With its latest anal sex advice, has GQ decided sexual consent is merely optional?

Suggesting that consent should be obtained as you're attempting to penetrate someone undermines the concept, and feeds into rape culture 

Natasha Preskey
Thursday 12 May 2016 10:53
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Remember when UNILAD told us they didn’t condone rape "without shouting surprise"? Unsurprisingly, the article was pulled after its founders were accused of trivialising rape. But when a men’s magazine whose website boasts almost two million monthly users suggests surprise sex, apparently it’s a different matter.

Yesterday, British GQ published an article by sex expert and Play Experience sex party host, Sarah Jane Banahan, entitled ‘How to ask for anal sex’. Banahan opens by explaining that she recently read that “it is more respectful to “initiate” to your partner beforehand about wanting to try anal sex”. Unimpressed with this idea, she suggests it is “more erotic” to offer a “slight whisper in the ear while you penetrate your woman”.

The piece goes on to justify this with the statement that women love a bit of “Friday night” kink, bondage and debauchery. No arguments there. But since when was it kinky to shut your partner out from your sexual desires, or erotic not to bother with consent until you’re already trying to penetrate someone's anus for the first time? And, on a practical note, what about lube? If making even the smallest mention to your partner of your desire for anal sex is so tedious, then perhaps you should question why you’re so keen to do it in the first place.

Women can and do enjoy anal sex. According to CDC data the number of US women aged 15-44 who admitted to having tried it rose from 34 per cent in 2002 to 38.9 per cent in 2011-2013. Statistics about sexual pleasure are scarce, but the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behaviour found that of the women interviewed whose last sexual encounter involved anal sex, 94% achieved orgasm, giving it the highest success rate of any sexual act recorded. However, it was also the least prevalent act, and this group did comprise just 31 women.

But when researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine interviewed 130 heterosexual teenagers aged 16-18 about anal, they found a concerning trend of normalised coercion. The study mentions instances of a non-consensual “try it and see” approach and notes that those interviewed rarely spoke of anal sex “in terms of mutual exploration of sexual pleasure”.

Framing anal penetration as something women might tolerate if their long-suffering partners play their cards right or, as Banahan puts it, if they make them “feel like the sexiest woman alive”, reinforces the idea that any sexual act is something that we have done to us.

Banahan’s one reference to the issue of consent comes after her suggestion that men tell their partners that they’re going to penetrate them and then rub the tip of their penis around the anus before pushing inside. In brackets, she adds: “if she's into it, of course. No means no, gentlemen”, an aside that reads like a conspiratorial wink to the male reader, or an alternative to “don’t push your luck though, lads!”

This may have been a light-hearted piece, but creating ambiguity around consent has damaging repercussions. Last year, a survey by the Washington Post found that 18% of college students believed that someone consented to sex simply by not saying no. A 2014 study published in Violence and Gender reported that 32% of male college students said that they would have “sexual intercourse with a woman against her will” if there were no consequences, while only 18% admitted the same intention when the word rape was actually used (suggesting people are more likely to rape when they do not believe that is what they are doing).

Making consent sound dull, obstructive and unsexy will feed these attitudes and, ultimately, feed rape culture.

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