I wanted to record this for your podcast but I’m literally too ashamed to say it out loud. I was in a relationship for more than twenty years with a guy who abused me sexually, emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially. I grew up in a pretty unstable (read: abusive and neglectful) household and I’m proud that I finally managed to leave this man. I get that there’s this thing where people with life experiences like mine tend to blame ourselves and think everything is our own fault. But there’s this one thing that really makes me think I’m terrible. This one time, when we were in bed and had both been drinking, I kept trying to kiss him. He would often ignore me and refuse to let me touch him for days and I would wind up making every effort to please him. This particular night I kissed him...
Want to read the rest? Subscribe now to get every question, every week, the complete Savage Love archives, special events, and much more!
...fort to please him. This particular night I kissed him and then started to give him a blowjob and we ended up having sex. He later called this rape. He didn’t call it rape when he pinned me down and told me to stay still, which was how we “had sex” most often toward the end, and sex only happened when he wanted it. I was never able to initiate, not even a kiss.
I’m worried that I’m just as bad as him. Before I was with him, I was hot on consent in all things, especially as I enjoy some light BDSM. I think communicating about sex is sexy. I’ve had good open and honest and raw communication with every one of my partners after him, Dan, but I feel like I’m lying to my new partners about being a decent person. Can you please let me know what you think.
Feeling Remorse About Upsetting Denunciation
Consider the source — that was my first reaction to your question, FRAUD, but I wanted to get a quick gut-check from someone with relevant expertise.
“There are so many additional questions I’d have for this person to understand whether what happened would indeed qualify as ‘rape’ in a legal sense,” said Rena Martine, a women’s intimacy coach who happens to be a former sex crimes prosecutor. “But I’m not sure that’s what FRAUD is asking. Ultimately, ‘rape’ is a term her former partner used to describe a single instance where they were both drunk and where FRAUD initiated sex. He didn’t use the term ‘rape’ to describe the decades of abuse he subjected FRAUD to, abuse that involved forceful sex. In that sense, his definition of ‘rape’ isn’t a reliable benchmark.”
My feelings exactly.
If everything went down as you described — the “if” lurks at the heart of every question that appears in an advice column (we only get one person’s version of events) — then you didn’t rape your shitty ex. You initiated sex with a long-term partner in an extremely dysfunctional relationship. While it wouldn’t be okay to climb on top of a stranger on a subway and start kissing him or blowing him, most of us don’t require our longterm partners to secure our verbal consent before initiating sex (with a touch, not a thrust). What we want from our partners — what have a right to expect from our partners — is the emotional intelligence to kindasortakinda know when we might be in the mood or close enough to the mood that a kiss might get us there. And if it turns out we’re not in the mood and that kiss isn’t going to get us there, a good partner executes a quick, non-grudging, non-whiny pivot to something else we enjoy as a couple, e.g., cuddling, ice cream, shit-talking our friends, Zelda, or all of the above.
If you had fucked someone for the first time or the fiftieth time, FRAUD, and you weren’t sure whether he wanted to have sex and you didn’t care whether he wanted to have sex and you behaved in such a way that he was afraid to say no… then his silent acquiescence would not constitute meaningful consent and you should feel bad. But what happened on the night you describe existed in a context of an established relationship — a relationship that included a lot of shitty “sex” initiated by your ex without regard for your boundaries or your pleasure — and your ex had no reason to fear you. He could’ve said no when you started to kiss him, he could’ve said no when you started to blow him, he could’ve said no when you climbed on top of him — he could’ve said no at any time.
Your ex didn’t say no and then later weaponized this night of shitty, drunken, non-rapey sex in order to make you feel like you treated him just as badly as he treated you; he was projecting, FRAUD, and making a false equivalency between his routine actions and your actions that night. Again, if everything went down the way you described it, you didn’t rape your ex… and since he’s not rubber, FRAUD, and you’re not glue, this doesn’t have to stick to you. You can take consent seriously and you can take rape seriously without having to accept your emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend’s characterization of the events of that night.
