real life

'I didn't say no. You didn't ask.' A letter on consent.

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers.

Dear John, 

No, that’s not your name. But to be honest, I don’t remember it. So, to save my embarrassment and your privacy, let’s call you John. 

Do you remember our fleeting encounter? It was years ago. Don’t feel ashamed if you don’t. I don’t suppose it was overly memorable for you. 

We met at a bar. We flirted. We drank bourbon. You liked that I could hold my liquor. We danced, and I felt your erection grinding on me. 

We went back to my place. I invited you. 

Remember how I tore at your shirt as our lips met for the first time? I’m sorry you lost that button, by the way. I can still recall feeling the heat of your chest under the palms of my hands. 

Our kisses became hungry and breathless. The kind of frantic kissing that leaves your lips throbbing afterwards, in the most delicious way. 

Without breaking the kiss we collapsed onto the bed and I straddled your lap, feeling your hands fumble with the hooks on my bra. 

We awkwardly smiled into each other’s mouth which quickly turned into a shared chuckle as your hands became more desperate in their approach to unlatch. I threw my head back in relief as I felt the sweet release of the straps from my body. 

Your lips began to explore my neck and burrowed into my collarbone, tasting, marking their territory. 

Your hands meanwhile moved up my thighs, under my skirt, carefully tracing the seams of my lacy underwear. 

This was when I felt a shift. It was familiar, like someone had suddenly opened the door to my insides and a cold breeze swept in, taking all the heat from the moment, in one fell swoop. 

Listen to The Quicky, Mamamia's daily news podcast. Post continues below. 

The passion that was driving this interaction had taken a backseat and my thoughts were beginning to take control of the wheel. 

Overthinking each movement. 

I could suddenly feel the roll of fat that collected around my waist. I was aware of the sweat gathering in the small of my back. 

I felt heat re-enter my body in an entirely different way. Total panic. 

I shook my head trying to recapture the moment, as you rolled me onto my back. 

You didn’t seem to notice that I’d stopped kissing you. That my hands were shaking a little.

My mind was racing. Completely out of my body. I started to feel angry. Why did my anxiety come to ruin this moment, why couldn’t I just be fucking cool about it??

As I stared at the ceiling completely frozen, I took a deep breath and distracted myself by counting the cracks around my ceiling fan. 

ADVERTISEMENT

I felt myself start to shiver as you slid my skirt and underwear down my freshly shaved legs. It was suddenly so quiet. Silence. There was no panting, no dirty talk. No questions. No answers. 

You want this. You want this. Calm down. It’s just sex. You’ve done it all before. You’ve come this far before. It’s too late to back out now, my brain rattled off thoughts like a freight train. 

In my dissociated state I was startled to hear the rustle of plastic and looked up in surprise to see you opening a condom, smiling down at me, your eyes looked more intense now, focused and powerful. 

You climbed on top of me and held yourself as you slowly thrust into me as I kept counting the cracks. 

I fantasised that one of those ceiling cracks would open up and I could step through the crevice, above the rooftops and fill my lungs with the cold night air. 

My body remained stiff and motionless, as you moaned into the empty space above my shoulder, completely unaware I had left my body. 

You rolled off me, panting and satisfied. I felt relieved it was over. 

"Did you finish?" you asked me. 

I said nothing. 

I quickly sat up and put my clothes back on. You seemed to take this as a hint and got dressed too.

"This was fun, we should catch up again!" you remarked casually, smiling.

"Yeah, maybe," I murmured.

I remember wincing at the honesty of my tone. Flat. Deadpan. 

Your bruised ego unleashed in a bitter tirade. 

"What, wasn’t I a good enough f**k for you?" you asked, narrowing your eyes. "Look, you weren’t exactly performing. You start all hot and heavy and then you end up being a f**king dead starfish the whole time."

You sounded disgusted. 

I stood up and went to get a glass of water, wishing I had gone to your house so I had the option to leave. 

Luckily, I soon heard you walking out the front door. 

That was the end of our little interaction, John. 

Now don’t worry, I didn’t write a letter all these years later to accuse you of anything. 

Enthusiastic consent wasn’t really a thing all those years ago when we had this encounter. 

It was very much a matter of "no means no." 

And I never said no. 

I invited you over. I let you take off my clothes. 

I never wanted to be labelled a cock tease. I wanted to seem cool. Carefree. So even when I changed my mind, I never told you. 

ADVERTISEMENT

I never told you I didn’t want you to be in my house anymore. In my bed. In my body.

I never told you that your body on top of mine felt suffocating. 

You never asked.

You never asked if it was ok. If I was enjoying it. If I wanted you to stop. 

You didn’t seem to notice I had stopped participating.

All I know is when I saw you again in the pub a few weeks later, I felt cold. 

You looked in my direction and shuddered. As if you were physically trying to erase an uncomfortable feeling. 

I always wondered where your discomfort came from… 

Was it because you remembered the sting of rejection in the moments after? Or was it because you remembered how still and quiet I was during?

Do you remember me at all? Perhaps as a disappointing lay? Or as the girl that made you feel disappointed in yourself? 

I guess I’ll never know. I guess you can continue being the kind of guy who would never rape a girl. 

Because I never said no.

I sat down and wrote this letter to thank you. Because of you, I never could shake that feeling. Although I didn’t have the vocabulary yet, I realised that night, that just because I didn’t tell you to stop, didn’t mean it was a consensual experience. 

I learnt that receptive body language, enthusiasm and constant communication are all important forms of consent. 

To simply check in.

John, I hope you eventually learnt this same lesson. I hope you learnt to check in. To ask. 

To notice if things become too still and too silent.

To stop. 

I do hope you remember me. And I hope you could never quite shake that uncomfortable feeling. 

Sincerely never yours, 

The dead starfish. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

The author of this post is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. 

Feature Image: Getty.