sexually while he is telling me no?
If you, as man, aroused another man’s sexual interest in some way,
would he then have the right to do sexual things to you against your
will? Really? To be angry with you when you refused to do whatever he

If you and I were sexual partners, and you felt sexually finished
after one or two activities, but I didn’t feel at all done and forced
you to give — or insisted on you giving — me every kind of sex I
wanted for another couple of hours, even some you didn’t want or like,
even if you no longer found me attractive but creepy as hell, even when
you felt done and did not want to anymore, even if it was physically
painful because you were not aroused or interested, with no regard for
your boundaries or what you wanted, that would be okay with you? Would
that be understandable: as in, you’d understand why I did that to you
and feel that I had every right to treat you that way? If so, I gotta
tell you to adjust your thinking, because if anyone ever does that to
you, for the sake of your own well-being, mental health and safety, I
hope you do not try and justify or enable that kind of abuse.

Did you see how I bolded that bit about you not wanting or
liking something sexual? I did that because this can often the The
Great Brain Stopper for some men when it comes to these issues. Some
men feel strongly that there is no kind of sex they wouldn’t want or
like given the opportunity. Now, that’s likely not true: most of those
guys just haven’t yet had an experience where that’s happened yet. A
lot of men have a tough time understanding that when a partner is
raping you, forcing sex on you you don’t want, or exerting their power
over you abusively, even if they were attractive to you before, they
very quickly are not usually attractive any more: they become
repulsive. Some men will also state that they want sex so much that
even sex by force, with someone they aren’t attracted to, would be
alright by them. Gotta call bullshit on that one, too, but let’s
pretend it IS true that there is no kind of sex, with anyone, in any
dynamic, which wouldn’t be something you wanted. Even if that’s so?
That’s NOT so for most people and not so for most women. So, in trying
to understand this, you have to make a point of doing your level best
to envision scenarios in which what was going on was not something you
would want, where what was being suggested or happening was acutely,
intensely, something you did not want to do.

You say you wouldn’t force your girlfriend to have sex with you if
you got turned on, but you would be pissed off, and have made clear to
her that you fully expect that when you feel that desire around her she
should know she’s expected to satiate you to your satisfaction. What if
we were talking about you here? If you "made" your girlfriend horny,
and she wants a kind of sex to feel satisfied you don’t want — let’s
say, forcing her fingers into your anus, or her genitals unto your face
— do you think it would be reasonable for her to be pissed off at you?
Do you feel like it would be reasonable for you to expect that if you
aroused her desire in any way, including intentionally, that her
fingers were going into your bum because she wants to do that, even
when you don’t? If you answered yes to either of those questions, I
have to call your bluff, since it’d be pretty unlikely you did. And
even if you did, I’d have to tell you that whether we’re talking about
men or women, that’s just not a healthy sexual dynamic based in mutual
pleasure and care.

Agreeing to make out or agreeing to be near someone is not an
agreement to have any or every kind of sex that person might want, or
even to continue the agreed-upon activity past the point of wanting to
do so. Engaging in one sexual activity with a partner never obligates
anyone to engage in any or all of them, until the other person feels
their wants are met — in conflict with the wants of the other — nor
negates the validity of someone’s no. The partner who wants sex is
never the one whose needs are put first: if we’re earnest about wanting
to have sex with someone else, not to them or on them or at
them, earnest about wanting a partnership, not a dictatorship, then
whenever our partners are not interested in doing something sexual we
want, we defer to them. And after all, we can always tend to our sexual
needs with our own two hands.

You might also notice a particularly telling dynamic in Samy’s
story. What her boyfriend did to her was not even about his own need
for a physical, sexual release: he put his hand down HER pants forcibly
AFTER they had already had sex together (presumably consensually).
Doing so would have been very unlikely to bring him to orgasm, or
alleviate any physical sexual frustration on his part. Rather, what he
did was make a clear demonstration that she is not allowed to deny him
what he wants, when he wants it, and that her no — when he wants a yes
— is meaningless. He doesn’t ask her what she likes: he tells
her. His actions make clear that he feels that her sexual desire, if
and when it is present, is a non-issue. What he did was not about his
feeling horny or wanting to get off, and he may well have gotten off
already with the sex they already had: it was about his need to make
clear who is in change, and that it very much is not her. This is
textbook sexual abuse.

