I Used to Stand in Dark Hallways and Say “Kiss Me”

 

Trigger warning: This article contains personal anecdotes of sexual violence and abuse that may prove triggering for some.

 

Lisa Hickey wants to have a conversation about rape. But until today, she didn’t know where to start.


The spot of blood on the sheet was a perfect circle, an “oh”, an exclamation. Bob and I stood at the foot of the bed, groggy, half-morning light, we leaned in together as we realized what it was. A split second of awkwardness, then he quickly threw the top sheet on top of it. We muttered some sort of “see ya around” and I dashed off, down the stairs from his third-floor attic room overlooking the fraternity quad.

I was 16.

I had been drinking, the night before, as always, as I had since I was fourteen years of age. Did I say, “yes” to Bob? I’m sure, at some point that night, I did. I’m also sure I said “no” or at least “I’m not sure.” I clearly remember saying, “wait,” over and over. But I wasn’t specific in my timeframe. I meant “wait” as – days, weeks, months. Not “wait a minute.”

Was that rape? How much does that matter? In some states it would have been statutory rape, regardless of what I said. It was certainly not good judgment on either of our parts.

But good judgment wasn’t something I had much of back in those days. I was 16 and a freshman in college, and trying my best simply to block out a past I couldn’t handle. Both my parents were abusive alcoholics. Back then, what they did to me was called “spankings,” but spankings don’t usually carry with them the out-of-nowhere rage that I rarely saw coming, an ongoing feeling of confusion and terror, and a perpetual sinking feeling that this time it might never end. No matter how much I tried to justify their behavior, a father usually doesn’t say to his daughter, “I am taking off my belt now” before he hits her with it.

♦◊♦

My father died the summer before I started college. I found out while was at freshmen orientation, sitting in an auditorium filled with 500 equally bright-eyed students. I heard the words from the man at the podium, “Is there a Lisa P. in the audience?” I stood up and said in a tiny voice “I’m Lisa P.” “Well, then, your mother wants to see you.” The crowd twittered. I had to climb over two people to get out. One of them said, “Your mother wants to see you. Boy, is that embarrassing.” I left a small navy pocketbook behind.

My sister has vivid memories of sexual abuse, by my father, of me. I don’t have the memories she has. I do have clear memories of sexual inappropriateness by my father, but prefer to keep it at that. My childhood was not all bad. There were swing sets and stargazing and Monopoly games. But what I do remember is that while other kids dreamed of being movie actresses or doctors or joining the Peace Corps, I dreamt of being kidnapped. It was a very specific dream. I couldn’t wait to be kidnapped by two men in a dark blue Ford Station wagon. That would be my way out. I used to wander the streets of Queens, NY, looking for that car. As a child, it was my only hope. “Please let me be a different kind of victim than the one I am now.”

 ♦◊♦

At midnight, Cinderella is supposed to lose her shoe, not her virginity. And not to a guy who was as stumbling drunk as she was.

So by the time I met Bob, and was asked by him to go to a Fraternity Dance at the last minute, I thought I had arrived in a new type of civilization in all its glory. I was petite, I had a blue-flowered halter dress, my hair was spun gold. That night I thought I had finally made it––somewhere, somehow, despite myself. But by that time, I was already a blackout drunk. At midnight, Cinderella is supposed to lose her shoe, not her virginity. And not to a guy who was as stumbling drunk as she was. But I didn’t even have enough self-awareness to know that the story I was living wasn’t the one I thought it was. I wanted that Cinderella story, badly, with whatever bargain I had to strike for it. Bob and I barely talked again afterwards. I didn’t even tell my friends.

♦◊♦

I was gorgeous back then—almost every sixteen, seventeen-year-old is gorgeous, though, have you noticed? It’s hard to go wrong if you’re seventeen and perfectly in shape, have an easy laugh and don’t talk much. Beauty, sexual attraction—it was the only power I had. I think my resultant promiscuity all four years of college was simply a way to somehow, desperately attempt to take charge of my sexuality. And as odd as it sounds, being promiscuous was my guard against being raped. If I was the aggressor, if I was in charge, then things were not happening to me against my will. I was in control of my sexual destiny.

That was the megalomaniac in me talking, of course. The side of me with the inferiority complex realized I had already completely screwed up my sexual history to date, and felt awkward and guilty over it. But surely that didn’t matter. All could be forgiven. I would find someone to have sex with me; damn it, and one of those sexual encounters would turn out the way it was supposed to. The guy would have sex with me and fall madly in love with me. Of course that never happened. I had a series of one-night stands; sometimes while I was so drunk I was completely passed out. Clear, conscious consent? Not likely.

♦◊♦

The thing is—when I think about how important a clear, conscious “yes” is—I also know how difficult I made it for guys. I was handing them a “yes” on a silver platter the moment I walked in a room. I want to make this perfectly clear: I was not the only victim here. Sending confusing signals, saying “yes”, and then “no”, using sex not just as a release but as a form of therapy, convincing myself I was falling in love with guys—guys I didn’t even know—so that I could justify wanting sex with them. None of that was good. Not for me. Nor for men.

I was misguided in my intentions, misguided in my actions. In the screwed up mind of an addict, being wildly drunk each time gave me the perfect excuse for my behavior. I was the one who would stand in the dark hallway and say, “kiss me.” I sought out guys who were just as drunk as I was. I made it perfectly clear—at the start of the night—that I was ready, willing and able to have sex, because I thought that was what I wanted. But what I really wanted was just for the story to turn out differently.

And that’s why this has to be talked about.

♦◊◊

There’s no use in making generalizations about guy’s behavior, or women’s behavior, or whether I got what I asked for or who was at “fault.” There’s no reason to feel sorry for me—I’m many years sober, have an amazing life, I live in the present, in a life that is filled with such daily awe and wonder and breathless anticipation for the future that—now—what happened to me then was simply what happened to me then. I have guys who are dear friends, guys I can talk about this stuff with. And all the guys who work with me now—you know who you are—we have great, professional relationships, filled with warmth and intelligence. I still have an easy laugh.

♦◊♦

The reason I’m writing all this is because I wanted to have a conversation about rape. Because I, for one, don’t know how to talk about it. And because my personal confusion around the subject is so deep, I can only guess about the confusion men might also have. And I wanted nothing more than to end my story with a blithe “oh well, all’s well that ends well.”

