I Was Slut-Shamed For Writing An Essay About Rape

Last week, Bustle published my piece, “I Didn’t Say No — But It Was Still Rape,” an essay about a sexual experience that I define as rape, because it felt like rape to me. (I clearly state that I am not defining my rape for lawyers, judges, or police.) I gave consent, and then changed my mind mid-act because I was in pain. But I never said “no,” or “stop.”

I shared the post with close friends via email (I wasn’t ready for my family and Facebook rolodex to see it yet), and then posted it on a closed writers group. There, women shared their similar stories with me and thanked me for writing. I told them our little thread felt like a safe space. A friend had sent me an email warning me about trolls, but nothing like that had happened to me so far. “The piece will probably sink into Internet oblivion after today,” I said. It was a disappointment, but also a relief.

Bustle doesn’t have comments on their website, but later that night, they posted the article to their Facebook page, which has over one million likes. I saw that my essay was already generating dozens of likes, comments, and shares. Then I began to read.

“I'm a woman but I think this is insulting to men,” began the most-liked comment. “I don't think she knew if she wanted him to stop. This is not rape, and it's insulting to anyone who has been raped. Speak up, if she had told him to stop I bet he would have!” I began to scroll.

One man called me a "cunt," and then speculated about whether or not I had given the man in the story a blowjob before we started having sex. One woman called me a slut, and five people liked it. Others called me selfish, an asshole, a disgrace, a "meek little bitch," a "freaking moron," and a "piece of shit." They suggested that I must have just been bored with the sex, argued that the sex could only have hurt if I'd already had multiple orgasms, that I was using my partner as a sex toy by trying to make him stop before orgasming.

Apparently, I embarrassed my fellow women ("grow a pair of ovaries!" one commenter cried). I made people "terrified" for what it must be like to be a man in a society where people “cry rape.” People sympathized with the man in the story. “He looked at you with disgust because you were a BORE!” said one woman (a mother, I found, after I clicked her page). “No it was not rape. Shame on you for putting this garbage out there!!!!” One woman compared my experience to eating a cupcake and then blaming the cupcake company for getting fat afterwards. Many said I didn’t deserve to have sex, that they hoped no one would ever have sex with me again. One woman wrote: “She just wants to have her cake and eat it, too.”

The majority of my attackers in the comments were women. In the comments — 500 and counting at the time of this writing — I saw a few men, a dozen or so at most, crop up. The rest were women, largely defending the man I wrote about: “She is insulting men for being men,” wrote one. “This is not rape," said another. "We all know you can’t ask a man to stop." And still more: “At what point do men have to start getting signed consent before sex? Feminism is ridiculous.” And another woman agrees: “It has to be ‘No’ right from the beginning to be rape.”

Another woman wrote about a cervical condition that makes sex very painful for her, but said that if she consents to her husband, she doesn’t ask him to stop in the middle, no matter how painful it is, because that would be wrong.

I read every comment and was surprised that I didn't feel hurt, exactly — not for myself, at least. Rather, I was alarmed and saddened for the women who argued against my piece because sex with their husbands or partners hurts, but they don't tell him to stop because they don’t think it's “right” to do so after giving consent.

“Men tend not to be sensitive to our emotional needs when their testosterone is high. My husband has been moody with me before,” one woman wrote. Another woman wrote about a cervical condition that makes sex very painful for her, but said that if she consents to her husband, she doesn’t ask him to stop in the middle, no matter how painful it is, because that would be wrong. The man who called me a "cunt" weighed in on this: “There’s plenty of girl’s commenting on how they let guys finish even if it hurts, because they know how ignorant it is to fuck with a guy’s head like that.”

I did, however, feel angry about another woman calling me a slut. “Guess everyone’s been raped then,” the comment read. “Pathetic slut.” But a friend pointed out to me the real issue with her comment: “She’s actually saying something important, even if it’s sarcastic,” she texted me. “She is saying that every woman has been uncomfortable and in pain and had to suffer through sex so a man could finish. That is so sad that she thinks that every woman has been through that. And it is even sadder that she thinks it’s normal.” Without realizing it, the slut-shamers and victim-blamers commenting on my piece were highlighting the very need for my essay in the first place.

