Safe Dating Communication

Communication For Safer Dating

During dating and acquaintance situations, various factors contribute to sexual assaults that highlight the importance of good communication. As simple and natural courtship may be, dating communication can be more complicated for both genders when one partner does not wish to engage in sexual activities. For most people discussing sexual topics is awkward, especially in the beginning of a relationship. Good dating communication is much harder to perform as both partners’ emotions mix with situational conditions.

Sexual intimacy is a powerful form of communication between two people, but also creates emotional insecurity for men and women.  Sex is personally private while the most intimate activity people can share that is psycho-biologically driven. Feeling safe is important for both participants. When conditions are unsafe, severe trauma is often experienced no matter what the age, gender, or sexual orientation of the victim.

Women usually find male sexual assertion erotic and sexually arousing when the sexual attention comes from someone desirable. Women may interpret male aggressive desire as a compliment to their feminine power, and a tribute to their ability to captivate attention. Generally, by demonstrating their sexual desire men affirm women’s feminine significance. However, when women want to delay, abstain or slow down the pace of sexual intimacy and/or intercourse may raise the possibility of fear in his rejection if they halt his advances.

Good communication is essential and one should not be inhibited about saying, “No” to assert one’s safety. After a woman asserts her boundaries, “Players” may move on, while rapists will likely continue to pressure or force sexual activities, but men who are genuinely interested in cultivating a balanced relationship will honor a woman’s boundaries for safe sexual relations.

After reading the story below, decide if the man is a rapist or if he is “just” sexually aggressive.

A 21 year-old Model Mugging graduate was studying in Ecuador. She explained to her Ecuadorian boyfriend that she did not want to have intercourse with him. They discussed how he believed American women were “easy.” She reiterated that sexual intercourse was not a part of her moral values, but consented to intimate petting and kissing. During their mutual affection, when he positioned himself on top of her and was unfastening her clothes she adamantly objected. He continued, perceiving her “No” as a way for her to save face and not appear too easy. She shouted in his ear, “This is rape!” He suddenly pulled back; shocked that she really meant “no.” Even though he ceased, she was furious with him. He became very apologetic and did not impede her way as she left his apartment.

In the above case, he is not a rapist, because he stopped his advances. He is sexually aggressive. Our graduate was able to say “NO” and her date heeded her request. However, rapists commonly ignore their victim’s right to consent, or they discount the word “NO”. Unfortunately, many women have difficulty asserting themselves and their boundaries. Our graduate used her voice and clearly asserted her boundaries with effective results.

Misconceptions About Dating Communication

No one can know their partner’s true intentions. There is no such thing as good communication when dealing with a rapist or batterer, because they only engage in communication to the degree that they can manipulate their victims into positions of greater vulnerability and maximum compliance. No matter how assertive a woman may be in communicating her sexual limitations to a date/acquaintance rapist, he does not care about her boundaries or safety. Rapists may notionally acknowledge a woman’s assertion, but will they intend to achieve their sexual objective. When opportunity is right, they will discount their victims’ objections or desires. Mutual, respectful communication with rapists is futile, because they justify their behavior applying cognitive distortions about the victim and women in general.

Most rapists are not concerned with precautionary measures to avoid apprehension, because they usually know their victims. Acquaintance rapists are aware that victims often do not report sexual assault to the police. Additionally, the burden to prove the situation was rape falls upon the victim and the police/prosecution. Acquaintance rape cases are difficult to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” to a jury, especially when the rapist admits to engaging in sex and insists that she consented.

When verbal seduction works to obtain sex, physical aggression is unnecessary. Sometimes one partner feels jilted afterward when it is apparent sexuality was the sole objective or other factors of deception become apparent. It is very difficult to criminally prosecute someone who “talked” his partner into having “consensual” sex.

Further, cases beginning with consensual isolation that later involve physical force or threats of violence for gaining sexual access, the result is often the victim’s word against the rapist’s. Without substantial evidence, the District or State’s Attorney is unlikely to prosecute such cases when the circumstances are determined to be “he said, she said”.