And you can do better — in the partner department (sounds like you already are) and the erring-on-the-side-of-unambiguous-consent department. Before getting intimate sex with any future partners, FRAUD, tell them that light physical intimacy (kissing, cuddling, shit-talking friends) cannot progresses to actual sexual intercourse (eating face/pussy/ass, sucking dick/tits/ass, fucking face/ass/pussy) without one or the other or both of you asking, “Wanna fuck?,” and one or the other or both of you saying, “Fuck yes!”
Final word goes to Martine: “A cornerstone of shame is a feeling of otherness — this terrible thing happened to me, and no one else can possibly understand what this feels like — but the sad reality is that intimate partner sexual violence is a common occurrence. Almost half of female (46.7%) and male (44.9%) victims of rape in the United States were raped by an acquaintance. Of these, 45.4% of female rape victims and 29% of male rape victims were raped by an intimate partner.”
Rena Matine is on Instagram @_rena.martine_ and online at www.renamartine.com.
Young, gay, gym member. A few years ago, I was alone in the sauna when this older guy asked if he could massage my feet. I’m pretty vanilla but he didn’t seem menacing. So, I took your advice (been a reader forever) and used my words: I told him he could massage my feet on the condition that he didn’t do anything else. He respected my boundary, so I let him do it the next time I saw him and then turned into a semi-regular thing. We started to make stupid small talk to relieve the tension (sexual for him, regular for me) and it turned he worked in the field I wanted to go into. (I can’t be more specific, sorry.) He offered to look at my resume and then wrote me a letter of recommendation that led to a job offer. Here our story takes a sad turn: This man died and I’m not sure of how to process what I’m feeling. We emailed a little, but we never met outside of the gym. Am I allowed to feel grief? And should I go to his funeral? It’s not a private ceremony but how would I explain my presence to his family? I didn’t know this man socially and I feel like saying, “I knew your husband and father from the gym,” might raise questions or suspicions. He was bisexual but not out and I don’t want to cause his family any additional pain.
Getting Your Meaning
I’m guessing you haven’t buried anyone — maybe a grandparent or two, but not a parent or a partner. So, here’s how condolences work at funerals: if someone wants to express their condolences to the family of the deceased, that person approaches the family before or after the service. If that person is unknown to the family, that person can mention (but isn’t obligated to mention) how they knew the deceased before expressing their sympathy (“I’m so sorry for your loss”). It’s meant to be a brief interaction — you want to acknowledge their grief, not burden them with your own — and it’s an entirely optional one. If you don’t want to say something to the family, or don’t know what to say, you don’t have to approach the family.
There were a lot of people at my mother’s funeral that I didn’t know, GYM, and some of those strangers — strangers to me, not my mother — approached me and my siblings and my stepfather and my mother’s siblings to express their condolences and some did not. But we were grateful to each and every person who came to my mom’s funeral, whether or not they approached us, and we didn’t run around the church asking strangers how they knew my mother. (For all I know, GYM, there a dozen people at my mother’s funeral whose feet she rubbed in the sauna at the gym we didn’t know she belonged to.) So, go to the funeral, dress appropriately, sit at the back, don’t be surprised if you recognize a few other faces from the gym (I’m guessing the deceased didn’t have a monogamous relationship with your feet), and don’t feel obligated to approach the family. If someone sitting in your pew asks how you knew the deceased, feel free to tell (part of) the truth: “We went to the same gym, he gave me some professional advice, and I really appreciated his friendship.”
I’m sorry for your loss, GYM. Your share of the grief is tiny compared to that of this man’s wife and kids, but he touched your life — not just your feet — and your grief is real, meaningful, and touching.
Follow Dan on Instagram and Threads @DanSavage. Follow Dan on BlueSky @DanSavage.
Got a problem? Everyone does! Submit a written question for “Savage Love” now! Or record your question for the next Lovecast here!
The deadline to enter HUMP! 2024 is December 8th! Do you a great idea for a short dirty movie? Make it happen and submit! There’s no charge to enter HUMP! and every filmmaker who make it into the festival gets paid! Everything you need to know about getting your five-minute-or-less dirty little porn masterpiece into the world’s best dirty little film festival is at humpfilmfest.com/submit!
Comments on Not Glue
Write to Dan!
Got a relationship problem? A burning sex question? A burning… sensation?
Dan’s been giving advice and been tapping the best sex researchers, educators, and scientists for more than three decades!