Which doesn’t really get at the fact that rape, and childhood sexual abuse, and sexual violence is still a problem—if no longer for me, then for countless men and women. And, so, when I asked for comments, to try to get clearer in my thinking, Lili had a very passionate point of view:

“We are socially educated and conditioned to think of rape as a violent act, a knife to the throat, a hand clamped over a woman’s mouth–not something that happens between two kids who picked each other up at a keg party, now laying together in the quiet afterhours of a frat dorm room. Yet, what is this if it isn’t rape?  “Just” non-consensual sex? Do we like the sound of that term better because it relieves us of feeling bad as men that we’ve allowed some predatory instinct to take over? Are we hiding behind a patent refusal to even look at these issues, because dammit, we didn’t rape her; at best we had non-consensual sex with her? But if we aren’t getting a clear YES from a girl, should we maybe interpret that as a clear NO and then take ourselves right out of there? How do we navigate those uncertainties when our hormones are firing, goaded on by alcohol running through our veins. And, as women, the shame, self-loathing, we’ll carry all our lives, as young women engaging in thoughtless, or drunken sex, all that…young men need to know that young women experience it like that before we can ask them to grow a conscience around that.

And I read those words, and thought “yes,” “YES.” All of that is important.

But that’s not what I came here to say.

What I really want to say is: “We can’t solve the problem if we can’t talk about it.”

So for me, personally, what I’d really like to do is call a truce—to stop placing blame just for a minute and figure this out together, ok? Let me repeat that. Just for a moment, not talk about who’s to blame, but let us as men, let us as women, actually get together and figure it out. This is not a call for inexcusable behavior. This is not to say we shouldn’t hold people accountable for their actions. You can hold me up and judge me if you think for a moment that might actually help. But just for once I would like to sit down and talk about this topic without the fiery inferno of shame and guilt that seems to burn through every conversation about rape. Guilt and shame that’s felt by men—and women—as equals in a sexual partnership. Guilt and shame that prevents the honest, deep, back-and-forth dialogue that could actually lead to understanding and change. I’d like to figure out together how to stop our sons or daughters from being in a position where they don’t know what a clear, conscious “yes” is. How to get teenagers to talk about sex—with us, with each other, honestly, intelligently, before it happens. To understand at what age it makes sense and when it doesn’t and why. To stop underage drinking, not just for it’s own sake, but so it doesn’t lead to they types of horrific consequences it can have. Because the truth is, although my life is amazing now, I almost didn’t make it.

♦◊♦

The most important thing is that I want this to be to be a platform to have a dialogue – a public, meaningful dialogue, of what the consequences are if we screw this up. To think of ourselves as a partnership, a social force, a team of men and women and women and men who are just trying to figure it out together, so that sex is as it should be—a safe way for a pair of people to experience mutual affection and enjoyment with each other.

 

About Lisa Hickey

Lisa Hickey is CEO of Good Men Media Inc. and publisher of the Good Men Project. "I like to create things that capture the imagination of the general public and become part of the popular culture for years to come." Connect with her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. This may be the most courageous thing you’ve written here. I laud your candor, and hope this launches meaningful dialogue.

    Jackie

  2. A lot of rapes happen after break-ups, when men can’t deal with the pheromone withdrawal, “territorial” usurpation, and loss of what in many cases is the only real intimacy in their lives. In desperation, under the influence of the reptilian part of their brain, they show up to “take” what has been “theirs.” Often the woman is reluctant in these instances, for a variety of reasons running the gamut from residual affection or love, to sympathy, to fear, to get her ex in serious trouble, and so absorbs the violation.

    If such a return happens once, and the man realizes how off-the-charts crazy he has gone, there can be forgiveness, as long as the act stayed within the bounds of “sexuality.” But if it happens a second time the woman needs to break clean by any means necessary.

    • When a woman is raped, she is not “reluctant” — she said no and he did what he wanted anyway. There is no “absorption” of the violation. Men CAN and SHOULD deal with their problems, not take them out on exes. Are you really suggesting that it’s totally okay for men to rape an ex “just” once? If one of my exes raped me, I would not be okay with it and there would be no forgiveness from me.

      • I said, “there can be forgiveness” not “there should be.” The definition of “rape” is obviously as open to interpretation as any word. If you define “rape” as any sexual encounter a woman does not want to have, it gets inextricably tangled. Whether you’re drunk and unable to to mount effective resistance or decide to allow for whatever reason the man to proceed, it might still be called rape. At that point its all about what a woman decides to do after the fact.

        • Oh, no..... says:

          No, Mark. It is rape no matter what the woman decides to do afterward, and no matter whether the police refuse to help her or the DA refuses to prosecute. These types of rapes are rarely prosecuted. And sometimes that is almost worse than the rape.

    • and this is the main problem of taking a transactional/commodified view of sex instead of a collaborative view

  3. I like that you address (albeit through a personal story) one of the key reasons I never want to talk about rape:

    “I sought out guys who were just as drunk as I was. I made it perfectly clear—at the start of the night—that I was ready, willing and able to have sex, because I thought that was what I wanted.”

    This, to me, is the major reason I never want to discuss rape.

    For some reason, in our culture, men are assumed to have a super-human ability to regulate their own consent, even in situations where women are assumed to have lost their ability to give consent.

    When I was an undergraduate, a friend of mine got in real trouble for exactly this sort of behavior: he went home with a girl while blindingly drunk. She actually pulled him into the cab, and had previously extended an invitation to go back to her place, I witnessed it personally. The next day she claimed he took advantage of her while she was drunk, the University got involved, and he was disciplined (thank God, not so seriously that he could not graduate, this was a few years ago and both have moved on).

    I find it difficult for situations like this not to dehumanize men. I will admit to having at least one sexual encounter while drunk that I would have refused while sober. But as a man, society never considers my consent. Merely the fact that I am involved implies my consent. This, to me, is unacceptable.

    Why would I want to join a conversation when my starting point is less-than-human? What makes such a conversation worth having?

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Hi Mike,
      Obviously what I wrote was extremely difficult to write and publish, but I did so for exactly the reason you point out — that I don’t want to *ever* have a conversation that starts with men as less-than-human. It’s ridiculous. And if I were a man I wouldn’t want to have the conversation either.

