Sex and the Trade-Offs Women Make

January 20, 2019


Trigger warning for discussions of sexual assault and rape. And if frankness about hand jobs bothers you, you might want to skip this post.


Women are accustomed to making sexual trade-offs in life, but we don’t talk about them much. This is better than that. I’d rather do X than by forced to do Y. When we find ourselves in bad situations that have the potential to get much worse, we make trade-offs. Often, we have to make those decisions in the moment. And, because we did “choose” to give a guy a blow job we often struggle with shame or feelings of confusion about what happened.


When I wrote about the bad date from hell I mentioned something in passing and promised to come back to it later. Rather than be vaginally raped I placated him with a hand job.



Turtleneck sweater, about as un-sexy as you get. 


Let me be clear – I didn’t want to give him one. I wanted the fuck out of there. He’d also unzipped his pants and tried to shove his penis in my mouth, but I’d turned my head away and pushed him off. I didn’t feel safe, I wanted the evening to end, and he’d already been so aggressive that I was afraid to stand up and try to walk out. So – quick hand job, get him off and be able to leave without anything worse happening.


In many women’s minds, and starting at a too-young age, we rank sexual activity. To me, a hand job didn’t mean much and was far less violating than a forced blow job or rape. Unfortunately, I know of far too many women and teenage girls who’ve also had to make this call.


I personally know girls (they were 15 or 16, so girls in my mind) who have given guys blow jobs or done things that they didn’t want to because they were afraid. And who have confided in me later about the guilt or shame that they felt afterwards.


If you’re engaging in a sexual act only to prevent a worse-to-you act from happening, is it consensual? One could argue that, since the other person doesn’t know you’re making that trade-off, they think it’s consensual. But consent, while mutual, comes from one person to another.


I am okay with this. Yes, I want this. I would like to do this with or to you. I am granting permission – me, myself, Dena – to you, other person to do these things. If done solely to prevent a vaginal rape, it’s a form of violation and assault. And it’s not consensual.


Consent does not presume. It doesn’t just whip out a cock and try to shove it in a woman’s mouth. It asks, “Do you want this?” or, “Is this okay?” It checks in with a partner multiple times throughout the encounter. It pays attention to body language and other cues.


While dealing with the shock and violation of that night I’ve been surprised, and somewhat proud, to notice that I haven’t felt shame. I don’t feel ashamed about what I did that night to get myself out of there. But so many of us do.


We blame ourselves for not seeing warning signs, or being stupid or naïve. We weren’t – but that’s the language that survivors too often have internalized from a society that puts too much responsibility on our shoulders and little to none on those of men. I spent years, and I do mean years, blaming myself for what happened in my 20’s. Unwilling to call it what it was because I thought I needed to take responsibility for the events leading up to my rape.


One of the best books I’ve read on the subject of shame, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, helped me immeasurably while shedding the last of the shame around that night. And I think it’s because of the work I’ve done in my past that I didn’t even feel a shred of shame about the way my bad date ended.


Hello, yes, would you like an adorable dog burrowing in the blankets to make you feel better?  



If you’re a girl, or woman, who’s had to make a trade-off sexually, I’m sorry. I know that it lingers, even if you’ve reached the point of rejecting the message you should blame yourself (for going home with him, for getting drunk, for wearing a sexy top, for daring to fucking exist as a woman in this world.) And I want to tell you that you have no reason to feel ashamed.


You got yourself out. You don’t know what else worse could have happened – let’s not forget that rape can lead to murder. You made decisions by your own internal ranking of “this” rather than “that,” which also involved taking control of whatever you could in the situation. I’m proud of you, and hope someday you can be proud of yourself. You’re a survivor.


I think we need to start identifying and calling out sexual trade-offs that women make; to broaden the discussion around consent. Shame is a debilitating motion which often silences women, particularly younger girls who have yet to fully explore sex and may feel a lot of confusion about what happened on in these situations.  My wish is that every girl and woman who's had to make this type of trade-off would know that she is worthy, she is loved, and she has no reason to feel any shame.









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