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“She didn’t say no,” and all the problems many of us have about consent

Most of those who come to me for therapy are not the victims, but the men who are accused of sexual misconduct. Close to two years after #MeToo and #TimesUp blew up, why do some of us continue to have a hard time understanding—or accepting—what is clear as day to women? 
Rica Cruz | Feb 14 2019

I’ve seen a growing number of sexual harassment cases in light of the #MeToo movement. Interestingly, most of those who come to me for therapy are not the victims, but the men who are accused of sexual misconduct—from kissing an unknowing friend to pressuring an inebriated coworker to have sexual intercourse. 

“What made you think that she wanted to have sex with you?”

“She didn’t say no.”

“But did she say “yes?”

Silence.

“I kissed her.”

“Did she kiss you back?”

“No.”

“What did she do?”

“She was just standing there.”

“Sounds like she froze.”

“I didn’t see it that way, I thought it was OK.”

Conversations like these have been quite common in my office. As each male client goes through a therapy session, a common denominator stands out—these men are confused about how sexual consent works. And it seems like the confusion comes from problematic sexual scripts that our patriarchal society has ingrained into them.

Predator and prey

These sexual scripts constitute what we know as rape culture or rape myths. In our country, boys have been told to “man up,” or “magpakalalaki” at a very young age. From this cultural POV, part of being a man is having power over women. This power is tantamount to sexual entitlement—that men are entitled to sex whenever they want. They’re sexual predators, with women as their sexual prey. Hence, when women resist or say “no,” men think that these women are just playing “hard to get” and they should be pursued more until they “surrender,” or “hanggang bumigay.” 

Thinking of women as passive recipients of male initiation removes women’s right to their agency to consent—and contributes to rape culture. Have you heard a man complain about being “friendzoned?” That is sexual entitlement at its finest. As mundane as you think it may be, sexual entitlement leads to harassment, violence, and rape, and it is rampant in our country—may it be at work, school, or even at home. 

Sexual entitlement also fuels the belief that most things women do are intended to attract men. An overtly friendly woman at work may be seen as an office flirt. A young woman who dresses in short shorts and is seen drinking with male classmates is labeled as “easy.” Add this to the fact that men tend to confuse the perception that the woman is sexually interested in them with her consent to sexual intercourse, and you have a recipe for unintended coercion. 

Perceived precedence

To make things worse, studies show that factors that influence men’s perception are attributed to the situation. This means that any man, regardless of his character, may be predisposed to sexual misconduct in a given circumstance because his decision-making is largely influenced by the misconceptions brought about by his sexual entitlement. 

Take for example the notion that having a past sexual relationship with a woman equates to consent for future sexual encounters, sometimes even after direct refusal by the said woman. Most men think that because he’s already slept with this woman, it is already understood she would consent to sleep with him again, regardless if she wants to or not. Even worse, some men will think that just because they know a certain woman who has had sexual intercourse with other men they know, the same woman will also be willing to sleep with them. “Alam ko namang pumapayag ka,” as some would say.

Another example is the perception that the current level of intimacy translates to the woman’s desire to having sexual intercourse, which means, the “closer” you feel you are at the moment, the higher the chances that the woman wants to sleep with you. These presumptions are clearly wrong, but because they’ve been around for so long, most men think that these are acceptable.

To educate men that these scripts do not hold true from a woman’s perspective is a step toward ending sexual entitlement. As a therapist, I believe that there are a huge number of men out there who do not intend to hurt women, but because of these misconceptions, they unknowingly do so. I think that what these men need are definite advice as to how to negotiate consent properly as well as concrete information on the inferential limits of their perception of women’s sexual desire. And I surmise that the best people to educate them are us, women. Thus, another crucial aspect to ending this entitlement is to be able to empower women to assertively express themselves—not just to be able to firmly say “no” but also to be able to enthusiastically say “yes” whenever they want to. 

And hopefully, these would eventually create a culture of sexual respect and equality—where men are not demonized as predators; women not infantilized as prey; and no one is entitled to sex. Instead sex is seen as consensual, mutual, and pleasurably reciprocated. 



Rica Cruz, RPsy is a Psychologist, and Sex and Relationships Therapist with the Ateneo Bulatao Center for Psychology Services. She is also a faculty member of the Department of Psychology at the Ateneo de Manila University. Her expertise focuses on Filipino sexual behaviours with an emphasis on sexual pleasure and relationship satisfaction. She opines that sexual empowerment for Filipinos is sexier than sex.