 

Ten Safety Tips for Dating Communication

1. Repeat your message assertively until it heard.
2. Good communication takes more time and consideration.
3. Match body language with the desired message.
4. Do not engage in playful contradictions.
5. Female token resistance is confusing and dangerous.
6. Are men allowed the right to say no?
7. Assert your safety over someone’s feelings.
8. Confront issues about his sexual expectations.
9. Change your limitations and boundaries because you want to make adjustments.
10. Learn what comprises safe and healthy relationships.

 

1. Repeat your message assertively until it heard.
The basic speech communication principle (sender-receiver-message) reminds us that communicating the intent of a message is the responsibility of sender. There may be many reasons why a message is not heard, partially heard, or misinterpreted that involve environmental distractions, memory triggers, substance use, and emotions.

Communications is not just what is said, but in how it is said and interpreted through the emotional lens of the receiver. Both genders may presume understanding, intentions, or misperceive interpretations, distort communication from their original expectations. Additionally, poor word choice and expressions from the sender can change the interpretation.

Sometimes the message must be repeated at a different tone of voice, and volume before it is actually heard. The words may need to be changed along with follow up along clarification. This is not easy. Saying nothing or allowing misperceptions  and uncomfortable emotions continue can make things worse in the long term only to become an unresolved compounding problem.

2. Good communication takes more time and consideration.
Good communication starts with preparations before a date. Mean what you say, and say what you mean in a manner that is understood by your partner. Good communication is essential for effectively channeling normal sexual desires into safe and mutually acceptable behavior. Ensuring your message is received correctly takes more consideration, time, and effort that will involves the simultaneous use of most of these suggestions listed in this section.

Good communication is difficult when couples are not synchronized in their connection. Relationships are bound to have conflict, which can be beneficial for making relationships stronger when the mutual goal is cooperation. Conversely, communication becomes a dictation when one partner is inflexible or uses coercive and manipulative tactics to meet their needs.

Both men and women may indulge in sex in order to compensate for feelings of insecurity and self-worth. Compensating for feelings of low self-esteem using sex is not an honest or stable position for good communication practices from either partner. Good communication is a foundation for a good relationship.

In 2014 California passed the “Yes” means “Yes” law, but laws do not guarantee good communication or personal safety.

Section 1 of 67386 (a)(1) of the California Education Code states: “An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity. “Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.”

The above law is well written, especially the sentence, “It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity.” However, the factors behind sexual violence are complex and even well written laws do not stop perpetrators or protect the victim from the crime in the first place.

A man who requests permission for intimacy may be perceived as passive, “Can I kiss you?” or “Do you want to kiss?” Asking, “Do you want to have sex?” may be described as “unromantic”, “anticlimactic” or a “mood-changer.” For the male, it scary to ask, because the answer may be “no”, which be perceived as a total rejection. For women the same questions may not be easily asked because of insecure reservations of losing indirect power or the fear being perceived as promiscuous.

Women may fear that saying “Stop” or “No” may cause her date to pull away and leave, which may not be what desired by either participant. What she really meant was, “I want to be with you, but I do not want to have sex now” or “That is not how I liked to be touched (or kissed).”

Good communication should address the use of birth control devices and sexually transmitted diseases. Opinions about why using condoms and diaphragms are undesirable to use because some claim such sexual communication removes spontaneity and romance from the sexual experience. But the consequences of such poor communication may be pregnancy or contracting an STD.

3. Match body language with the desired message.
There is not a formula for reading body language. Evolution has conditioned men and women to send strong nonverbal messages about their sexual desires. However, attempting to read, interpret, or guess body language can lead to miscommunication. Even the words that are said will be understood through the perception of body language and speech tone.

When verbal desires and objections are not clearly communicated nonverbal communication will be perceived as the message. Nonverbal messages can contradict words can contribute to sexual assault. Insecurity, powerlessness, sexual inexperience, and hormones entwine with the natural biological drive adding to the difficulty for candid communication about forming mutual consent.

