California Bill 967 has recently added to the debate over what to do about sexual assaults on college campuses. At the risk of pissing off conservatives, politicians, feminists, men, and women, here are a few thoughts on this subject.
It’s hard to pinpoint exact figures on the incidence of rape and sexual assaults on college campuses because some experts think they are underreported and others feel they’re exaggerated. Bill 967 requires people engaged in sex to continuously keep asking each other if it’s okay to continue, what they call affirmative consent. My thought is this: “Why do we need a law to tell young adults what seems to me to be basic communication/relationship skills?” Something is missing here, and there are problems with sexuality that go beyond assaults.
The male brain is wired to be attracted to women who have an hourglass figure: large breasts, small waist, flat stomach, and full hips because that tells a man that she is young, healthy, fertile, and not pregnant. Men are biologically programmed with sexual pursuit circuits that want us to have sex as soon and often as possible to make sure our genes are passed onto the next generation. That obviously doesn’t condone rape or sexual assaults, but we also can’t ignore how men are wired and how this affects their behavior.
We need to teach boys lots of ways to connect with girls non-sexually, because for many of them that’s all they see, hear, and know. I encourage adolescent boys who are desperate for a girl friend to first spend a lot of time with girls as friends, so that they understand better how to be with them, talk with them, and relate to them. Guys need to understand how to read girls non-verbal cues that say come closer or back off. And to respect whenever a girl says “NO” to them about their advances, i.e. “no” means “no!”, and to not push any further. Boys also need to learn to articulate their needs in a relationship, and to be able to let a girl know if they feel uncomfortable in any way.
For girls, I have some additional ideas. I have girls in my retreats write out what they want in a dating relationship, including sexually, so that they can spell out clear guidelines about what’s right for them when they are the most clear-headed. That way they are prepared to set boundaries in the heat of the moment when they may feel pressured and confused. They then need to articulate their boundaries in a clear and firm manner, not in the wimpy way too many girls do that gives guys mixed messages.
I also coach girls on becoming aware of their internal alarms, their intuition, that tells them that someone or something isn’t right, to trust that gut feeling, and to act on it to take care of themselves. Their intuition is their best protection vs. potential danger. They also need to handle any of the potential reasons that might cause them to ignore their alarms: poor self-esteem which leads to poor boundaries; wanting a guy so desperately that you are willing to forego what’s right for you; not putting yourself in vulnerable situations where you might not hear the alarms, i.e. being drunk or high. I don’t believe I would be victimizing my daughter or son if I told them that getting wasted at a frat party is putting them at risk.
Men and women need better communication skills as well. They need to have the ability to speak their truth with authority, be a good listener, handle conflicts directly and effectively, and know how to get both their needs met in the relationship. The continuous affirmative consent mandated in Bill 967 should just be one other place in the relationship where communication is essential, and if it’s not present in the friendship, it’s not going to be there in the heat of the moment. That’s why healthy relationships that last often start with a solid friendship that then adds sexuality as just one more level of closeness and intimacy. Hookups consist of sex as the only basis of the association, and therefore intimacy, communication, and trust haven’t been built into it.
Instead of focusing on more laws, let’s focus on educating boys and girls, men and women, on basic communication and relationship skills before they get into vulnerable situations they aren’t equipped to handle. A friend with benefits needs to be replaced by friends first and foremost, or better yet, friends with skills.