A young girl goes out for the first time at night with her friend. They get plastered drunk and don’t want the night to end just yet. At 4 AM, they find themselves dancing at a popular nightclub. Her friend is dancing with a guy, and moments later so is he. After a short time he tells her his father owns the club. He then says “there’s a VIP room I want to show you… come.”
She follows his lead and he takes her to the back of the club and invites her to go out the back door. They’re now in an alleyway. The VIP area was a common tactic guys use to try to escalate sexually. After a short walk, he makes his move and they start vigorously making out. No one knows what happens next, but according to the girl, he said at one point “put your fucking hands on the wall.” She did, and then he proceeded to penetrate her anally, and she consented. Saxon claims she was raped. According to the guy, he obtained consent.
This is the story of Australian Saxon Mullins, a young woman who was traumatized from a night out gone wrong. A documentary about her by ABC’s Four Corners, called “I am that girl” highlights her experience and speaks from her perspective (you can watch it from the link I shared). As a man, I know exactly what her perpetrator went through, but unfortunately, there is no sympathy for the man’s side of the equation publicly. There’s no documentary about how he didn’t do anything wrong. He was remorseful and surprised that she had such a terrible time, which is why each day I agree more and more with title of the book Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus.
Luke Lazarus was the son of the owner of Soho, a club in the nightclub district of Sydney called Kings Cross (it’s no longer open). He felt that she had consented, but Saxon was hysterical after the incident according to her friend. Something clearly went wrong. The next day she filed a police report, and Luke was sent to jail for 11 months. But he was never called a rapist, and he probably isn’t one.
What we’re dealing with here is a grey area when it comes to obtaining consent. It’s a problem young men and women in alcohol-rich late-night environments are likely to find themselves in at some point. But the experience is drastically different for each sex. The guy considers himself lucky if he finds himself with an opportunity to shag a new girl. For a woman, it’s a considerable risk, and often an experience she’d rather forget about the next day and wish didn’t happen. Of course, women also consider themselves lucky today if they can shag a guy they like, because women are growing increasingly confident about expressing their casual sexual interests. But in general, men are more interested in one night stands than women (this article highlights some research on that).
The mating strategies of men and women are considerable different. Women in general want relationship security with sex, whereas men just want someone fertile and attractive. And at 4 AM on the dance floor, women are especially vulnerable to meeting men who they might regret meeting later. But, they still showed up. They put themselves in those situations and consented to dancing with guys and to the opportunity of flirtatious encounters. Shouldn’t we be asking how women can set better boundaries and behave with more discretion rather than just castigating men for not understanding consent?
What went wrong in Saxon’s case is not clear, as it’s a matter of he said she said. But going by her recollection of events, Luke coerced her into having sex with her. Another problem is that she was drunk. And many women believe drunk sex is rape. So let’s discuss both of these issues and clear up some confusion.Shouldn't we be asking how women can set better boundaries and behave with more discretion rather than just castigating men for not understanding consent? Click To Tweet
What is Coercion?
Coercion is when women consent to sex because they’re afraid that if they don’t, their mental or physical safety is at risk. However, the truth is that no one has an exact definition of coercion and it varies considerably. Currently, it’s defined mostly as verbal tactics to pressure women into having sex when they don’t want to. The following paragraph is from a paper that explores the different definitions of coercion.
Many scholars use the terms sexual coercion and sexual assault interchangeably or that sexual coercion encompasses all types of perpetration tactics that lead to sexual assault [59,74]. In these studies, sexual coercion is defined as a continuum of tactics to elicit sexual activity from unwilling partners ranging from non-forceful verbal tactics to physical force, with taking advantage of women due to voluntary or administered alcohol and/or drug intoxication somewhere in the middle [26,34,36,37,39,40,43,44,46,66,71,75,76,77,78,79,80]. Sexual coercion has also been specifically defined as tactics used following a partner’s refusal to sexual advances [36,46,48,70,81].Pugh and Becker 2018
If a woman is unwilling to have sex initially, say on a first date with a man she’s spent less than 3 hours with total, he probably has to use some tactics to have sex with her. This could include being patient, and what could be summarized as working his magic. If she’s there and she’s willing, but is unsure about having sex, she is also open to it. If he works his magic well enough, she will willingly consent. But the exploration of coercion in the above paragraph demonizes any advances a man could make on a woman if she isn’t totally interested in sex yet.
If men never made advances, women would report that no one is flirting with them or is even interested in them. A woman doesn’t want to have sex with a man until she gets to know him a little bit and feels comfortable with the idea. Men need to sell themselves for that to occur, and that includes a lot of different steps, such as being well-groomed, being intelligent, being social, and many other things. Men need to make advances, clearly, but some women feel that too many advances leave them feeling like they were coerced into sex.
As this paper also explains, coercion is consensual according to some scholars, like the author of the paper titled ” Against their will: Young women’s nonagentic sexual experiences.” I haven’t been able to access the full-text, but it seems as if the female authors are suggesting that many forms of sexual experiences are ones where women didn’t have any agency, i.e., they are “nonagentic.” As always, the role women have to play in sex is deliberately left out of the equation. Are they too stupid to make decisions for themselves or something?
