Is The Ridiculous Way I Talk About Sex A Key To Fixing Our Country's Issues With Consent?



In case you missed it, Bloomberg recently published a piece titled "Hook-Up Culture at Harvard, Stanford Ebbs Amid Assault Alarm"—the piece was chock full of men lamenting the apparently heavy burden of not raping people.

The lowlight of this commentary had to be Stanford student Chris Herries’ comments on women’s roles in lessening this burden: “‘Do I deserve to have my bike stolen if I leave it unlocked on the quad? We have to encourage people not to take on undue risk that might make them targets of the criminal conduct of others.” 

Is the metaphor here that the "unlocked bike" is my body? My vagina?

Naturally, I’ve spent the ensuing days endlessly contemplating how to personally dismantle rape culture. And then it struck: Maybe I’ve already been quietly fostering a healthier sex revolution all along. 

So I’m not sure when I started this, but probably for about the last year, I’ve been using the phrase “doing sex” to refer to coitus—sheerly because I think it’s hilarious. Admittedly, I have an interesting sense of humor (read: I never win Apples to Apples but I do heartedly laugh at my own responses—usually alone)—and one of the ways it has manifested is with me uttering “doing sex” in as many conversations as I can. 

How do I use the phrase? A better question would be, how and when do I not? Recently I texted a friend about the West Wing (yeah, I’m a little behind on my 1990s political dramas, too): “OMG WHEN ARE DONNA AND JOSH FINALLY JUST GOING TO DO SEX” (Sidenote: I also find caps lock hilarious, although that’s a different essay . . . or maybe something I just need to work on toning down). 

If you’re my friend, there’s a pretty decent chance you’ve received texts along the lines of “so, did y’all do sex tonight like you thought you might??”

Sometimes I mix it up by saying “do the sex.” This is also funny.

OK, you get the picture. The broader point is, I’ve been cracking myself up with this dubious grammatical construction for a long time. And so far, I’ve just been framing this bizarre use of language as yet another reflection of all the weird little ways my humor expresses itself. 

But what if . . . it’s actually the answer to everything?

The way most of us talk about sex is rather messed up if you take a step back and let it all marinate in your mind for a minute. We speak about sex like it’s some consumptive act—like we’re getting frozen yogurt or something: “Did you get any?” Or, how about this (generally female-gendered twist): “Are you going to give it up soon?” And oh! Here’s a classic: “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” And the ever-charming: "She's damaged goods." Or, "I'm saving it for my husband."

The examples (and related analogies) are essentially endless—and everywhere. 

But unless I have everything totally wrong, sex isn’t like purchasing food or furniture, right? (Unless it is, but that's a case for another day.) Framing intercourse this way gets us into lots of unnecessary trouble. If our view of sex were not a commodity-oriented model, it would seem ludicrous to draw an analogy between a woman’s vagina and a bike lock. And all those multitudinous issues we have with figuring out consent? Totally diminished.

Enter: doing sex. If you were to proposition someone by saying something along the lines of, “Dear sir, are you trying to do some sex right now?” (and yes, my propositioning skills are clearly on par with my Apples to Apples ability) the act is already framed as a partnership, a joint-performance. (Ranging of course from a Kennedy Center Opera to mangy cats yowling in an alleyway.)

But by asking whether someone does in fact want to do sex, you are learning beyond the shred of a doubt whether they are on board to be laid down all gentle-like for some sexy times. Consent is either granted or not—but either way, clarity reigns supreme.

And is this vision not far better than what we often do? Which is let things get all hot and heavy and then wonder about whether sex will ultimately be done based on various interpretations of ambiguous cues with possibly one party feeling like they’ve ultimately triumphed or lost? 

Seriously, what if we were to play Frisbee this way? Admittedly, I don’t play much Frisbee but I’m pretty sure if someone just tossed one at me instead of asking if I wanted to play first—(or you know do Frisbee)—I would be highly disinclined to get on board with tossing a disc around and more likely to shout some choice four-letter words, in my real-life version of caps lock.

Beyond distinguishing consent beyond the shadow of a doubt (not to downplay that because this concern is huge in our current climate) the magic of referring to intercourse as “doing sex” rather than “getting some” more subtly describes notions of what sex actually is—in really tangible ways. 

As an incredibly dark example, take mass murderer Elliott Rodger and his misogynistic manifesto. He went on a shooting spree—specifically targeting elusive gorgeous blondes who had “denied him sex”—because he felt he was “owed.” According to his twisted, male-entitled brain, he’d done all the right things. So why, then, weren’t girls “giving it up”? He was so consumed by his rejection, by the universe's refusal to align with his own sense of entitlement, he was willing kill and die for it.

But what if sex weren’t something “given up” or “earned” or “acquired.” What if you couldn’t become a “slut” for giving it away—because it would literally be impossible to conceive as sexual acts as things to be given away or earned. They would just be things we shared.

What if, what if, sex were just something that two (or three, or more) people did together? Just for funsies? Or to cement a more serious, emotional bond? Or because they were bored because fall TV programming hadn’t started up yet?

It’s a wondrous thought.

So is “doing sex” a revolutionary step forward in healing our society’s relationship between sex and consent? Possibly! 

But even if it never catches on—verbally or societally—I'll still find it hilarious and I will be doing a beer to celebrate my own cleverness.

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