Life Style

Sexual consent, a taboo concept in the couple



ATller going to bed had at times become an ordeal because in the morning, I said to myself, come on, tonight you make an effort, you make love. And when evening came, I felt like a lump in my stomach. I didn’t want to ”, says Mariana.

Same thing for Val, who felt very guilty for not wanting to or rarely: “So sometimes I would give in, so I would make it happen quickly to get rid of.” It’s terrible but true, and for me it was a marital duty. Still, I loved my husband. I was giving in just to avoid feeling guilty. “

→ MAINTENANCE. Consent in the couple: “We must be attentive to the messages of the other”

These intimate testimonies, among a hundred others, were collected by the sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann, clearly illustrate the sensitive nature of the concept of consent within the couple (1). For both women and men. One of them thus confides in suffering from not being able to share intimate moments with his partner. “I feed on fantasies and hopes, but very quickly I come back to reality”, he breathes.

The #MeToo breakup

The Weinstein affair, followed by the #MeToo movement, has helped raise the profile of sexual harassment practices in high places of power. But what about in the privacy of thatched cottages? Under what condition can we say that a kiss has been stolen, a sexual relation, forced?

→ READ. #Metoo, what young women think

“When it’s yes, it’s yes, when it’s no, and when you don’t know, you keep your fingers to yourself”, says the song of consent (2). Certainly, this playful refrain can be a landmark for the younger generations who experience their first encounters. But when married life sets in, in a kind of amorous cordial understanding, things are less clear, and sexuality is a difficult subject to broach even within the couple.

“The couple works on a certain number of skills, habits, little routines, such as the way to organize their things, to eat breakfast, observes Jean-Claude Kaufmann. In sexuality too, the couple has their habits, a kind of choreography which tends to be repeated. The conversation is more gestural than verbal. To the caress of one, the other can respond with a caress in return, an indifference, a hesitation, a movement of recoil… As many indications, small messages in the form of consent or non-consent. you have to learn to hear, to decode, by listening to your partner. “

Divergence of desires

On the desire or the non-desire of each, the discussion is not easy. After the founding sexuality of its beginnings, the couple will experience, over the course of their married life, a “divergence of desires”. “That of the man is more regular, more rectilinear than that of the woman, more fluctuating. The difference in their expectations rarely produces the perfect agreement on when and how often to have sex ”, points out the sociologist.

→ READ. Is marital sexuality in crisis?

However, it is not always easy to say no to your spouse. And the latter does not necessarily clearly perceive the sign of resistance or refusal. “So, sometimes, one can be tempted to force himself“ a little ”to please the other, sometimes it is the other who does not realize that he is forcing“ a little ”. “ The question of consent can then be asked.

Red line

In a certain number of couples, often on the side of the woman but sometimes also in the man, notes the researcher, “The habit is taken of not expressing one’s non-consent, of repressing it, of burying it in silence”. This can gradually lead to incomprehension, dissatisfaction, discomfort, even different degrees of suffering, from painfulness to harassment and aggression, if a certain red line is crossed. A long neglected social reality to which the legislator wanted to provide a response by the law of 2006, amended in 2010, which recognizes, judicially speaking, the notion of “marital rape”, although it remains underreported by the victims .

But, apart from these extreme cases, fortunately in the minority, there are many other situations where a certain vagueness dominates. It’s not really “yes”, but not really “no”. A gray area where one avoids having to speak out explicitly for various reasons that are not always conscious: the weight of habits, fear of conflict, fear of breaking up one’s relationship, the feeling of guilt, the injunction of “Conjugal duty”, present in the minds.

Marital duty

The notion of conjugal duty is linked to Christian theology of marriage, recalls historian Sylvie Steinberg. “Initially, the reciprocal“ debt ”that the spouses owe each other has as its final goal the procreation and removal of concupiscence. “ Sexually satisfied spouses are supposed to be protected from the danger of adultery.

→ INVESTIGATION. Renew the dialogue when the couple is in crisis

“The” conjugal debt ”, integrated into the“ conjugal duties ”when the law becomes secular, is justified by the mutual consent of the spouses exchanged on the wedding day. The problem of non-consent could therefore only arise outside marriage, in the context of “illicit” sexuality, Sylvie Steinberg continues. From XXe century, sexuality also becomes a place of personal development, which contradicts the idea of ​​owing something to someone on the sexual level. “

If marital duty is a thing of the past, how can we avoid the gray area of ​​consent, which is conducive to all interpretations? According to Jean-Claude Kaufmann, “There are many possibilities to find each other intimately despite the divergence of desires, to make love as one would wish without it being experienced as a constrained by the other ”. In particular by learning to be attentive to the messages sent by the spouse, messages which benefit from being clarified by the discussion. “Communicating, clearing up misunderstandings allows you to achieve small victory after small victory, assures the sociologist. It is up to each couple to find accommodations, to speak more to reduce the unspoken, frustrations, to show humor and imagination. Invent rituals, experiences of well-being and shared pleasure. “

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Consent and domestic violence

9 out of 10 women have ever felt pressure from a partner to have sex.

70% of women say they had sex when they didn’t want to, without being pressured.

Almost one in two women has been subjected to demeaning comments in the past because she did not feel like having sex.

More than one in four women states that a relationship continued, although she had requested that it cease.

Source: #NousToutes, March 2020.

In 9 out of 10 rape cases, the victim knows the abuser. And in 47% of cases, it is the spouse or ex-spouse who is the author of the rape or of the attempted rape against his partner.

Only 1 victim of marital rape out of 10 say they have filed a complaint.

Source: National Observatory of Violence Against Women.

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