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‘I’m an assault survivor and don’t want as much sex as my partner’

Ask Roe: Your relationship is teaching you that your boundaries around sex are not as important as someone else’s desire — which is not true

Dear Roe,

My partner has brought up their concerns over not having enough sex throughout the week. As a victim of sexual assault, I have told them that it can be difficult for me. How can I take on their concerns regarding sex, while also being sensitive to my own trauma?

I’m going to admit, my back is up immediately. Something that I’ve been watching with absolute dismay is how the rhetoric around sex positivity is being absorbed, weaponised and spat back out by some people as plain old sexual entitlement, disguised in progressive language. Sex positivity is a philosophy that respects everyone’s sexuality and doesn’t judge others for their sexual orientations, desires or actions as long as it’s safe and consensual. Sex positivity has been incredibly important in undoing the shame that has surrounded sex for so long, and the ways in which people have been encouraged to judge and shame themselves and other people, as a means of control and oppression.

Conversations around sex positivity can include giving people permission to prioritise sex and sexual pleasure, whether that’s encouraging individuals to enjoy masturbation without shame, and telling busy couples that they are allowed carve out time for sex and schedule opportunities to have sex in the same way we schedule watching our favourite television shows or having dates — not so that people feel obligated to have sex “on schedule” if they don’t want to, but that they have saved time to connect in whatever way feels good for them at the time. I have, in the past, included suggestions like that in my advice to people, believing that it was obvious that telling people that sex is an important, joyous, pleasurable part of life that they are allowed to value absolutely does not mean that the desire for sex means you automatically have a right to partnered sex, or that the sexual desire of one person ever overrides the boundaries of another person. I increasingly fear that this was naïve, or maybe it has been clear, but some people will just find any way to justify entitlement.


Perhaps your partner is indeed being respectful and gentle and approaching the topic with care and compassion, which is wonderful

When people have sex, they have the right for that sex to be consensual and hopefully pleasurable – but partnered sex itself is not a right, or an entitlement. No one has a right to have sex with anyone else. That is the attitude that has created and perpetuated rape culture, including the support of institutionally supported sexual violence such as marital rape which was only made illegal in Ireland in 1991; and male entitlement to sex, which is being encouraged in a new generation of men by incel communities and misogynistic public figures such as Andrew Tate.

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