In a January article for the website Babe.net, reporter Katie Way detailed the experiences of "Grace," a young woman whose date with actor Aziz Ansari went terribly wrong.
According to Grace, Ansari kept initiating sex despite her nonverbal cues and distinct reticence. The article launched countless responses, quickly delving into arguments over what counts as assault. Many young women chimed in to say they had experienced similar encounters - experiences that left them feeling wounded and confused, if not traumatized.
Grace's story comes a month after the New Yorker's notorious "Cat Person" short story, which depicted an awkward sexual encounter - one that later catapulted into the aggressive, but in the moment, was mostly just unpleasant. It spurred a healthy and valuable debate about bad sexual encounters, ones that transcend the legalities of consent and touch on the deeper dignity and happiness of the human person.
We wouldn't entrust a stranger with our car keys, phones, children or bank account numbers. But in the age of Tinder and casual hookups, our bodies are not one of those off-limit items. And that trust has not been well rewarded.
Many of the questionable, awkward and potentially criminal sexual experiences that land in the news happen between strangers (or at least between those with little deep or long-held knowledge of each other).
Ansari aside, well-intentioned men and women can confuse signals or leave important things unsaid during a casual sexual encounter. They may struggle to be blunt with a stranger, and thus lose the ability to communicate important truths.
As Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig pointed out last week, we've turned sex into just another social interaction and emptied it of any supposedly sacred or taboo elements. But in doing so, we've chained sex to the social norms and etiquette we'd expect in other social interactions: the subtlety and politeness, "grin and bear it" attitude we might have at a boring party or work meeting. This makes it difficult for people to truly express their feelings and desires before, while and after having sex.
Beyond the realm of innocent misunderstanding or regret, many sexual partners choose to ignore the nonverbal cues of a potential sexual partner.
There's an inherent danger in having sex with someone who does not know you - and, therefore, does not particularly care about you.
Our casual hookup culture may promise greater independence and excitement. It's a means to sex without too many (or any) strings attached. But that lack of strings also comes with downsides: the divorce of love and sex means that we're more likely to have painful and awkward sexual experiences. Romance may be harder to come by. Communication will be much more difficult.
In a 2002 study in which participants were asked their feelings after a casual hookup, 35 percent were "regretful or disappointed," while only 27 percent felt "good or happy." A 2012 Canadian study found that 78 percent of women and 72 percent of men who had "uncommitted sex" reported a history of feeling regret after the encounter. In addition, the American Psychological Association notes that "among a sample of 1 743 individuals who had experienced a one-night stand, Campbell (2008) . . . found that men had stronger feelings of being 'sorry because they felt they used another person,' whereas women had stronger feelings of 'regret because they felt used.' "
- This is an edited version of a story from The Washington Post