Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Thinking more on the metaphor...

Once I started thinking about rape in terms of bullying, another thought rose in my head. Isn't sex a heck of a lot like learning to play nicely with others? So I started trying to work with that, and here's what I came up with:

First, not every other kid is going to want to play with you. It can be disappointing (especially on a long, boring afternoon when you're practically dying for something to do), but it's life. If one kid doesn't want to play with you, well, too bad. Find someone else, or find a game you can play on your own.

Once you have found a playmate, you need to decide what games are okay to play. If you can't talk about this, it can make your playtime a lot less enjoyable, and you'll get into arguments over the rules of the game. It's not always necessary; sometimes your play styles are close enough that you can jump right into the game without any talk, but trying to jump right in can be risky, and could lead to an early end to your playmate relationship.

Even if you agree on the general rules of the game, there needs to be compromise; if two kids are playing cops and robbers, one has to be the cop, and one, the robber... they might want to switch roles, or play a different game from time to time.

The whole point of playtime is to have fun, and that means making sure everyone has fun. If everyone doesn't go home happy, or, in a worst case, disappointed that playtime wasn't much fun, then something's gone wrong, and they should try to figure out what. If playtime is never much fun, maybe they should figure that out before starting a long term game of house.

(I'm terribly sorry; that was even worse than "find a game you can play on your own", wasn't it?)

But a good playmate is always careful to be concerned that the game was fun, at least a bit, for everyone. A good playmate will realize if the game is disappointing to the other, and they'll start another game, or figure out something else else to do.

An obvious corollary is that, no matter how much a child wants to play a particular game, unless the child's playmate wants to play that game, they should play something else. Also, while kids can be bossy from time to time, bullying is never acceptable. Oh, I'm sure nearly every kid wanders into bullying territory once in a while, because kids have to learn not to be bullies, and they learn by doing something wrong, and being taught a better way. In adults, to break out of our metaphor, it's actively unacceptable. Adults are supposed to have learned not to be bullies when they were kids.

Kids sometimes do things without recognizing the danger of them, and one (or sometimes both) playmates could end up hurt. My rules for this would be simple: if anyone gets hurt, play stops, now. You do what you can to make things better, and then you take a brief time-out from play until you're sure it's not going to happen again. Even if it was clearly an accident, a brief time-out is good, just to show respect for the hurt. You don't have to become best-friends with every playmate, but you need to care enough about your playmates to be sure none of them are hurt. A child who is callous about other playmate's feelings might, or might not, be a bully, but a careless, callous child can cause just as much damage as a bully.

Here, again, we have to pull out of the metaphor when talking about adults. Adults can make hurtful mistakes, too; sex is powerful stuff. Still, adults have a higher standard. Adults should notice the hurt, and take action to stop it, sooner than we expect a child to. And while we can't always expect a child to think "I'd better make sure this won't hurt my playmate", adults have better sense, and can ask, and make sure.

Just as a child would be wrong to refuse to apologize to a hurt playmate, and would be wrong to ignore a playmate's need for help, so too would an adult be wrong for not trying to put right his or her sexual mistakes. And while we can expect repeated mistakes from children or adults, we expect different kinds of mistakes. A child can be forgiven shoving a child off of a swing the first time; if the child then shoves another off of a sliding board or see-saw, well, the child was supposed to learn not to shove the first time. "But it wasn't a swing!" isn't an excuse. Similarly, Any adult who has made any mistakes about whether his or her partner was okay with something should be doubly careful in the future, because there's a lot more at stake than a skinned knee that needs to be washed, kissed, and bandaged.

I've heard stories of sexual experiences that were not consensual, even though they weren't rape. The pain is still there; it's still real. In many circumstances, it's on a par with rape. While children can be forgiven for not realizing the possible consequences of their actions, it's a lot harder to forgive an adult, and while adults can and do make mistakes, an adult should recognize the stakes, and be more careful.

Hm. When I started on this, I thought it was going to be nicer sounding. I guess my mind is just stuck on the problems, and not on the good times. That's kind of a shame, too, because sex is one of those times when adults can become playful, and lose themselves in the joy of the moment, just as children can. What's better is that, if adults have learned how to play nicely as children, they'll have the right instincts to play nicely as adults as well... and hopefully, they'll still remember how to lose themselves in joyful abandon while having fun together.

Because the cautions don't take much time or energy; they really are just like learning to play nicely with your playmates as a child, modified for the adult world. If you're looking to have fun, and help your partner have fun, watching out for the dangers is soon second nature, and you can just go at it, knowing that a fun, happy playtime lies ahead.

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