If verbal boundaries and objections are not clearly communicated, nonverbal perceived messages might be of acquiescence or mutual desire. Beware of signals or unspoken cues you send. Posture, clothing, tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions, breathing, eye contact may be perceived as beckoning, “I like what you are doing, keep going”.

Some sexually aggressive males have pressed their dates (or acquaintances) into sexual activities, but would have stopped had their victim assertively communicated “No.” These males may believe, “If she’s not objecting, then she wants it too.” If he stops, he may be perceived as weak, lacking desire, physical prowess, disinterested, or insulting her.

4. Do not engage in playful contradictions.
Pushing away roaming hands, while smiling and giggling and saying “behave yourself” is sending mixed signals. Saying, “stop” while giggling or ardently kissing is also unclear communication. This is both poor communication and does not match body language with the desired message. This may also be construed as engaging in token resistance (described below). Instead be specific and direct, “I want to kiss you, but I do not want you to touch my breasts,” or stand up and say, “Stop what you are doing.” Again, body language should match the desired message.

5. Female token resistance is confusing and dangerous.
Token resistance is when a woman says “No”, but wants her suitor to continue pressing for sex. Token resisters will say “No”, but want him to continue for numerous reasons. Sexual research projects have found some women do engage in token resistance. Token resistance can sometimes be the result of conflicting morality or values, and create internal conflict of naturally wanting sex but feeling bad for wanting it outside of marriage. Others may offer token resistance for reasons of power, anger, or are seeking control. Other women engage in token resistance out of fear of physical discomfort, or embarrassment. Overall, mixed signals are sent, which may lead to some uncomfortable experiences.

Rapists and batters have heard the phrase, “No means No” and are very much aware of anti-rape campaigns. Rapists have commented, “Women never say yes the first time.” “They say no, but really want it.” or “They always get into it.” These acquaintance rapists continue to press her for sex regardless of what the victim wants.

Pre-dating preparations can assist in removing doubt about defining one’s self-definition about sex and ideas about satisfaction in a relationship. Take the time to learn how to accept your own values and communicate more clearly and authentically about what you want, which can then match, or not, with him.

6. Are men allowed the right to say no?
Women also engage in coercive sexual advances toward men. Each partner has the prerogative to say, “No” or “Not now.” Men instinctively feel that they should accept a woman’s presentation for sex, because rejection may insult her and may be disallowed a second chance in the future.

Men may not want sex because they are not attracted to the woman, unsure about their partner’s preferences, insecure about their sexual ability, stressed about work or family issues, depressed, experiencing lower sex drive, fear about impregnating their partner or contracting sexually transmitted disease. The environment, individual expectations, and life-stressors all contribute to changing emotions.

Female perpetrators will insult a reluctant or resisting man’s masculinity and potency, often she responds defensively against his hesitation and perceives him as insulting. Some women may use sex as a manipulative tool to achieve selfish gratification, power or control in the relationship, entrapment through pregnancy, and revengeful cheating when in a current relationship.

7. Assert your safety over someone’s feelings.
Don’t compromise your own safety, just because you are embarrassed or worried about hurting his feelings. In some date-rape scenarios a woman may be reluctant to end the date in public because she is embarrassed about “making a scene.” Some women are afraid to refuse a good night kiss, because it will hurt his feelings. Other women enter into a dangerous situation when they agree to go alone with their date to a destination just to be friendly. Conditions become more dangerous when alone or when driving and then later trying to say good-bye. Be assertive to protect your personal boundaries and safety. If you feel bad vibes, end the date and find another way home, or do not hesitate to say good-bye and close the door. Follow the ten by ten rules for dating safety that involve ten dating strategies and ten dating precautions.

8. Confront issues about his sexual expectations.
When a man asks a woman to go out of town with him, he is not planning to pay for two separate rooms. He is anticipating intimacy and hoping for sexual relationship. Before accepting his invitation to travel, communicate clearly that you do not want to have sex and you will pay for your own room. It is a warning sign if he makes derogatory comments about your proposal, or tells you that you can both sleep in the same bed and he won’t touch you. If he continues to work at persuading you to sleep in the same room, you should decline the travel invitation. Do not go just because it is an opportunity to travel. Get the number of the hotel where you plan to stay and make your own reservation because you do not want to arrive to discover only one room was reserved and no other rooms are available.