      So I thank you for jumping in here, and agreeing to be a part of this in some way — however small you think your role was, you are playing a part, and I thank you. And I agree we can’t talk about women’s consent without talking about men’s as well.

    • “What makes such a conversation worth having?”

      Why…? Well, because it’s the right thing to do!

      I understand your pity party, but at the same time that doesn’t change the facts. Your personal pity party doesn’t erase the fact that women are being taken advantage of and raped. Some of these women are left with STDs, pregnancies etc.

      THEY are the answer to ‘What makes such a conversation worth having?’

      • And you just proved Mike’s point. Way to totally disregard his pointing out of the disregard of male consent.

        People like Mike might be more willing to join such conversations if it weren’t for people like you dismissing his concerns as “pity parties”. And the fact that women are being taken advantage doesn’t erase what Mike is talking about.

        So in all actualilty that THEY you speak of is made up of more than women, sure most of them might be women but acting like its only women that are treated this way is exactly why Mike asked that question in the first place.

        • Lisa Hickey says:

          By the way, I’m totally with you guys on this one. After all — there are tons of bad things that happen to guys, too. But you don’t see many women who stand up and talk about all the horrific stuff that happens when guys get sent to prison (and yes, the rape and sexual assault and violence that happens there.) And you don’t see many women stepping up and talking about the negative stereotypes when men are portrayed in the media. Or the loss of jobs by men in this recession.

          The truth is — I didn’t talk about it either. I spent most of my life trying to hide all the bad stuff that happening to me. There’s nothing worse than trying to have a conversation and being dismissed out right. But trying to have a conversation and saying “this is why it’s hard” — that’s important.

          thanks for your comments.

          • “But you don’t see many women who stand up and talk about all the horrific stuff that happens when guys get sent to prison (and yes, the rape and sexual assault and violence that happens there.) And you don’t see many women stepping up and talking about the negative stereotypes when men are portrayed in the media. Or the loss of jobs by men in this recession. ”

            Wow, that’s actually just not true. I just posted a comment in another thread about the portrayal of men in the media about 15 minutes ago. Every discussion I’ve come across about prison abuse, abuse in the military, hazing abuse at frats, etc. has had solid female input. Most of the articles on this site do, too, if you read the comment section.

      • “Pity party”?!? are you serious?

        What was brought up is a valid point. It both participants are black out drunk, how do you determine who needs to give consent and who needs to ask for it? In cases where one person is relatively sober and one person is clearly intoxicated, it’s pretty easy to determine who took advantage of whom. But, it’s usually some type of grey area. The man should not, by default, always be deemed the guilty party.

        If someone says “no” at any time, the line is pretty clear. No means no. But when you’re talking about instances where yes doesn’t mean yes, such as when a person is intoxicated, your dealing with a major issue. In order for something to be considered “taking advantage”, the person doing the taking has to be aware that the person saying yes is unable to give consent. Sometimes, it can be very difficult to determine how drunk a person is. If someone is unable to talk or walk, is falling down, is vomiting, keeps falling asleep, etc. these are pretty reliable signs that a person, male or female, is too drunk to consent.

        I think an issue that comes into play here is the view of men as raging horn dogs. Why would a guy not consent to sleeping with a woman? Everyone knows that guys will do pretty much anything with a vagina. If he doesn’t consent, then he must be gay. Concepts like these are incredibly damaging.

  4. First of all, Lisa, thank you for having the courage to share your story. As a gay man, I have never been raped or abused. But I have often engaged in sex, I think, simply because it was expected of me, and not because there was any passion or romance (as opposed to physical desire). That, for me, is the issue to address. Is sex worth having for its own sake, in the absence of genuine human emotion? Should we be teaching our kids to say no? Or how to say yes when the time is right?

    • GirlGlad4the GMP says:

      Yes. We should instill in our kids (and the kids in our family – as the only girl in my generation I had this conversation alot…with my neices who wouldn’t have gone to their parents about it) the self-esteem to know to say yes only because they want to, and the smarts to know what might constitute a bad situation.

  5. P.S. Not all 16- and 17-year-olds are gorgeous, as Melanie Safka so poignantly sang in “Seventeen”. I certainly wasn’t then or anytime since.

  6. Lisa,

    I don’t even know where to begin – except to thank you for the invitation you extended to all of us to be real, and honest, and self-reflective, and willing not to cast blame, so that we can take a good clear look at a topic that is rarely dicussed from such a gracious perspective.

    Roger

  7. Yes. Please. Dialogue. Let’s do.

    Thank you so much for being so brave!

    Peace
    Ty

  8. I am so moved by your ability to be intimate at this level. Your childhood, Lisa, was not what a childhood should look like even though you say some of it was fine. The fact that you dreamed of being kidnapped as a possible escape from your life…that says a lot. You are an amazing person and I’m glad that you have been able to overcome these memories in some way. And thank you for sharing.

  9. Wow! Thanks & wow! ….. just way to much going thru the head to say more than Wow! & Thanks!

  10. Thank you for writing this. It’s really courageous to put all of that intimate personal experience out there, and I really appreciate the call for discussion. Situations where people are emotionally vulnerable, maybe desperate, maybe drunk, and don’t know what they really want, are so complicated, and I think it’s by talking about how to deal with those complicated situations that we can best learn how to stop rape (especially date rape and acquaintance rape).

    I’m a white middle-class man in college, and I’ve reached a point in my life where I can limit my romantic and sexual pursuits to emotionally stable women with a healthy feminist viewpoint and self respect. But it seems almost every one of my friends and relatives who are women went through times in their lives, usually in adolescence, often in college, when they felt similarly to the way you described – needing validation, wanting to be wanted, and needing to have control over their own sexuality without yet knowing how – and had experiences that they regret. Of course we’re not talking about fault, they ran the spectrum from bad decisions to mistakes to simply becoming a victim. But I don’t think anyone should have to have that experience, and I want to help prevent it in the future.

