Wednesday, July 24Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Sex in the Grey Area

*Trigger Warning: issues of sexual consent*

When I was 17, I dated a guy for about three weeks. He was considerably taller than me, a first as I normally date guys around my height so I don’t feel inferior. He was far too popular for me, although he was a total softie on the inside. It was very intense, and we moved quite quickly with everything — other than the sex.

One evening we’d planned a pizza date at my house. Earlier that day, though, I’d noticed him calling me “his woman” and telling me how I should wear my hair or do my makeup. Call me a ‘woke feminist’ all you like, but that was a major turn off.

I texted him earlier that evening to let him know I wasn’t sure about him coming round, but he insisted that it would be nice. I obliged, but laid out there and then that I didn’t want to have sex because I didn’t know where we were headed. He said that he completely respected my decision. When he arrived, we went to my room and ate whilst watching a movie. Naturally, we found ourselves kissing, cuddling and I even teased him with a nibble on the ear. Even I was surprised when I found myself agreeing to have sex with him and pulling off my t-shirt. The way I saw it, nothing bad could come of carrying on, but saying “no” might have upset him, so we had sex. 

I don’t even remember seeing him naked because I was face down, but in under a minute it was all over. It wasn’t that I felt violated, because I had let it happen, but it definitely didn’t feel good. In fact, I felt dirty. I felt tarnished. It took me around a week to get over the fact that I’d had consensual non-consensual sex with someone I thought I was falling in love with, but once I’d come to terms with it I broke up with him on grounds that we were in different places, emotionally.

We’re so often told that sex is black and white, it’s either non-consensual or consensual. However, what about when it isn’t? What about when it’s grey? 

The Grey Area is what I call that bit in between, where your attitude towards the sex is ‘Okay then.’ It was a yes to begin with, but somewhere along the way it became a no. You feel nothing, until afterwards when you just feel like you’ve wasted ten minutes of time you could have spent reading or watching Netflix. 

Clearly, I’m not the only person who’s experienced this type of sex. Kiwi trio, Liv, Luce and Rubes released an episode of their brilliantly informative podcast, The Sh*t Show, all about this topic. They refer to it as ‘Bad Sex’. 

“We’re not talking about sex with someone who’s bad in bed, but sex that leaves you feeling super sh*t. Sex that takes away a piece of yourself and instills a sense of shame and shock, and really it’s sex that doesn’t feel like sex at all.”

I hadn’t given that night much thought since I was in sixth form. I’d never considered that other people might have experienced the same awful feelings I had afterwards, where the sex wasn’t fun or enjoyable or even nice. I remember my feelings immediately after were, God, you’re a slut, you’ll have sex just to have sex. I felt disgusting and used and most of all, ashamed. I shouldn’t have been. I’m certainly not now that I know I’m not alone in having grey sex. 

I wondered what I could have done differently. When he left, I checked my phone several times to make sure I’d actually told him I wasn’t ready. The messages were definitely there. I wondered what would have happened if I had told him to stop. I could see his disappointed face in my head as though I was watching it on a screen. Trying to push him off would have been futile; he was so much bigger than me that it wouldn’t work, he’d have thought I was just really into it and trying to play rough. 

If that same thing were to happen to me now, I’d have no problem telling him to get off me. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to be in a position when stopping it is safe. We need to stop pretending that sex only comes in two colours, and teach young people that sex can stop at any time — whether you’re the instigator or not. It takes two to tango, and it certainly takes two to have sex. As soon as one person stops enjoying it, it should stop.