When Yes Means Yes

by | January 28, 2018 | General | 3 comments

by Jean Roberta

Lately, there has been an avalanche on social media about sexual abuse and “bad sex” (for lack of a clearer term), which is unsatisfying for at least one participant, and is based on miscommunication, even if one person (usually the girl or woman) consents to some kind of intimate physical contact to avoid worse treatment.

All these revelations, some dating back many years, are probably inspiring every woman who has ever had sex with a man to sift through her memories. How much was “bad sex,” and how much was downright abuse? Was any of it based on enthusiastic consent, as in “Hell yes! Let’s go!”

Although I have identified as a lesbian since the early 1980s, and I’ve been faithful to one woman for many years, I haven’t forgotten my heterosexual past. And some of the sex was as delicious as a glass of fresh, cold water on a hot day.

I could swear on the holy book of your choice that in some cases, I was as horny as the guy of the moment, and my orgasms were absolutely genuine. Some of my male lovers were skilled and empathetic, at least in bed. Since I never considered myself very attractive in my youth, I thought some of the sex I got was better than I deserved. That assumption in itself suggests that something was wrong, but at the time, I didn’t blame my male companions for my low self-esteem. I assumed they had nothing to do with it.

As Donna George Storey explained recently in this blog, there is a double standard of sexual behaviour which negatively affects all women. There is an ancient vocabulary of insulting words for women who are assumed to have too much of a sexual appetite, or too much sexual experience. Being labelled a whore, a slut, a skank, etc., is the kind of sexual abuse that usually comes after the sex, even when it has been a peak experience for everyone involved.

Let me introduce you to a healthy young man I’ll call the Viking. (I wrote about him in an earlier version of this blog.) He was proud of his Scandinavian roots as well as his psychic ability. I could believe there was something magical about him because he had more endurance than any man I ever met, before or since. He could keep going all night long, with no rest periods to recover his strength. If my memories are accurate, I never tried to stop him, even when I was exhausted and I had a university class to attend the next morning. I didn’t feel intimidated; I simply found him as impressive as a powerful racehorse.

I was 21 years old and full of energy myself. I was attending university part-time toward a degree in English, and I thought I would probably take Education classes after that, so I could get a job teaching English in the public school system. I discussed my dreams for the future with the Viking, and he found them amusing.

He asked me rhetorically whether I could really imagine myself as a teacher, and whether I would teach high school students all about sex.

I was taken aback, and told him that I would follow the curriculum, though I wouldn’t shy away from sexual innuendoes in literature, such as the ones in Hamlet’s speeches to his girlfriend Ophelia. (On second thought, I realized that Hamlet is also sarcastic and contemptuous to a young woman who hasn’t harmed him in any way.) The Viking always responded to my philosophy of literary analysis with a smirk.

He claimed he could read futures in playing cards as well as in the tarot deck. When he read mine, he never saw me as a professional in any respectable field. He saw degradation and addiction, bad luck and suffering. He implied that I was doomed to a career in the sex business, which would be followed by homelessness and disease once I was no longer attractive enough to attract customers.

I would always ask whether he saw any success for me as a teacher or a writer. He would shake his head and tell me he wouldn’t lie to me. When there was bad news for me in the cards, he felt it his responsibility to warn me.

The Viking sometimes entertained me with stories of his former life in Ontario, where he sold dope and hung out with a biker gang. Once he told me about a memorable session he had with a young woman who was known for her voracious sexual appetite. Apparently she would willingly take on the whole gang, and this gained her a certain kind of admiration, although no one who knew her expected her to live long or happily. The Viking casually explained that she was a nympho, like me.

I tried explaining to him that I didn’t need sex constantly, and in fact I could live without it when I was between relationships, and not feel as if I were starving.

I had told this man that if sex were a sport, he could win a medal in the Olympics. He clearly didn’t feel the same way about me. In fact, the Viking had much more experience with illegal activities and addictive substances than I did, yet I never assumed that his past would have to determine his future.

It was probably just as well that our relationship ended abruptly in the summer I turned 22. My parents were planning to spend a year in England, and I chose to go with them.

I never saw the Viking again, but his influence on my mind lingered for years. Was my sexual appetite unnatural? Did I deserve a horrible reputation? After all, I couldn’t honestly claim he had ever coerced me into sex, so did that mean I was thoroughly depraved? Did I need to spend years in therapy to become “normal?”

I’m glad to say that my life has not been the tragic, downhill slide the Viking read for me in the cards. It’s been more like an interesting hike through a terrain of peaks and valleys. I’m still not sure if my experience with him qualifies as “sexual abuse” as the term is currently understood, but I’d be willing to bet that the mind-rape was all mine.