    My first girlfriend was a year younger than I was, and we were together from when I was 16, through most of her first semester of university. We both came in to the relationship with basically no sexual experience, so I had always felt that we were equals. I later learned that although she had a healthy enough sense of self-worth, she didn’t really know what she wanted and had a very passive viewpoint of her sexuality. I had always thought we were discovering things together, and it was always consensual. She later told me that although there was never a time we had sex that she regretted it afterward, she did often feel pressured into it. I was confused and crushed with guilt, and I have carried that with me for a long time.

    I think that “no means no” should be very easy to understand for anyone who’s not mentally ill, but what can be harder to deal with, especially for well-meaning but confused men, is that yes does not always mean yes. Many young men don’t have enough understanding of the vulnerability of girls or women their age because of the way mainstream society teaches women to hate themselves. They don’t understand that there can be complicated power dynamics and that they can be pressuring their girlfriend, or date, or whoever, into sex without meaning to. In a perfect world (maybe one day), all young people would be raised strong enough to resist that pressure. But it’s not the case, and we have to figure out together how to deal with it, and pass on what we learn for posterity.

    There was a really good article on (I think) Jezebel that challenged the way drinking and sex and consent are dealt with. I think that it is still possible for people to consent unless they are so drunk that they literally don’t know what is happening. A lot of women get raped because someone takes advantage of their intoxicated condition when they can’t fight back. That’s not what I want to talk about right this minute though, because I think that’s crossing a huge line vs. those awkward situations when women feel pressured into sex implicitly, not explicitly – when yes doesn’t really mean yes. I want to help ignorant but well-meaning men to identify and deal with those situations in a responsible, feminist way. What signs we should see and think “Well, even if she would technically be consenting, I still shouldn’t take that chance in this case because it would be complicated.”

    I have a 12 year old boy cousin and an 8 year old girl cousin who lost their father. The 12 year old looks up to me, and I want to make sure he learns how not to put a confused young woman in that kind of position, before it’s too late. My sister and I also want to make sure the 8 year old develops good instincts, self-worth, and attitudes, so that she doesn’t get into bad situations. What should we tell them?

    I’m going to be watching for more comments on this article, I’m really interested in reading what everyone says.

  11. Wow, Lisa. I didn’t have abusive, alcoholic parents, but my high school and college years were rather like yours. But it seemed normal — most of my girl friends were as obliviously promiscuous as I was. I think we thought we were empowered when we were really giving ourselves away for cheap, in an insidiously destructive manner. I worry about both my son and daughter being on separate sides of this equation.

  12. “I think we thought we were empowered when we were really giving ourselves away for cheap….”

    What do you mean by the above Pauline?

    Giving oneself away for cheap is a curious phrase to use in this context.

    I get the sense from perusing these “rape” threads that we’re still harboring strong remnants of the female gatekeeper / economic model of human sexuality.

    • When I read Pauline’s line that “we thought we were empowered when we were really giving ourselves away for cheap” I thought it was so right and well put. Girls think that their only value is their attractiveness and availability (as someone above said) and that they have to have to have sex for all kinds of other reasons (to keep a guy’s attention/affection, to prove that they’re desirable, etc.) that they never get to the truly empowered place of figuring out what they actually *want*. What would sex be like if girls truly were able to decide when, with who, what acts, in what context? Many girls (and women) are not yet at a place where they truly value themselves as people, rather than sexual commodities. When they get to that point, then their sexuality can be about their own pleasure, rather than all this other stuff.

  13. Andrew Cotto says:

    Hi Lisa,

    What a beautifully written and courageous story. I particularly applaud your ability to approach the often neglected dimensions of what constitutes rape. Thanks for creating, once again, such important conversations.

    Best,

    Andrew

    • I liked the first part of the article, but the later part was naieve. In this society, women and men are not equals in a sexual relationship. The culture is still male dominated and as long as deny that we’re affected by it, we’re not going to have much dialogus and progress.

  14. This is one of the better pieces written about non consensual sex I’ve read. I think we overestimate both the woman’s ability to state her preference without ambiguity, and the man’s ability to read the woman’s every signal and utterance while in the midst of rampaging hormones. Add alcohol into the mix and it turns messy fast.
    Thanks for writing this. And to the commenter who accused the writer of a “pity party,” you’re completely off base. She’s done the opposite.

  15. Thank you for telling my story — the abuse was different, but the same. Different family dynamics, but I was left with the core belief that my sexual attractiveness and availability was my only real value. And I kept waiting for the strangers (or friends) to fall in love with me and change me. I was deeply broken and I want to publicly thank the men in my life who said “no.” Who saw that I was not right and who were loving toward me without taking me up on the offer. They were the first to help me find my feet as a person.

  16. Well done, Lisa. This was fair-minded. Some folks will never be as fair-minded as you. They just don’t have it in them. I forgive them and move on to those who are equipped to talk about such difficult issues. Objectivity is frowned upon in a society ruled by gods of war. Cliches are preferred over original thoughts. Anyone who doesn’t react instantly with a judgment-seething opinion is automatically suspect. In short, rape is still taboo. Keep defying taboos; some of us actually benefit from the kick in the pants, myself included.

  17. Lisa thank you for this fantastic piece of writing.
    As a youth educator on issues such as sexuality and body image, you have provided a wonderful piece of writing that addresses so many of the complex issues surrounding rape, lack of consent etc. It is such a delicate balance, and I think it is really valuable for for boys and young men (and indeed women) to be able to read such a candid account such as this.
    I have also really enjoyed reading the comments, it’s a great conversation to be having.

  18. Lisa Hickey says:

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone. I was more relieved than I care to admit that most of the first group of comments came from *guys* — I apparently still needed some validation that this stuff really was ok to talk about around men. And the tone and thoughtfulness of the comments was great to see also.

    The sad part — was how many women contacted me throughout the day. By email, by phone, in person, by Facebook chat. And the message was always the same — “Thank you for saying that. I never could. A similar thing happened to me, but I can’t say it in public, so I’m not going to comment. But thank you.”

    It certainly wasn’t an easy post to write. But if if something is important for “us” as a society, to talk about — that means it’s important for me to talk about. I no longer want to be the one that hopes someone else creates social change. And yet, I am only brave enough to tell my story because I have listened to the stories of those who came before me.

    thank you.

    • Lisa, if you want to create social change, start giving feminists some credit. I’m sick of all the anti-feminist trashing on this website. Yes, I’ve read Bob Jensen’s and Hugo’s articles, but I think you’re using them to mask the male chauvinism of The Good Men Project.

