7 things people do in bed that ethically kind of suck

Hey folks, it’s me again, a whole week since I’ve last written and — guess what? — sexual relations under racist/capitalist/hetero-cis-patriarchy are still a bummer.Sometimes they’re a more casual bummer (you know who you are). But sometimes, they become deeply violent, as in sexual assault.

Since we know that systems of oppression permeate even the John Mayer wonderlands of our bedrooms/bodies, we must commit ourselves to a sexual-political analysis.

If you’ve not been following our scintillating months-slash-years of commentary on the ways in which power relations structure and are structured into *even our most intimate moments* (narrator voice from a fear-mongering documentary on made-up teenage sex trend), here is a primer:

The world we live in is a huge bummer. We live in countries that run on money from resource extraction and war; in societies wherein the wealthy leech off the poor; and in oppressive racial, religious, ethnic, linguistic, gender and regional hierarchies. We internalize a lot of this injustice — both in areas where we are oppressed and areas wherein we are socialized to dominate others.

We also often have sex with each other. These internalized violences come with us into the bedroom. As feminists, we need to commit ourselves to analyzing — and changing — how power constitutes our sexual lives. We need to care about both sexual pleasure and sexual justice.

So! In order to make this deliverable to you in consumable internet form (you’re welcome), I have compiled a list! This is a list of things that people do a lot in bed that deserve some ethical scrutiny. If you feel like I’ve excluded some things or am missing the mark, do please chime in in the comments.

Here are some things that ethically suck in bed:

  • Deciding unilaterally on sexual activities without your partners’ input

Okay see, it’s the “deciding unilaterally” part. Presumably if you’re doing a sexual activity with another person, it’s participatory. Like a game! You’re not just going to be like “hey Rosa, let’s play Monopoly,” and then put the board in front of her and make her move her pieces whether she wants to or not. Maybe Rosa prefers Life. Maybe this sex-board-game metaphor is rather strained. Either way, you get the point: If one person is deciding what’s happening without the other person being on board(game HAHAHA GET IT), that’s not super ethical sex.

  • Decide unilaterally when sexual activities will begin or end

Again, the “unilaterally” bit. Sex starts when both people want to start, but it ends the moment someone expresses they want to end. If someone doesn’t indicate they’re down for sex and you begin to sex them, that’s assault. If someone indicates they want to stop sex and you continue to sex them, that is also assault. You gotta both want to be doing it to do it, know what I mean?

  • Make a big deal about your partner’s disability or sexual, racial, gender, or religious minority status (bringing it up a lot in a sexual way, making comments about how it gets you off, etc) if they haven’t indicated that they are into that being a thing you get off to.

This one brings up a whole complicated discourse on fetishization, but the basic gist of it is that if your partner is marginalized in a particular way that you’re not, that’s going to be an area you guys will need to negotiate on their terms. It could make them feel very uncomfy for you to sexualize their marginality, or they could think it’s hot, but you gotta let them take the lead on that. For example, I am sort of a fan of the whole hey-bisexual-woman, wanna-have-a-threesome-thing, except only when I bring it up. When dudes bring it up I feel kind of gross and fetishized and want to be uncooperative and haughty.

  • Badger your partner to have sex, or to do specific sexual acts, when they’ve indicated they’re not gung ho

This is an extension of that first strained Monopoly-Life metaphor. If someone is like “no” and you’re like “pretty pretty please with sugar on top please please please please come on come on it’ll be fun I promise I’ll give you ice cream” you’re not respecting them and their boundaries. Not everyone is into ice cream all the time.

  • Disregard their concerns about STIs, safer sex, and/or birth control

Soon we will all be consciousnesses floating in computer goo, but in this life we are embodied earthly creatures and thus deserve to have control over said bodies. Sometimes these bodies can get pregnant or gonorrhea and it’s our right to want to take precautionary measures to prevent this. If our partners put a lot of pressure on us not to take these measures when we want to, that sucks.

  • Be rough or violent with your partner without them indicating they are all about it

Back to the mere-embodied-earthlings bit. If you’re gonna hit someone, you’d better the hell have their very enthusiastic consent. Maybe you think it’s sexy to cause people physical pain without them agreeing to it. Yeah…that’s assault.

  • Treat your partner poorly after sex

This means different things to different people, but, like, be a decent human being. I mean, there are some obviously egregious post-sex things that are the worst and should not be done such as blackmailing someone with images or threatening to reveal sexual details — seriously, who the fuck does that?? — or slut shaming them to your friends, their parents, the internet (like – you fucked them, really you’re gonna go around making fun of them for that?). In a kink context, this can mean aftercare – specific time set aside aftee getting it on it to take care of your partner’s needs. Checking in after sex can be a good idea if that’s what you’re into in more vanilla situations, too (for example, if you are sleeping with me).

Beyond that, people, just try not to be an asshole.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing her masters.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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