Jean Roberta

Jean Roberta once promised her parents not to use their unusual family name for her queer and erotic writing, and thus was born her thin-disguise pen name. She teaches English and Creative Writing in a university on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. Jean immigrated to Canada from the United States as a teenager with her family. In her last year of high school, she won a major award in a national student writing contest. In 1988, a one-woman publisher in Montreal published a book of Jean’s lesbian stories, Secrets of the Invisible World. When the publisher went out of business, the book went out of print. In the same year, Jean attended the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, where she read a call-for-submissions for erotic lesbian stories. She wrote three, sent them off, and got a letter saying that all three were accepted. Then the publisher went out of business. In 1998, Jean and her partner acquired their first computer. Jean looked for writers’ groups and found the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, which was then two years old! She began writing erotica in every flavor she could think of (f/f, m/f, m/m, f/f/m, etc) and in various genres (realistic contemporary, fantasy, historical). Her stories have appeared in anthology series such as Best Lesbian Erotica (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, Volume 1 in new series, 2016), Best Lesbian Romance (2014), and Best Women's Erotica (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) from Cleis Press, as well as many others. Her single-author books include Obsession (Renaissance, Sizzler Editions), an erotic story collection, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press), and The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). Fantasy stories by Jean include “Lunacy” in Journey to the Center of Desire (erotic stories based on the work of Jules Verne) from Circlet Press 2017, “Green Spectacles and Rosy Cheeks” (steampunk erotica) in Valves & Vixens 3 (House of Erotica, UK, 2016), and “Under the Sign of the Dragon” (story about the conception of King Arthur) in Nights of the Round Table: Arthurian Erotica (Circlet 2015). This story is now available from eXcessica (http://excessica.com). Her horror story, “Roots,” first published in Monsters from Torquere Press, is now in the Treasure Gallery of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. With Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman, she coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her realistic erotic novel, Prairie Gothic: A Tale of the Old Millennium, was published by Lethe in September 2021. Jean has written many reviews and blog posts. Her former columns include “Sex Is All Metaphors” (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas) for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, July 2008-November 2010. The 25 column pieces can still be found in the on-site archives and in an e-book from Coming Together, www.eroticanthology.com. Jean married her long-term partner, Mirtha Rivera, on October 30, 2010. Links: www.JeanRoberta.com http://eroticaforall.co.uk/category/author-profiles


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Hello, Jean,

    Thank you for this post! I don’t think you had an unhealthy interest in sex at all. He was just being nasty and judgmental.

    On the other hand, I definitely got the feeling from my lovers that most of the women they’d been attracted to were not as interested in sex as I was. So perhaps we were both outliers in the distribution.

    I had a dream the other night about a lover whom I hadn’t thought about in decades. He was my boss at my first professional job, brilliant and unconventional and a lot of fun. Probably fifteen years older than I. Not long after I joined the company, he invited me over to his house for dinner. We both knew what he wanted, but I was interested too. Why not?

    I realized that he saw me as a hot young thing, new blood to be sampled. I enjoyed myself, demonstrating that I was perhaps as brilliant as he was. I like to think that I opened his eyes a bit.

    After the dream, I realized this experience is exactly the sort of thing some women would label abuse or harassment. I swear it wasn’t, despite the official difference in power. I wanted to have sex with him. I enjoyed having sex with him. Yes meant yes.

    Furthermore, I’m quite sure that if I hadn’t felt that way, he wouldn’t have bothered me further.

  2. Jean Roberta

    Thanks for commenting, Lisabet. Arrgh. My original comment disappeared.

    I’m glad your date with the boss didn’t carry a bitter aftertaste, and of course that shows there is no mighty force in the universe that enforces a double standard.

  3. Donna George Storey

    Jean, Thank you for sharing this story. The Viking was abusive. We can quibble about the line between sexual and psychological abuse. I think it is both. How about adding in cultural-gender abuse? By which I mean, the Viking was drawing from our entire culture’s way of demeaning women to put you down. This man chose to “predict” your future in terms of the story for all women. Once our sexual attractiveness is gone, we are nothing. We have nothing else to offer the world with our intellect and experience. He both enjoyed and insulted you for your sexual enjoyment. During this thought-provoking moment, many women are revisiting our pasts as you say. I was involved with a young man who also belittled me as often as he could, apparently enjoyed my sexual appetite, but insulted me for it. I remember sitting at a bad, Nobody table in the Russian Tea Room in New York and he mentioned something about his father not being a virgin when he married his mother. I playfully asked if his father (a man who assaulted his wife when drunk) lost his virginity to a prostitute. The young man I referred to as my boyfriend glared at me and said, “No, he lost his virginity with sluts like you.” I should have walked out of the restaurant and left him with the check (we always split the check because he did not have a lot of extra money). In hindsight I see all of this abuse as evidence that the men felt threatened, but it doesn’t excuse their cruelty or the injustice of the patriarchy. May I finish by saying I really hope you don’t see the mind-fuck as your fault. I blamed myself for staying with that boyfriend after that, but there is no blame needed. Anyone who lectures others on how they would fend off an assaulter with the perfect karate chop, or insists they would run into a school shooting without a weapon, or they would never, ever let a superior humiliate them–well, these people are lying. As was the Viking.

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