      • BDSMFeminist says:

        Give feminists some credit for her personal insights and struggle? … As a feminist, I don’t expect this woman to give any credit she is not herself inspired to give. I didn’t organize anti-rape protests, campaigns, educational campaigns to get “credit”. I did it because it’s what decent adults do.

        I also do not expect any one individual to become the apologist for any publication UNLESS THEY CONTROL IT. You have problems with other authors or editors? Please do contact them, post on their pages, please blog on your own site etc. but don’t ask someone to do your own activism with the subtle insinuation that she owes you or feminists or her foremothers.

        I found this article to be brave, articulate, thoughtful, and spoken from one person’s personal experience. I am impressed, and grateful, that it was written and published. I am glad that it seems to be inspiring thoughtful reactions as well as a few PC quibbles over semantics. because I want to live in a world where rape is intolerable to everyone, not just feminists or women.

  19. “So for me, personally, what I’d really like to do is call a truce—to stop placing blame just for a minute and figure this out together, ok? Let me repeat that. Just for a moment, not talk about who’s to blame, but let us as men, let us as women, actually get together and figure it out.”

    Lisa, we cannot call a truce until we admit that we’re still living in a male dominated society and that men have to take as much responsibility for it as women.

    BTW, I cringed when you used the sexist word, freshman and I noticed that you always address men first, as in “men and women.” I would like it very much if you also addressed women first, as in “women and men.”

    I’ve read several of your articles and I think you privilege men over women.

  20. “Guilt and shame that’s felt by men—and women—as equals in a sexual partnership.”

    In this society, women and men are not equals in a sexual partnership.

    True, some women and men are aspiring to it and coming close to it, but they know all too well that they are often going against the culture. And they know that it’s very easy to give in and take the path of least resistance.

    In spite of some sexist language, I continued to read your article until I read the naieve statement, “By men – and women – as equals in a sexual partnership.”

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      I was saying that as the ideal. Let us be partners together in a sexual relationship. If you don’t believe you can be an ideal, that’s unfortunate. But that is what I believe. That it can happen.

  21. After reading through all the comments so far I’ve struck by a couple of things: Everyone seem to assume that a drunk woman always is passive when it comes to sex. In my experience it is far from so. Active drunk woman and passive drunk man – is that really an unheard of situation for most people here? Have no-one considered that and what that would make the woman in those situations, what responsibilities she then has?

    Secondly, there are talk about how men should be better at reading when yes don’t actually mean yes, but no mention at all about how women should be better at reading when men’s yes don’t actually mean yes – which is more likely than people esp. women like to consider. It comes from the trope that men always want sex, a trope that many women believe and many men have internalised.

    Not to say that one shouldn’t take care in the stereotypical situations with active man, passive woman – but I find the almost total silence about the other way around disconcerting – particularily so because a drunk woman which I only met the same day decided to fuck me while I was asleep after a party.

    Lisa Hickey said in the article:
    “And as odd as it sounds, being promiscuous was my guard against being raped. If I was the aggressor, if I was in charge, then things were not happening to me against my will.”
    Which makes me wonder if all the women who thinks this at some points puts any effort into not becoming a rapist themselves. Lisa seem to only consider that the men were hurt because they were tricked into having sex with someone who actually didn’t want to have sex with them. The concept of any of the men not really wanting to have sex with her haven’t crossed her mind as far as I can tell from the article.
    Being an agressor for self-preservation reasons does not absolve one from the responsibility of making sure that you’re not hurting anyone and women (and men) just don’t seem to talk or acknowledge this. seemingly because of a belief women can’t really by sexual agressors/active and/or because men can’t get hurt by sex. Both beliefs which are patently wrong.

  22. If we’re talking about non-violent sexual relations between mutually intoxicated individuals then I’m inclined to believe that neither consent nor Rape can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. 

    I would advocate for Mediation and counseling instead of incarnation. 

    Btw… isn’t it time that we push for the legalization of prostitution So that the simplistic, utilitarian & Honest nature of Male Sexuality could stop being used as a tool of our exploitation and incarceration?

    I mean what exactly is the end game to all this prosecution?

    • Oh, no..... says:

      And, Budmin, what if the man assumes the woman is intoxicated, and she isn’t. Is it okay for him to force her to have sex with him just because he is drunk? I think that man deserves to go to prison.

      • poester99 says:

        You’re missing the point, intoxication in this instance doesn’t change anything, “forced” sex is rape.

  23. Thank you for writing this. I didn’t have an abusive father, but my virginity was taken in a similar way, and I attempted to cope with it in the same way that you did. Thank you for this article. Although it’s sad that this happens quite often, it’s good to know that I’m not alone in this and that these thoughts ran through someone else’s mind as well.

    • Budman,
      Is this a serious comment? Well I doubt that you have any real interest in this topic so I doubt that you will be back to read my comment but I’ll leave it in case any other readers are equally ignorant/thoughtless about prostutition.
      Prostutition is not good for the prostitute. So, no, we should not try to make prostitution legal. Just like we should not make crack legal. This is very simplified, but maybe that is the best way to reach someone who would actually not be able to formulate this thought by him/herself.

      • poester99 says:

        My body my choice. Unless it is to accept money for sex. Then it’s my body *not* my choice.
        Sounds convoluted, illogical and … religious? Hypocritical.
        Professional prostitutes organizations have a different point of view. Making it illegal makes it much more dangerous than it should be.

        • I agree. Keeping prostitution illegal immediately ostracizes and marginalises consenting women (and men) who want to sell sex. It does the same for men (and women) who want to pay for sex. It also puches the whole thing underground, making it seedier and more open to exploitation (children, forced prostitution, trafficking). There is no way you can say “prostitution is bad for the woman”. Perhaps getting beaten by a pimp and raped in motels is bad for the woman. In which case – legalise prostitution.

          Adults. Consenting. Not your business.

