That was the question posed by my man friend as we discussed the Withdrawal Consent law that's active, alive, and well in North Carolina.
Under North Carolina law, women can't legitimately retract a "yes" to sex once that demonstration has consensually started, on account of an "escape clause" maintained by the state's Supreme Court. A man can't be liable of assault if the woman initially assented to sex — regardless of whether she later requests that he stop. As my friend (we'll call him "Elijah") explained this to me, I couldn't help but feel completely confused and downright angry. The only thought that came to mind was, "What does a woman have if not the right to change her mind?"
On the evening of May 16, 1977, Beverly Hester was assaulted.
But the North Carolina Supreme Court declared that under the law, it wasn't rape if Hester told the man to stop after – not before – sex began.
Hester testified in court that the man who assaulted her, Donnie Leon Way, threatened to beat her if she didn't have sex with him. According to a summary included in the N.C. Supreme Court Decision, State v. Way, Hester said Way asked her out on a date. They went with another couple to a friend's apartment, and Way asked Hester to go upstairs "because he had something to show her."
She went with him to a bedroom upstairs. He shut the door. Then he tried to take off her pants. She said, "No." But Way wouldn't stop.
Let's pause here. Have you ever been in a situation similar to this? I have.
Interestingly enough, with Elijah. We didn't start off platonic. We were dating pretty often prior to "the incident".
We were spending some time together one evening when the sexual energy started flowing. You know, the looks started being thrown, he intently sits with his entire body opened in your direction, the focused and silent glances intensify. We begin with warm and passionate hugs, which lead to even more passionate kissing. Fast forward and tops are off, both his and mine. Fast forward some more, he gains his composure and suggests we stop since we aren't going to sex. I agree and we take a snooze. Later, I am awakened by his kiss, which is just as passionate as before. We continue as if we never stopped, except this time he finds his way on top of me, hands groping and grabbing at my body. All consented until he begins to unbuckle my pants and reach into my underwear.
In between kisses, I'm murmuring "no" and disapproval. He continues as he slides his hand onto and into me. To be very honest, I was extremely puzzled. I didn't want to go that far but I enjoyed the sensation. What I didn't enjoy was not being listened to. He continued without regard for my disapproval as he proceeded to pull my pants down. I am scared now. "Elijah wait. Elijah WAIT. Elijah wait."
He doesn't hear me. I've become invisible. He doesn't see me. So much so, I wonder to myself, Is this real? Is this really happening right now?
He keeps his boxers on and climaxes. Girl, when I tell you I was CONFRUSED *insert ratchet country accent* (that's not a typo...I was that confused you hear me?!)
I lay there, my back to Elijah, completely in disbelief. At that moment, all I can hear is the barrage of self-blame and thoughts of, Why didn't leave early like you said you were? Why did you even let him carry you to the bed, you fool? All the thoughts that make you feel like crap after something already crappy happens to you. I gather my emotions enough to ask myself, What are you gonna do now? I decide on a plan to go to the bathroom, gather my top, and leave. I come out of the bathroom and start looking for my top and he asks, "What are you looking for?"
Learning about this law after my experience really made me reflect on two things I'll be adopting aggressively in my own sexual wellness journey and want to share with you. Here they are:
Set clear boundaries for guys.
Expressing unapologetically what IS and ISN'T on the table. Yes, you can take my top off. We can make out. You can suck on my breasts. You can't take my pants off. You can't take my underwear off. You can't touch my lady parts underneath or on top of my clothes. This may sound extra af, but the truth of the matter remains that we have COMPLETE agency over our bodies.
Our bodies are our very own personal universe, we set the rules of engagement.
Not making it clear who's in charge of your body only allows men to proceed as if they are entitled to access you may not feel comfortable giving.
Discuss what our beliefs are about sexual assault BEFORE getting physically involved.
Sexual alignment requires straightforwardness that we find "too much" or "extra" sometimes. It's a legit approach that isn't presently expected of us since deep conversation isn't seen as essential before physically connecting with someone.
Sexual compatibility isn't simply about the frequency and style of sex. It implies knowing your hard and soft cutoff points when sexual energy is building. Sis, it's okay to ask any and all of the following questions:
- "What do you consider sexual assault?"
- "How okay are you with dry humping and not having sex?"
- "How much dry humping or foreplay can you handle before you're frustrated?"
- "How do you handle sexual frustration?"
- "What makes you feel sexually rejected?"
As women, we are well aware that for us sex starts in the mind. Men know this also, no matter how much some may plead ignorance. It serves us to practice exploring these questions unapologetically with straightforwardness.
We have the power and responsibility to represent our best interest in sexual situations. Laws like Withdrawal Consent illustrate how clearly we can't depend on men, the government, or public officials to look out.
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