Belfast Telegraph

Sex is like shopping ... you know you don't need it, but you couldn't resist

By Mary Kenny

I once asked a highly amusing friend of mine - an actress by profession - "did you ever refuse to go to bed with a guy?" Hilariously, she replied - "well, it seems so disobliging, doesn't it?" Okay, the darling girl, now gone, was a child of the 1960s, and that was the kind of sophisticated answer that was expected. But her riposte often comes to mind when I read of the new rules of sexual behaviour, which include "No Means No", and "No Grey Areas When It Comes To Consent".

These slogans are now feminist dogma when there are allegations about rape or sexual relationships in which there are disputed facts about "consent". I can only admire young women who have such a clear-cut, orderly view of sexual relations. What an admirably rational, unambiguous perspective to have of the human condition! You say one thing, and you stick to it, and you never deviate for a moment from your intention.

You never change your mind about anything. You are never persuaded, cajoled, charmed, amused, or, heaven forfend, intoxicated into a decision you didn't really intend. All I can say is that my life hasn't been at all like that, and I often feel that half the decisions that I have taken I've drifted into, or agreed to for the sake of a quiet life, or absent-mindedly assented to, or heedlessly gone along with. I am opinionated enough in theory about a number of things, but often hopelessly inconsistent in practice. I've often taken the line of least resistance.

For example, I have, on a number of occasions, agreed to the purchase of the wrong house, across the many house moves we have experienced. I would say, looking back, that I didn't really "consent" to some of these choices of location - I was somehow railroaded by factors like time, money, convenience, the opinions of others and sometimes sheer laziness. "Oh I can't be bothered going to another estate agent, this will do."

In fact, despite being bolshy and self-willed by disposition, I'm also quite a pushover for any hard sales talk. I bought a Turkish carpet recently in Istanbul for the sum of £200, although I didn't really need a Turkish carpet, had no intention purchasing one, and had started by saying: "No, not interested." But the salesman was so persuasive, so cajoling, wheedling, flattering, entertaining and altogether overwhelming that my resistance simply crumbled.

"Oh, go on, then," I said, handing over my credit card to the Effendi. So I walked away from the bazaar with the object under my arm, knowing perfectly well that I had just weakly given in to what amounted to a form of seduction. But with me, "No" doesn't always mean "No". I can be quite easily manipulated, especially by vanity, and sometimes by greed or avarice, too.

I blush at some of the articles that I was persuaded to write over the course of a journalistic career, inveigled by the simple procedure of someone mentioning a large sum of money or telling me, quite mendaciously, that my renown would be greatly enhanced. I was pressed into a number of broadcasting assignments too simply because someone was very nice to me and coaxed me into making a damn fool of myself. Weak, weak, weak!

If being lured, persuaded, charmed or flattered into changing your mind about a career move, a house purchase, or the acquisition of a Turkish rug as an everyday occurrence in life, then why should that not also apply to sexual seduction? I will spare the mortified feelings of my heirs and successors by dwelling on any detail in this category, but my experience is that this area of human activity is as volatile and as subject to the vagaries of mood, opportunity and even perhaps curiosity as any other.

Here's a Russian joke that illustrates this theme, if crudely: "There is no such thing as an unattractive woman. There is just not enough vodka." As old Father Freud maintained, in jokes repose a hidden truth. This joke tells us that alcohol is an enabler of sexual interplay. Contractual notions of "consent" may be difficult to keep in place.

Rape is disgusting and odious, and those ghastly men who take advantage of a young woman who's made herself legless with liquor should be pilloried and stigmatised. They should be made to feel ashamed of their dastardliness, rather than summoning a legal defence claiming "consent". Yet I think the focus on "consent" is the consequence of seeing every human response in terms of contract law, rather than, sometimes, in terms of decency and honour.

To me, "consent" is a frail concept, just because I have often been easily persuaded, and I do change my mind about situations, choices, and above all, people. Fair play to those feminists who want to empower women to state when they really do mean "No": but isn't it significant that in the Irish language there is no exact word either for "Yes" or for "No"? Perhaps this reflects something about the fuzziness of the human condition.

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