  24. Lisa — a very thought-provoking piece. I particularly respected both the honesty of your self-reflection and your willingness to acknowledge the ambiguity of (some of) these situations. I admire, also, what you have survived. I think that the “yes means yes!” school has a legitimate point in that we should be looking for enthusiastic consent as an ethical guide. I think asking permission before touching someone is sort of creepy and highly likely to be off-putting, but looking for enthusiastic participation should be our goal. I think that willing participation is really more the ethical standard between rape and consensual sex. I might not always be enthusiastic about sex but if I’m participating then I’m consenting (barring threats and the like). There are many reasons why a person might be willing to consent but not enthusiastic about consenting, and a lack of enthusiasm does not mean rape is occurring. That said, the more enthusiastic partner should be sensitive and should seek to ensure that both partners are able to speak up if they are uncomfortable, and should seek to understand the lack of enthusiasm.

    • Oh, no..... says:

      Rick, if the man shoves the woman down and gets on top of her, and she is too shocked to say “no,” is that “participation?” A great many rape victims react initially with shock.

  25. Lisa, another courageous ‘home run’ article from you. This is so powerful that I had to read it once, then come back a few days later to feel ready to comment. The whole “Good Girl/Bad Girl” stereotype has lead countless young girls like yourself into promiscuous activity they do not enjoy very much.

    As girls/women we are often considered worthless if men do not want to have sex with us, and worthless if we actually allow them to do it. We need more ways to enjoy and celebrate our sexuality with the men (and/or women) who are kind and cherish us. This article is a huge step in the right direction! –Margo Rose

  26. This is beautiful! I really love the different article. What a great decoration! I think I should try one. If only I had more time.

  27. Lisa…great piece. Thank you for writing such an intelligent heart-felt essay about the rape discussion. Few people understand what males must consider when venturing into the sexual realm. More importantly, thank you for casting the light of discovery on what really influences our sexual decisions and our need for intimacy.

  28. Sexual interaction is too complex to be ruled by “yes means yes!” even though I think that’s a great ideal, and a good guideline. A big part of the problem with this conversation is that often “non consensual” (and also “non-rape”?) sex happens under really ambiguous circumstances, like those you describe and others–and often those situations may be “consensual.” Who gets the blame seems like a dumb question, but it does come up. Does it really matter who gets the blame? What matters is why the situation happened.

    • Oh, no..... says:

      Listen, idiots – “non-consensual” sex IS rape. The comments here that excuse rape are really scary. It appears that rape is expected and condoned by most of you. Who suffers? Women.

    • e,
      Sexual interaction is not too complex to always be ruled by “yes means yes”. It’s sad that you think it is. Sex should not happen under really ambiguous circumstances, such as those described. You being accustomed to this type of situation is a perfect example of how entrenched this mentality is in our culture. The focus should be both on who is to blame, and why the situation happened. It would not make sense to separate the two. This article points out that multiple factors can be to blame. But that does not excuse any one factor from blame.

  29. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    Lisa,

    Thank you. This was very brave and moving. I’ve usually been interested in a relationship with the women I’ve been with, but I’ve had at least one of those sorts of encounters, which the woman made very easy for me by being nice after. Oh yes, another, where she wasn’t particularly nice (my one bar pick-up leading to sex in my life.) I had an FWB relationship also, which felt very hollow, since we weren’t in love at all.

    Both of my parents were molested by their fathers. Fortunately, they kept their hands off of us in that way. My father was very distant from me. He was bi, and I think it was his fear of this type of thing kept him a remote figure in my childhood. Like many from this type of family, I’ve had a high number of sexual partners.

  30. You get drunk and sleep with someone that makes you a WHORE not a rape victim.

  31. As a victim of all kinds of abuse I know about guilt, shame, and blame. Although this isn’t the first time I’ve felt it, while reading this article I couldn’t help but feel pain for some of the male species. We need to teach our girls that verbalizing “yes” and “no” strongly. Of course not all, but so much sexual abuse is due to fear of voicing ourselves. It won’t protect you from everything, ladies, but use that voice strongly!

  32. Mike Domitrz= The Date Safe Project= spreading the word, traveling the country to educate kids to ask first!

  33. Mois de Fleurs says:

    I loved your article, Lisa, and it definitely rang true for a lot of the experiences I have had. I never experienced abuse as a child but my father did leave in my early teenager-hood in circumstances which seemed world-changing at the time. I felt that I had been brought up to believe that my identity was my parents’ opinion of me, so losing my father’s interest led to a big crisis of my own identity. For a while I felt that only in the company of my mother was I at my ‘point neutral’, truly being myself. This coincided with the growing realisation of my potential as a teenage girl to attract male attention. In a very similar way to you, I became extremely promiscuous, always hoping that the next man would be the one to fall in love with me, and somehow take the unbearable aspects of my personality off my hands. While I am now in a caring and long-term relationship, it has been very difficult to accept a healthy but not-fairytale love and work hard at protecting and strengthing it. If my boyfriend ever found out about my occasional lapses of fidelity, I think he would be devastated. But for me, fidelity is something which I have to work on, and which is part of me accepting my identity as a good person who does good things.
    The issue of consent in sex is still one I am unsure about, because even in the best relationship there are likely to be occasions of unenthusiastic consent, especially if there is a (temporary or permanent) discrepancy between the sex drives of the partners. I also realise that my reluctance often becomes enthusiasm as I become more turned on, but I fear this is a very dangerous thing to say because it indirectly encourages people to try and persuade others into having sex. In my personal experience, I have been in situations where I wished the next day that I hadn’t played the seductress and lured someone into bed, and also situations where I have had sex only to protect myself against someone’s negative judgement. Both of these kinds of situations are ones I wish I could have avoided, and I think that part of that is about not believing my own judgement to be right and feeling that intimicy with other people could take away the pain of being me. Attempting to accept that my (considered, reflective, informed) judgement is the only one I will pay heed to doesn’t come easily, but I hope to get there eventually.

  34. I think one of the most power points you have made in this post is that the old and blame-laded ways in which we have talked about this in the past have simply not been very effective. So trying to approach this from a new perspective is well worth the effort.

    I don’t have the experience, as an adolescent, of being drunk. I was promiscuous because I was extremely curious. And I liked sex. And I had a great deal of it. I came from a reasonably stable family background. But even so, I did end up in situations where the ‘yes’ was questionable. I can’t honestly say it was rape. I can honestly say that I was giving out a lot of mixed messages. And I gave out those mixed messages because there were social pressures and expectations at work that overrode my choices.

