Why we need to talk about Power & Pleasure?
Updated: Jan 25
The WHY? behind: "Who holds the power and who gets the pleasure in first time (or one time) intimate encounters?"
In February 2020 I delivered a workshop for students of Oxford Brookes University, UK. The topic I delivered on was titled ''Who hold the power and who gets the pleasure in first time or one time intimate encounters?''. We had two hours of discussing power, pleasure and consent and the response I had was overwhelmingly positive.
To put it simply, this workshop's aim was to discuss power and consent mixed with pleasure and safety in first/one time intimate encounters.
But let me share the deeper Why? these topics are important and why such workshops that go beyond the idea of 'Consent talk' are so important and also draw much more student attention and interest.
I suggested this topic to the Student Union of Oxford Brookes Uni because it's absolutely necessary to address power and pleasure in the context of safe and respectful relationships between people, when we talk about sexual abuse culture on campus.
There's a lot of pressure on young women (and young men too) to have sex at university. And there's a lot of manipulation and coercion that occurs and people fail to recognise it - because they don't understand how power works. The topic of pleasure is hugely important, considering the use of the female body as an objectified sex toy and not worthy of experiencing pleasure - this is reflected in the orgasm gap (especially high in one time and first time intimate encounters) and has also been recognised by scientific research on the perceptions of women and their purpose.
Research demonstrates men’s degrading and objectifying ideas about women and their lack of concern to female bodies, pleasure and health. Lack of understanding and addressing of these leads to widespread practices that degrade, abuse and manipulate women into submission and put their health at risk.
For instance, this lack of respect to the female body and its use for the male pleasure only can lead to unsafe practices like ‘stealthing’ which is the practice of a man covertly removing or damaging a condom during sexual intercourse. Stealthing may result in the transmission of STIs, HIV, or unintended pregnancy, and has significant personal and public health implications.
Stealthing is a non-consensual act and is deemed an assault, yet many men do engage in this practice to ‘ensure their own pleasure’ and thus fail to consider and respect their partners’ inevitably exposing them to risks they did not consent to. Research (Latimer, 2018) showed that 32% of their female participants have been victims of stealthing, yet victims were three times less likely to consider it to be sexual assault than non-victims. This lack of recognition of abuse leads to less reporting, less reporting in turn leads to less justice and more perpetuated assaults that put people’s lives and health at risk.
However men are also subject to unconsensual acts and fail to recognise them as assault or rape. Research by Reed et. al. (2019) demonstrates that male rape survivors are significantly more likely to be unacknowledged survivors (i.e., to not conceptualize their experience as rape) than female rape survivors. The indirect effect of gender on rape acknowledgment via rape myths was significant, such that men reported lower levels of rape myth rejection; this in turn, was associated with greater odds of being an unacknowledged rape survivor, which leaves victims unsupported and abusers unchallenged.
Furthermore problems around myths regarding male sexuality such as ''men always want it'' along with ''men can't be raped'' create further difficulties for young men. Young males refusing sex may find their masculinity and sexual orientation challenged or mocked by peers, this perceived or real pressure in turn may lead to engagement in sexual activity despite not wanting to and experiencing low mood and low self esteem as a consequence.
The problems around power, pleasure and safety result in individuals having sex under duress or succumbing to peer pressure and unhealthy university culture around sex and drinking. This in turn damages people's sex and relationships lives in the long run, often leaving long lasting emotional and psychological damage too. Women who have been exposed to such ill-treatment end up having low self-esteem and little self-respect, feeling undeserving of pleasure and allowing partners to exploit them sexually. Men who get away with the degradation of women while at university, continue to employ evermore sophisticated tactics at their future workplaces and abuse their power and position to ill-treat and sexually abuse women.
The cycle of female objectification and degradation and male abuse of power is more complex than the pure understanding of the basics of consent. Hence this workshop aims to address Power in relation to Consent, Pleasure in relation to Objectification, Safety in relation to Empowerment.
Considering that reports show that:
60% Of students suffer sexual harassment during their studies.
2% Of all victims actually feel able to report the incident to their university.
50% Of all students believe there is an understanding of consent among university students.
62% Of university rape survivors blame themselves for the attack.
70% Of sexual violence victims experience symptoms of PTSD within two weeks following the incident.
It is only reasonable to look at preventative measures and educate young people about the workings of abuse, violence and the many topics that are interwoven into this i.e. power, manipulation, stigma, shame, guilt and of course we need to work on creating or improving inadequate reporting systems, using restorative justice practices, implementing good support systems and more.
Helping young people to learn life skills and make sense of the difficult and complex concepts and situations in life in order to be healthier, happier and safer individuals in society is my priority and I always look forward to working with organisations that share these values.
If you dear reader share those values and believe that we need to invest in Prevention and Education, reach out and let's schedule a chat and discuss Life Relevant Education and Prevention of sexual violence on campus and also at the workplace.
You can message me via email at: email@example.com
What did the university students think of the workshop?
Well, here are just a few quotes from the students:
''Great icebreakers, made me feel like I could trust my group and the rest of the room. Excellent break down of the scenario that highlighted how naive I can be, but was explained so well I felt empowered''
''Found this talk to be amazing conversation on power and gender - eye opening!''
''There were moments I wanted to applaud at how relevant ideas were put perfectly for others to understand.''
Students expressed interest in attending future such events and said that this talk drew their attention because it addressed more complex topics that are interwoven and they have struggled with.