A part of me might tell you that I once dated someone who felt differently than I did about the physical aspect of our relationship. Yet another part of me might tell you that I was raped.
What does the term rape actually mean? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. What happened to me is this: I felt forced to have sex. I was consistently asked to have it despite how often I explained that I didn’t want to. I felt like we couldn’t make out without the expectation that it would lead to intercourse. I was not reassured that he would be in a relationship with me if I refused to have sex. Anything sexual that he did for me, I felt that I had to do the same for him or I was being selfish.
Does this fall under the definition of rape? From my understanding, rape is any type of sexual intercourse that is forced upon another person. Most importantly, there is a lack of consent on behalf of someone involved. I consider agreeing to have sex because someone involved feels that they have no choice to be a lack of consent. I consider silence to be a lack of consent. Especially when that silence is a result of giving up.
What is important to realize is that rape doesn’t have to be violent or physically forceful to still be considered rape. It doesn’t have to be between strangers, between people with a significant age difference, between people of opposite sexes. Rape exists in many forms. What happened to me was masked by what we both believed, at the time, was a relatively healthy relationship. It happened even though outside of our sex life, we went on dates, cooked each other breakfast, talked constantly. It happened despite how much we cared about one another.
Is it my fault then, if I stayed in the relationship anyway?
Sometimes I feel like it was. I don’t think he ever had bad intentions. The blame could fall on these biological differences, or the ways in which society and the media says to treat these differences — namely, that it wasn’t his fault that he wanted to have sex, it’s just nature. Who or what is really at fault is an ever-consuming question, so if I knew the answer I wouldn’t be writing this article.
But here is what I’ve realized — it doesn’t matter who takes the blame or whose fault it is. Whether I should have or not, I went through with it because I felt like our relationship, or his happiness, or both, depended on it. I was led to believe that going along with sexual intercourse and being pressured is normal because it happens to everybody. I am not condemning sexual intercourse in a relationship; I am condemning sex that is not consensual, because that is rape.
Rape is a heavy word, and I don’t mean to undermine anyone’s experience that was more forceful than mine. I am not trying to equate my experience to the severity of anyone else’s. Why I’m arguing that the word rape applies is because what I went through crossed into the realm of exploitation, and I want to utilize the intensity and enormity of the connotations of rape to draw attention to the fact that I was physically and emotionally violated. I want to use this word because this kind of violation occurs too often, and just because it is common does not make it acceptable.
What I’ve taken from this experience is the need to perpetuate respect. I don’t know how to deconstruct society’s norms and expectations, but I can start by asking anyone who’s read this far to respect your partner, if you have one, or to respect one in the future. Respect each other’s wants and needs, and respect yourself. I think I wanted to respect my ex’s wants and needs by giving him what he asked for, but I violated my own to do so, and disrespected myself in the process. If not being intimate would have violated his wants and needs, then we weren’t in the right relationship. The relationships worth keeping are based on respect, and love doesn’t mean anything without it.
In other words, we are all worthy of respect. I learned that the hard way, but no one else should have to.
NICOLE LESNETT is a fourth-year international relations major. She can be reached at email@example.com.