These people wrote as if they had been in the hotel room with me. They made statements about what happened — things that were never mentioned or hinted at in the piece — as if they were fact. They claimed that I was underage, that it was my first time, that he and I were in a relationship, that I had sex with him again, that there had been foreplay, that I was still with this man. They even "knew" the position in which we were having sex.

I made a choice in my essay to not reveal the information that people were speculating about because it does not and should not matter. These kinds of details are often used to negate the value of such experiences, and a victim’s feelings about it. If a woman is not bringing her case to court — which I clearly state I have no intention of doing — then no one should be raising questions that are meant to diminish a victim’s beliefs about what happened to them.

And then this comment: "‘Continuing after someone says it hurts is rape[?]' Then every woman in the history of humankind has been raped. I'm raped then every time I'm with my husband."

When I reached the end of these comments, I wanted to defend my article to these people. Not for myself, but for the women and men who reached out to me, the ones who tweeted, commented, and sent Facebook messages, and then the hundreds more who shared it on their own pages, some, bravely and powerfully, along with their own rape stories.

After the experience I describe in the essay — which I so controversially labeled "rape" — I told myself that maybe what happened to me was normal. Maybe it was a thing that men could do after I already agreed to sleep with them. I didn’t ask anyone — anonymous or not — “Was it rape?” for fear of the response. I wrote my essay because I didn’t want anyone else to think for one second what I had thought for years.

“You know what,” I said to my boyfriend after my essay was posted, “If someone told me this was going to happen all of the hateful things people would have said about me I still would have written this. In fact, I would have been more eager for it to publish.” I felt surprised by my own words, but knew that this was true, despite the fact that I hadn’t been sleeping, that the comments people made about my piece had made me feel physically ill. “Everything people are saying — it just shows why we need to talk about this. Why we need to keep talking about this.”

I would like to say that the women attacking my piece hated it because they had never once been in a consensual sex situation in which, midway through, they felt uncomfortable to the point of wanting to stop, but were too fearful about what might happen to them if they tried. But after reading their comments, I’m inclined to think that it’s the opposite. I think that many of these women have been in these situations, but they don’t see anything wrong with it or don’t want to. Maybe this is because, socially, women are taught that they are meant to please men, and that it would be “unfair” or "selfish" to rob a man of his orgasm, or that men won’t like them or find them desirable if they are in pain.

The comments support this theory: “It seems to me like men grow up thinking that women can’t change their mind during sex … my own husband thinks I’m a tease if I’m playing being flirty but don’t want to get ‘into it,’” said one woman. “This is Bull! […] I think we have (mostly) all been there,” read another. “The man doesn’t like giving you an oral.. but he still does it. He’s not calling it rape!” And this comment:

“‘Continuing after someone says it hurts is rape.’ Then every woman in the history of humankind has been raped. I’m raped then every time I’m with my husband.”

I am saddened by these comments because they come from the women I was writing for the most. The ones who think that this sort of sex is acceptable, that consent cannot be taken away, that men own women's bodies once they give consent. If these women on the thread had written, “I’m confused. This happens to me all the time. How is this rape?” and sparked an honest open conversation — whether they agreed with my essay or not — I would have gone away feeling like my essay made a difference to them. Instead, they fought with one another, tried to one-up each other's insults, and were only united in their hatred against me and my essay.

Comments like theirs are meant to quiet the questioning voices. They are meant to make the person standing up for herself sit back down. The only way to change the conversation is to keep having the conversation, to keep standing and making your voice heard. I know that I'm probably not changing any of my commenters' minds with this essay. I'm writing this because I was raped — and not one angry comment can stop me from continuing to talk about it.

Images: Laura Gianino