    If I grew up in a time when it was socially preferable for women to say ‘no’, then I think there is a similar strong but opposite pressure on women today to say ‘yes’. Either state is unacceptable because neither is an answer born of individual free choice.

    What I do think is very important is to educate young women that whether they ‘give it up’ or not is no measure of their value as women. Conversely, it’s important to educate young men that a rejection of the offer of physical intimacy is no measure of their virility or masculinity.

  35. One of the best men I ever dated somehow, despite all my best efforts, never had sex with me. He slept with me, held me, hugged and kissed me, but gently and firmly didn’t go any further. He taught me so much, that took me years after we split to figure it out. If you’re abused as a child, you genuinely don’t have a ‘no’ button in your head. You take for granted that you will have sex with any man that shows even passing interest, and don’t even question whether you want to or not. Sex is currency exchanged for love, intimacy, and an abatement of the dreadful loneliness abuse victims take for granted. This doesn’t excuse rape or abuse, but it does make things difficult for men who aren’t aware of what’s going on. It takes a very strong and aware man to know the difference when the girl he is with has no idea that sex can be consensual, and whether she is consenting or not. Of course, women who don’t know the difference are a gift to abusive men, and I consider myself very lucky to have known this man who taught me that relationship and physical intimacy doesn’t mean I automatically have to screw the man. I now have a standard, and an awareness of how a good man treats women. Thanks for your article, so much resonated with me and helped me understand some of the ‘whys’ that I still struggle with.

  36. Thank you so much for this fantastic article. It’s such a fresh departure from the knee-jerk “let’s blame everything on men” attitude that so many people who wish to talk about rape have.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Thanks. I just don’t find the “let’s blame everything on men” mentality to be productive in the least.

      • i don't believe you says:

        Wow! Just Wow! I don’t think I have ever read a more honest, raw and complex post written about a woman’s sexual past. Even in the midst of friendly company, women rarely admit that they use sex, but here you are confessing on the internet to using it as a form of power and therapy.

        Like yourself, there are plenty of folks who would like a more productive discussion about sexuality that doesn’t assign blame and point fingers, but the mere mention of the “R” word does just that! You can’t have a truce while using the word rape.

  37. Thank you for writing this….so brave…and so full of all the ambiguities and, ultimately, the violence that pervades relationships between men and women…or really girls…you were a child then….and the horror that comes with that realization…

  38. I’m not good at avoiding the blame thing. I thing blame is a good thing. I guess that makes me the weirdo but I honestly see criticism as a great force for good. However I’ll try to play by the rules (looks like the party’s over anyway).

    What’s the deal with all the rape talk? Why do people go on about it so much like it is so important? Getting kicked in the balls is also a form of sexual assault but people don’t endlessly go on and on about it. I don’t get it. I have maybe some ideas but …. I don’t think I am on the same page as some of the weird remarks here at all. Especially on date rape so-called.

    On the consent thing, what the heck is up with that? Why is it such a huge deal to figure out? I never had sex with anyone and had even the tiniest doubt about their participation. But even if I did… well why is it any different from any other human activity? Want to go to lunch? Maybe you are ambivalent. So I start off that way. if you don’t want to go, won’t you tell me? Why can’t communication over sex work just the exact same way that any other form of communication over anything else works?

    Why do people think having sex with someone who is asleep is automatic rape? I don’t mean legally, I know the law is all fucked up. I mean morally. Do you really want to say that a wife who wakes up her husband with a blow job is a rapist? Because I don’t see it.

  39. Lisa,

    I’m sorry I could not even get through the entire piece. I know too much of this story. But I am so sorry you went through such early years. Sometimes I just hate humanity.

  40. Frozen Flame says:

    It’s best if we raise young men to simply operate on the assumption that a clear, reasonably sober “yes” is not a “yes” at all. Does that mean they’ll miss opportunities to score when a “veiled” yes might have been legit? Maybe, but at least we’ll also spare them the burden of having hurt a woman in a very dark and irreversible way. A minor setback for a guy who can always schedule a date with Rosy Palm to relieve the frustration, and the benefit is it prevents something that’s not only tragic for the woman, but the doubt that will plague the man.

    Because yes, men have consciences. And the fact that they didn’t “mean” to take advantage while they were drunk doesn’t mitigate the hurt they caused, but the fact still stands that they’ve become monsters against their better judgment, just as the woman has become a victim against hers.

    So, as Men, let’s settle for nothing less than a clear, concise “Yes.” And if she says “No” or anything that might *be* a “No* at the last minute, then we stop right there, pack it up, take our ball(s) and go home. Just like women, we deserve for sex to be fun, and to engage in it with a clear conscience. Heaven knows there are enough obstacles to that as it is without us adding to the problem.

    Again, if that means you miss out because a woman who said no “really” meant yes? Again, the consequences of being wrong about that are too grave. Have some self-respect, guys. It’s not our job to figure out what someone “really” means. Don’t let that cloud your judgment.

    And if that means that communications between the sexes become clearer and leaves less room for foggy interpretation as a result of such a fundamental change, consider that a bonus. Because that needs to happen as a whole, and this is a great place to start.

    • Frozen Flame says:

      Sorry, I meant “It’s best if we raise young men to simply operate on the assumption that IF A YES is not a clear, reasonably sober “yes” IT is not a “yes” at all.”
      Sorry to comment on my own, but I felt the misreading would have proved terribly far from what I was conveying!

  41. You lost me at I was 16 17 I was gorgeous isn’t every girl at that age… Haven’t you noticed? Is a contrived sidenote. You’re using your youth as an excuse for your rape. Im 20
    Years older then a 16 year old and had had more unconsensual sex then I can remember. You can’t blame youth or naiveté for rape. It’s happens at every age…. And for you to sensualize yourself over rape/youth is narcissistic.

  42. J.G. te Molder says:

    Well, it’s really simple what we should teach teenagers: if you’re a boy, stay the hell away from girls and women when they’re drunk!

    Not because you’d hurt them, but because the new FBI definition and state laws, is that if she’s drunk, she was raped. Never mind she stuck a needle in your arm, pumped you full of a knock-out drug against your will, tied you to a bed then outright raped you then there, possibly with the help of que-tip forced down your urethra to keep your penis up; only penetration is legally rape, and she being drunk, means you as a guy raped her! “Forced to penetrate”, or rather “forced envelopment” is not rape according to the laws and not according to the FBI definition of rape.