9. Change limitations and boundaries because you want to make adjustments.
Identify boundaries and limitations within your personal comfort zone in developing your self-definition prior to dating. Recognize that your ground rules may change according to the situation. Modify your limitations and boundaries according to your individual principles and morals and not because of the pressures from someone else’s desires or insecurities.

10. Learn what comprises safe and healthy relationships.
Respect is an essential component of healthy relationship. For both genders, when the first intimate relationship involves traumatic experiences will usually imprint long-lasting destructive communication tendencies, behavioral patterns, and lack of self-respect. Consequently, survivors who enter situations with elevated potential for sexual assault or who bond with abusive partners generally do not have good reference points from which to judge. Often, as children they have been abused and thus are numb to the danger signals for abuse.

Some women deny their intuition and warning signals about danger. Understanding acquaintance rapist behaviors can assist in identifying dangerous individuals. When dating an abusive personality, a woman cannot change the destructive tendencies in an abusive partner, or sex offender. Abusers must come to terms with their own insecurities. Even with professional help, interventions and therapies may not help some offenders.

Safe, Positive, and Healthy Sex

The CERTS acronym, Wendy Matlz and Beverly Holman (1987, 1991), provides a safe model for positive healthy sexual relationships:

  1. Consent – free and comfortable to choose whether or not to engage in sexual activities, and able to stop the activity at any time.
  2. Equality – mutually shared power where neither partner dominates the other.
  3. Respect – reciprocal positive regard for self and partner.
  4. Trust – mutually accepted physical and emotional vulnerability of self and partner.
  5. Safety – physical and emotional security within the situation and free from the possibility of harm, unwanted pregnancy, STD, and physical injury. Comfortable to assert when and how sexual activities take place.

Elements of the CERTS method are taught in some sex-offender treatment programs designed to help them seek ways positive methods to engage in healthy sexuality. This may be unrealistic for many sex offenders who lack empathy and have hardened cognitive distortions that inhibit healthy behavior needed for positive relationships.

Clear communication is the foundation for strong, healthy relationships. The CERTS model is easily stated, but can be harder to apply when fears and desires, or low self-esteem are present factors. Applying the elements of CERTS into a relationship can help women differentiate between a caring partner and an abusive personality or date rapist. When it feels right for both partners, it is likely to be a positive and powerful experience.

However, when one side has ulterior motives, is “playing games”, or has a purely sexual objective, all the “good communication” in the world will not matter. Abusive partners’ and rapists’ cognitive distortions will interpolate onto their partner’s behavior, regardless of what it is, as justification to take sex from their victim.

A high level of self-confidence correlates with projecting good dating and interpersonal communication. If you are a trauma survivor, recognize that you may have more difficulties in using good dating communication. Trauma survivors must take on the uncomfortable aspects of consciously working at pre-dating preparations to effectively engage in good communication. Recognize that survivors often have a higher tendency to date partners with poor communications skills because they too may be survivors.

The Model Mugging Basic self-defense course helps women build confidence and skills for effective clear communication with proactive and positive assertiveness. Students are taught ways to recognize rapist behavior and are empowered to self-confidently use their voice from their experiences received by practicing physical skills to protect themselves. Graduates develop a greater overall awareness, can see more options available, and are more likely to assertively communicate and de-escalate a situation to help prevent sexual assault.

 

Safety Summary for Safer Dating Communication

  1. Repeat your message assertively until it heard.
  2. Good communication takes more time and consideration.
  3. Match body language with the desired message.
  4. Do not engage in playful contradictions.
  5. Female token resistance is confusing and dangerous.
  6. Are men allowed the right to say no?
  7. Assert your safety over someone’s feelings.
  8. Confront issues about his sexual expectations.
  9. Change your limitations and boundaries because you want to make adjustments.
  10. Learn what comprises safe and healthy relationships.

 

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