Rough Sex and the Politics of Trauma

I don’t really want to write this. It feels a bit personal, a bit close to home, a bit attacking. It feels too grey – half consensual, half not. Half good, half not. But maybe it is the uncomfortable in-betweens we need to talk more about. The moments of pleasure laced with pain, the points where things that were okay all of sudden weren’t. The moments where your hands wrapped around my throat and I could no longer tell whether or not you wanted to fuck me or just hurt me. Maybe it is these conversations that are worth having.

You see, as soon as you start bringing criticism into the most gratifying, and sacred, and wonderful acts, you run the risk of swallowing the hardest truth of all. The awful, unflinching truth of how men as a whole have hurt women as a whole. And how even between the most gentle and considerate and passionate of lovers, one single movement can trigger centuries of trauma, embodied so deeply, the individual relationship barely registers enough to make it tolerable.

And this is how I felt. I felt scared. And I felt powerless. Because if you really wanted to hurt me, you could have. And I wouldn’t have been able to do fucking anything about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I like rough sex, as a general rule. But that’s the problem right, the general? Because sometimes I don’t. Sometimes when I don’t know you or trust you or love you, I don’t. I don’t like your hands around my neck. I don’t like you slapping me or pulling my hair. I don’t like you getting me only wet enough to shove yourself inside me. And I especially don’t like thinking that this is most likely how you’ve been taught to fuck women, and how they’ve probably never felt strong or desired or culturally valuable enough to disagree.

Because nobody wants to tell the man they are shagging that he is too rough, and that his version of sex is fucking degrading, and that you are literally praying for him to cum so this awful attempt at pleasure can cease to involve you. Especially, especially when you actually care about him. When outside the four walls of your bedroom, he is legitimately a nice guy, and what’s more, a nice guy who genuinely cares for you. No, you don’t want to tell him that his 3-1 ratio of orgasms is just plain old bad fucking manners, and yes, consent is sexy. Especially if he feels inclined to bring his cache of pornographic tricks into your sheets and quite literally up and inside your body. Then yeah, he should probably want to ask if it feels good.

The politics of trauma are blurry and complex and fucking messy. It is less about the individual, and more about the structural. The structural violence committed against women – the very real, and very terrifying fact, that most women experience sexual or domestic abuse at some point in their lives. The very real, and very terrifying fact, that most porn is less concerned with what feels good and safe for women than what looks arousing and pleasurable for men. The very real, and very terrifying fact, that most women have been virgin-fetishished, slut-shamed, or sexually objectified by every form of authority that pretends to care for them. The politics of trauma functions in a way that every act committed against women outside of the bedroom inevitably becomes a trigger for their emotional well-being within the bedroom. And yes, if they do not orgasm but you do, you have indirectly told them that their pleasure is worth less than yours. That what constitutes sex is your ejaculation, full stop.

And when you are rough with them in bed without their consent, you are assuming that they have never been violently touched before, that their best friend hasn’t been raped before, that their bodies have never been viciously thrown about before. You are assuming that in a culture where sexual and domestic abuse are devastatingly common rather than rare, that they do not have a multitude of triggers that inform how safe and sexually empowered they are. And I am not blaming you, I am truly not. Like I said, structural sexism does not inform every individual. The truth is most probably you love women, you care about their needs and their desires, you want them to feel protected and worthwhile and sexually satisfied. But if, perhaps, the first thing you want to do when you sleep with a woman is choke her out, then maybe you need to reconsider your relationship to that structure. And, if not, that doesn’t mean that the suffocating hand of patriarchal rule that has quite literally shamed and silenced her for thousands of years disappears because you do not personally adhere to it.

What it does mean is that you should tread carefully, always. You should defy, dismantle and smash the very systems and behaviours that oppress women. And you should always, always ask for consent before engaging in any act that might trigger a multitude of misogynistic wounds that haven’t quite had time to heal and perhaps in your lifetime won’t be able to. It means being more gentle than you think necessary, and more giving than you think equitable. And it means asking for feedback and taking it, without anger and defensiveness, without guilt-tripping and reverse-critiquing, but with complete willingness despite the fact that it is fucking uncomfortable and you would rather be personally absolved from it than accept yourself as systematic collateral in it. And it means having awkward conversations about those in-between moments, those grey areas, those half-good, half-not encounters because without them change will struggle to become meaningful, and sex will remain to be a space where raw, long-embodied and dormant traumas continue to rise to the surface.*





*This reads specific to one person, or one experience, or one night or whatever. But it isn’t. In fact it happens all the fucking time. And I know this cause when I am not pacifying men who I have and will inevitably hurt because gender ideology is fucking painful and uncomfortable and hurtful for everybody, I am talking with women who are just learning to open up with one another about things that have been so normalised and happen so frequently, they haven’t begun to ask themselves whether or not it was and is okay. And we are all still learning, and we will all continue to fuck up along the way, and nobody said the dialogue was going to be easy, but we should keep trying because it is worth it.x


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