Some time ago, my husband turned to me and asked, “Have I ever sexually assaulted you?”
A number of my own questions immediately popped into my mind. “Are you an idiot?” “Why the hell would you ask me such a stupid question?” and “Don’t you know?”
This was quickly followed by a number of potential answers, foremost being, “If you had, you’d remember because you’d have been arrested, gone to prison, got divorced, and been murdered in your sleep, not necessarily in that order.”
I found his question vaguely offensive and was tempted to let him know with a sarcastic remark but I couldn’t interpret the expression on his face. He looked sincere. So I settled for saying, “No.”
He turned back to the TV and never mentioned it again.
But his question stuck with me because it is far more complex than it appears on its face.
First, let me say that I’ve never been sexually assaulted Not by him, nor by any other man. Our sex life is reasonably satisfying and completely vanilla. We’ve never played bondage or simulated rape games that might have been misinterpreted as a real assault.
So why would such a question have occurred to him?
Let’s begin with assault. He said, sexual assault, he didn’t say, rape. The concept of sexual assault has replaced rape in law and that terminology has drifted into popular culture.
Traditionally, rape meant penetration of a woman’s vagina by a man’s penis without her consent. Penetration of her mouth or anus was called sodomy and was sometimes illegal even with her consent. If sodomy was not consensual, it was almost invariably considered equivalent to rape in seriousness.
Rape and sodomy omitted a great many violent sexual acts against women, including violent sexual humiliation, injury to sexual organs, and so forth. These could be prosecuted as any other assault, but there was a feeling that the sexual component made them were more serious than simple assault or even aggravated assault.
Thus, the catch-all term, sexual assault, was written into law. But this was expanded far beyond rape and sodomy to include some minor violations such as touching a woman’s breasts through her clothing without her consent.
Was my husband asking me about forms of sexual assault other than rape that he may have inflicted on me?
Occasionally, when I’m getting out of the shower he is moved to pull me into a hug and caress or massage my breasts and buttocks. He does not ask my consent and I’m not especially fond of him doing that, not because it’s a sexual assault but because I’m damp and chilly and he’s keeping me from getting dressed right away. Annoying but not a crime by any stretch.
Sometimes, when we’re watching television, he is moved to grab a breast and give it a gentle squeeze. That’s also annoying because it distracts me from the program. And because I suspect that he’s motivated to do it, not because he is overwhelmed by my animal sexuality, but because he’s seen a pair of young, firm tits in a bikini or tight sweater on the screen and he’s fantasizing about her as he’s mauling me.
Is this what my husband was asking? If I considered his sometimes ill-timed groping to rise to the level of low-grade sexual assault? Groping that would never land him in prison or get him murdered in his sleep. I can imagine myself saying, “Officer, my husband grabbed my tit when we were watching TV together. I want him arrested and sent to prison.” Surely my husband isn’t concerned about any such ridiculous scenario.
Does he do anything else that might be considered sexual assault? Maybe he’s thinking about the foolish feminists of the sixties, like Dworkin and MacKinnon. Some of them went so far as to claim that any sexual intercourse in which the woman does not experience an orgasm is rape. Their logic is that if the woman does not enjoy the act as much as the man, then she is being abused by the expectations of the patriarchal power structure. Even if she consented.
Certainly there have been times, many times, in our marriage when I was not in the mood and my husband was. So, sometimes I spread my legs for him just to stop him from whining, even though I knew that there was no way that I was going to have an orgasm myself.
But I never resented that. I never felt like I was being bullied or forced into sex. There was no question that if I had said, “No,” he would have accepted my answer; and gone away to pout a bit. And, though I was not sexually stimulated by those acts, I wasn’t physically or psychologically damaged by them, either. I was simply a little bored, about equivalent to any other chore, such as washing dishes or doing laundry. The difference was that the sexual chore took a lot less time than housework. Ten minutes and he was done. I only wish I could get the vacuuming done so quickly. And that a clean house would make my husband as happy.
After considering the physical acts, the only way that remained to interpret my husband’s question is psychologically. We both know that occasionally I get groped a bit and sometimes I agree to sex when I’m not quite as horny than a bitch in heat. He couldn’t be asking if he did that so he has to be asking how I felt about it.
The exact wording of the question becomes critical. My husband did not ask if I like being groped or guilted into giving him sex. He knows that I don’t like it because I never pretend that I do. I’ve never faked an orgasm in my life. By asking about assault, he must be asking if I dislike it so much that I consider his behavior rising to the level of a crime. Not a felony, but a misdemeanor. The sexual equivalent of illegal parking or stealing a bath towel from a motel room?
That makes his question loaded with an accusation because it implies that I act as though I’m being assaulted when I generously give his needs priority over my comfort.
If that’s what he’s trying to imply, then he deserves more than a sarcastic retort; he deserves a swift kick in the nuts.
I think I should think about his question a little longer before I strap on my steel-toed work boots. I don’t want to over-react. Not until I’m certain what he meant.
I’ll let you know when I finally figure it out.