    Beat up, forced down, tied up, a weapon in your face, drugs administered, a hand over the mouth to keep you quiet all against your will, those are all signs of a real actual rape, and those are the only actual rapes.

    If you got yourself too drunk to be able to stop yourself from something you no longer want to when you handed an eager yes moments earlier, there is no rape. Least of all if the boy is just as drunk. At least, if you apply the law equally:

    1. If you getting yourself drunk is enough to remove agency and thus you are being raped, getting in a car after drinking and killing someone would mean you get to walk because your agency would be just as much compromise so you can’t be held responsible for killing people with your car.

    2. If both partners are too drunk to have agency, then just like above with the drunk car, you can’t he held responsible for any decisions you make because you can’t make any informed ones. This would go of course, for both participants in the drunk sex, result; by equal application of the law, neither person can be held responsible for any rape that may or may not have taken place.

    3. If both partners keep their agency under equal application of the law, and sex with someone drunk is rape, we must conclude that both partners, male or female, raped each other, meaning that a guilty verdict means that both partners must go to prison.

    The end result is simple logically and sanely speaking; drunk sex cannot possibly be rape, otherwise you get things that are just plain ridiculous and an entirely selective, discriminating application of the law.

    • “those are the only actual rapes”?

      This is a truly chilling point of view.

      If a person is incapacitated for whatever reason, you’re not to have sex with them, because that IS ACTUAL RAPE.

      • So how drunk is incapacitated? Passed out? Blacked out? 0.08% BAC? One drink? One sip? What if both partners have been drinking? Did they rape each other? This definition of rape runs into a lot of contradictions that need dealing with. Unfortunately, too many people default to ‘it’s rape if they say so’.

      • poester99 says:

        If both are near incapacitated drunk, who is raping who? What if she initiates?
        Again, it’s extremely unclear. With the vagueness of the new rules if SHE has had anything to drink AT ALL it is rape. It’s intentionally vague to make sure a lot of he said/she said’s end up with convictions.
        If he’s near incapacitated drunk, he still retains all the liability.
        It’s just stupid to get very drunk at a party unless you have someone (who’s less drunk or a dd) watching your back.

        Is that the ideal? It seems a lot of women are fine with the government treating them like children.

        • Steve Steveson says:

          Unfortunately this seems to be what is being said many times over on this site. Two people equally drunk, have sex, OMG!!!!! HE RAPED HER!!!! She only said yes because of the drink!

          I’m sorry, but when both people are drunk and both people say yes (even in a non verbal way) it is not rape. Saying so is denigrating men and playing to the idea that all men are violent, evil and debased. Rape is when one person has sex with someone else against there will. Two people having sex, even if one or both of them regret it in the morning, is not rape, it is just a bad idea.

    • I get that this is an old post but I just had to comment on this statement.
      Rape is when the word NO (with no mixed signals) is violated.
      My rational:
      Do you think the quiet girl who gets pushed into drinking by her friends then gets assaulted by a man who is older and completely sober even when she clearly tells him NO (despite being drunk) is at fault? Yes, drinking young is childhood ignorance I’ll give you that. Isn’t it just as sad when drinking with a few close friends (who told you that they had your back) turns into one of the most painful nights of your life? I get it that women take advantage of men. Yes, old news I’m afraid. You know, the stupid girl who lies about her age, goes to bed with you, then sues the crap out of you or puts you in jail. However I think both parties need to be held liable (would it kill you to check her damn ID before hopping into bed?) and girls, stop preying on men ’cause you have daddy issues. Learn from their mistakes and carry on. I think women can indeed rape men (even though for some stupid reason the national rape statistic doesn’t think so).
      I agree that ALL genders need to grow up, but I don’t believe that rape is necessarily the “Beat up, forced down, tied up, a weapon in your face, drugs administered, a hand over the mouth to keep you quiet all against your will, those are all signs of a real actual rape, and those are the only actual rapes.”
      I bet it would be a different story if your male best friend took advantage of you while you were drunk. But YOU were in a safe environment! But YOU said no. And guess what? YOU weren’t tied down with a knife to your throat.
      Feels different when the shoe is on a different foot huh?

  43. You were exploring your sexuality…drunk but still I don’t see it as rape or anything you should be especially ashamed of, really…I don’t even remember the night I lost my virginity o even the girl’s name, but she didn’t know mine either so I guess it was fair to a point…

    I had so bad experience in my subscouncious in my first time I loathed one night standing’s fom that on to the point I am unable, as my friends say, to ”answer the call’ in parties, not because I felt guilty of rape, but just because it was an experience I just didn’t remember the day after so it was pointless really…

    • poester99 says:

      Stupid, Stupid, many people don’t see that as innocent carelessness by two young adults any more. With only a slight twist you could have had your future destroyed and gone to jail.
      Best to avoid it entirely, like you say.

  44. I don’t usually comment but there are so many shockingly negative comments on this article, I just wanted to quickly say how much I appreciated this article. I think it presents a needed perspective, offers insight to an ongoing dialogue, and encourages compassion for all those affected by sexual violence in our society. Thanks for writing!

  45. People need to a take more seriously, to many men and women think its about sex although I don’t see any type of crime beside statuatory rape there is need for everyone to behave better

  46. Hunter @Green Detective says:

    Behind your message of rape advocacy is bigger issue of child abuse and alcoholism. 25% men, and 50% women report physical abuse in childhood. Research recovery, and give yourself compassion. Every day. New script. Follow your heart, and forgive. Take back your joy.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Thanks for your comment. And yes, I was trying to get at the tip of the iceberg about how child abuse and alcoholism combine to make very bad decision making.

      But anyone who knows me knows how much I am now able to “take back my joy”. 110%. And there is no other life than the one I am living joyfully, at this very moment.

      • I can’t read all of these negative comments. Some are very misguided and ignorant.

        I sincerely appreciate this piece, and have been seeking help for similar reasons. This doesn’t seem to be the best place for this discussion, which is rather unfortunate, considering this is an incredible site. I hope there comes a day where we are able to talk about this without shame and blame. Until then…

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