Whatever the exact definition of coercion is, what is consistent is that the sex was “unwanted” after she initially consented to it. If women think that unwanted sex deserves it’s own category of shame and is worthy of indignation, I think they also need to seriously think about why they decided to have sex anyway despite thinking they didn’t want it (the answer has to do with how hormones and sexual arousal create distinct states of awareness that we cannot understand when we are not in that state… such as why you might regret jerking off and watching porn after you do it, but in the moment you cannot stop yourself).
Ultimately however coerced sex is consensual sex. The best way I can describe it is that it’s sex that leaves women feeling emotionally disturbed in some capacity. In Saxon’s case, it left her extremely disturbed and traumatized. But part of the reason she had this reaction is due to her lack of experience in communicating with men pursuing her (she was a virgin and never had a boyfriend before). She just went along with things, naively, and then consented to an experience that later she felt terribly about.
Coercion exists on a continuum of sexual activity where the woman is left with a bad taste in her mouth afterwards. In Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance, he begins with a scene where he makes out with a girl at a party and then is puzzled why she doesn’t seem interested in linking up with him later. The reason is because she didn’t enjoy the experience. It’s not because Aziz isn’t smooth, but rather because when men are horndogs, women usually distance themselves because they feel that the guy is just interested in her for sex.
The paper continues that there is a difference between unwanted consensual sex and consensual sex due to verbal sexual coercion (VSC). It’s funny they come up with additional abbreviations to distinguish all the ways women end up having “unwanted” sex. They concluded that this is what the most specific definition of coercion probably is:
In this paper, we are primarily utilizing the term verbal sexual coercion and defining it as a tactic utilized by a perpetrator in a sexual encounter to persuade or coerce the other person to agree or give in to sexual activity “against freely given consent”
Other forms of persuasion like touching and flirting to obtain sex when the partner is initially unwilling are not considered coercion by many scholars, the authors note. I concur. However, it seems as if some women mistakenly think that convincing women to have sex with you by “working your magic” is a form of coercion, when it’s natural male behavior.
For now, I think it’s easiest to conclude that coercion is not a valid concept as it has no utilitarian definition that is widely agreed upon, and is a concept used to shame men for consensually obtaining sex from difficult women. The conversation on coercion should look more like this: “IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HAVE SEX, KEEP YOUR PANTIES ON LADIES.”
Coercion Is Not Rape
But what about Saxon from Australia? Was she coerced? If her recollection of events were true, then I can see why in a dark alleyway she might be very scared and could possibly consent unwillingly out of fear. But if Luke’s events are true, she clearly consented and did not communicate that she did not want to be there. Saxon alleged that she said “no” many times but Luke denied this. His remorse seemed genuine to me.
Saxon was also a virgin. She had little to no experience before this and this might have made things more difficult to bear. Albert Wilson’s victim was also a virgin–a Christian one on top of that. Her PTSD was used to convict Albert of the crime. But it’s possible that her PTSD was caused in part by her strict beliefs.
I believe Saxon may have been conflicted in those frightful moments. She was excited on some level and she did kiss Luke. What happened between that and him telling her to put her hands on the wall is unknown. But it sounds like Luke’s comment came as a surprise and she was not prepared for the action, which can be traumatizing, especially in a dark alleyway. She put her hands on the ground too at one point.
Another thing to consider is women often like it when men are assertive. What Luke did was just that. But what men need to know is that assertiveness must be received well. If you have little to no emotional connection with someone and try to be very direct with her, they might like it on some level but on another feel turned off. Your goal should be to continue to turn her on, and when that happens, she consents freely.
Saxon consented, but wasn’t sure if she should. It’s a woman’s job to figure out why they sometimes do that. It’s a man’s job to try to understand and take things slower. So yes, that’s right, coercion is not rape, but it still has a negative emotional impact on women.
Drunk Sex. Is it Rape?
Drunk sex is not rape. It’s only rape if she is too drunk to consent. There is no exact blood alcohol level necessary to reach for that to be the case. But if she complies but isn’t clearly giving signals, she might be too drunk to properly give consent, and is likely at risk of suffering from alcohol poisoning. Why people drink so much is mind-boggling, but it makes forming healthy interactions between men and women even more difficult. A night could be going well and then at the end of it, despite you thinking she consented, she didn’t according to the law and you become a rapist. That’s what happened to Brock Turner.
But contrary to what some woefully ignorant people think, giving a woman wine in your apartment is not “rapey.” It is a normal way that humans interact, willingly, so my tweet about women wanting wine in order to get in the mood shouldn’t be so incredulous. After all, she can refuse to drink the wine if she wants to.
The harsh reality is that seduction is a chess match involving many players who are working to persuade a woman into having sex with him. Women will always be victims in this game, as men can only be losers or winners. Women can either be active participators or regretful victims. But with #MeToo, the regret turns to anger, as women don’t realize they can change their behavior and learn to say no better.