It’s not overeager to let someone know that a person who forces sex
— especially more than once, as Samy stated has happened — unto them
while they are saying no, declining that sex, is not a safe person to
be around. In the event that I’m wrong, and he is safe, it’s still a
win-win. Not staying with him won’t harm either of them. In the event
that you’re right, my whole idea about this situation and all of what I
know about rape and abuse is totally backwards, and the cruelty here is
hers or some other woman’s, leaving spares that guy more cruelty,
doesn’t it? If not, why not?

I have a tough time swallowing the idea that if you were to be in
the position where someone was going to routinely not take no for an
answer from you sexually, and force you to do sexual things you did not
want to do, or when you did not want to do them, continuing to do so
while you were saying — and meaning — no, that you’d feel like that
was a safe situation to you, and that were you in that position, did I
not posit that wasn’t safe — or tell you you asked for it — you’d
feel like I was responding in the best interest of your well-being.

Here’s hoping, for your sake, for your girlfriend’s sake, and for
anyone else you may interact with, that you consider adjusting your
thinking on this. And I don’t just say that for her sake, especially
since she’s got the option of finding someone with healthier sexual
attitudes to be with — you, on the other hand, are stuck with you. The
way you’re thinking tends to not only be detrimental to her (if you
care about her, and another men around her feels he arouses her desire
and owes him like you feel she woes you, will it seem like such a great
idea then?) and other women, it also really hinders you and other men
from experiencing bonafide partnership with women, real character and
real masculinity, and sex that is really about shared desire and pleasure, which blows the freaking roof off of the alternative, emotionally as well as physically.

To be frank, any woman who writes on rape or interpersonal abuse
issues at all, and who advises women to merely keep themselves safe by
getting away from men who endanger or harm them gets responses like
this. I get letters from men somewhat regularly explaining to me, as if
I were just a foolish child who did not understand the world despite 38
years of living in it, why women deserve to be raped, why women make
men so miserable or unhappy that men "have" to rape us or abuse us, how
we could protect ourselves by just structuring the whole of our lives
in response to what men want from us (despite the fact that men vary
widely and that doing so it a literal impossibility, on top of an
absolute insult). I have also, of course, gotten plenty of emails over
the years letting me know all of the ways in which I and other women
deserve all manner of abuses, and how men are excused in doling them
out. These kinds of responses — including your own — are constant
object lessons which only tend to demonstrate exactly the kinds of
dynamics we’re working to help people escape, break free of and change.

Oddly enough, we do not tend to get these kinds of responses, ever,
when we advise men on how to be safe from other men, from abusive women
in their lives, nor do we get these kinds of responses from women no
matter who we’re advising to keep themselves safe. Male writers on
these issues also do not tend to get these kinds of responses as often,
which is hardly a shocker. And I generally do not answer these kinds of
responses. In part that’s because there are a lot of them, and if I
published them all, I’d scare and depress the hell out of a lot of
people when it came to men: I love men as much as I love women and
don’t want the women who would read them to get the impression that
these kinds of responses are sound representations of all men. They’re
not: many, many men — maybe even most men — are bigger than this,
kinder than this, smarter than this, better men than this. (They also
tend to feel less of a need to tell women "how it is" like this, or to
pretend to be friendly with me when they’re saying things which enable
violence and inequality towards me and other women.) Plus, more times
than not, it’s an exercise in futility. This may well be one too, for
all I know, but I’d love for you to prove me wrong.

But I like to think that if I do every now and then, someone on the
fence or struggling with these attitudes might see that there are
healthier alternatives which are better for everyone, not just for the
partner who is made to feel responsible for other’s actions or
feelings, obligated to have sex when that’s not what they want, or who
is assaulted because someone decided they are entitled to have dominion
over that person.

Heck, even if nothing I say in response has any merit to you or
anyone else, your own words might help someone out simply by showing up
these attitudes for exactly what they are, for as pervasive as they
are, and for as flawed and tragic as they are.

I’m tossing out a couple links here, both to material on the site,
as well as at other sites which maybe — just maybe — might clue you
in a bit more.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.