Contract vs. Communicative Sexuality

I’m re-reading Lois Pineau’s article entitled “Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis.”  It talks about date rape and the legalities of the procedure.  The thing that really interested me was the end of the article where Pineau describes the difference between Contract and Communicative Sexuality.  Pineau says that contract sexuality is biased towards females, especially in the context of date rape, but I’ll focus on these two models since that’s what my interest is.  What’s the difference?

Contract Model of Sexuality: When a woman behaves in a sexually teasing, tempting or open way, she is implicitly committing herself to having sex with the man she is with. She is entering into a non-verbal contract to have sex, which she is not entitled to break. The reason this contract is binding is that it is unreasonable to expect a man who has been sufficiently aroused, to respect any subsequent verbal or even physical protestations.   Now this doesn’t have to be during foreplay either.  It can be in the middle of the sex act.  So if the individuals involved are having sex and one decides to change her mind, under the contract model, the other individual has been “cheated” because there was some contract that suggested that there’s a plan of action and that action hasn’t been completed yet.  The one who changed her mind broke the contract, in other words. The idea is that if a woman is acting in a certain way, then she is making an implicit contract and she must fulfill her duties under the contract.  And so the argument has these premises

1.   People should keep their agreements.

2.  Sexually provocative behavior is making an agreement.

You can think of it in a silly way from this website that one of my students, Jory, has provided for me here.  If you look at the contract, we obviously don’t do sex this way.  But in a way, we implicitly do this by looking at the body language (or perhaps verbal language) of the partner and from that language, that’s a signal for the “go ahead” signal and you are aloud to do that activity under that contract.  With this, this is the model we’re in right now according to Pineau.

Communicative Sexuality: Both people are responding to the other.  They don’t overwhelm each other with desires.  They will treat the negative emotions such as boredom, anger, or fear as a sign that something needs to be cleared up first before they continue.  It’s an ongoing state of concern instead of a “let’s make a deal” mentality.  There’s no talk of duties, rights, or consent, but merely an awareness of mutual desire.  An analogy is friendship.  We don’t call upon our friends based on duties, rights, but merely fostering an interaction and the quality of the relationship.  After all, there’s a significant difference between our friends and our business contacts.   Likewise, we should look at our sexual encounters like that. So this isn’t a “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” that’s a contract.  It’s more of a mutual satisfaction.  We respect the dialectic of desire.

Ok, so then under the communicative model, all that is needed to show that it was indeed rape is that the woman can show a lack of interest, indifference.  So even when a woman acquiesces to aggressive noncommunicative sex under pressure, she should not be seen as having consented to it. Pineau is saying that even when a woman goes though with sex without explicit protest and refusal, she may not have consented to it. So on her view, even that would count as rape.  This is because there was no communication going on. Thus, if there was no communicative sex, this is already a presumption that there was no consent; whereas in the older, traditional view (the contract view), there was consent.  Thus, consent is an ongoing process, an ongoing cooperation instead of a one-shot deal like the contract view. So in the end, the woman would not consent to certain sexual acts (or even sex at all) because it can be aggressive, non-communicative, and unpleasurable; the man is pushy, and silence replaces the discussion, she feels no desire towards him.

When I first read this, I was thinking “interesting, but I don’t think it’s feasible.”  But then as I was doing more research, it turns out that a university has adopted this model, Antioch University which you can read here.  I will give a summary of their policy below, (the quotations are their actual policies, without quotations means it’s my take on that policy):

1.  “Consent must be obtained verbally before there is any sexual contact.”  This means no implicit body language.  You must say “yes.”

2.  “Obtaining consent is an on-going process in any sexual interaction.”  This means you must consistently say “yes” to each sexual interaction.  As you progress to a different move sexually, you must still obtain consent.

3.  “If the level of sexual intimacy increases during an interaction. . . the people involved need to express their clear verbal consent before moving to that new level.”  Any new interaction (removing of clothes, new positions, etc.) need verbal consent before hand.

4.  “The request for consent must be specific to each act.”  You must verbally say what you’re going to do and you must request a “yes” from the other person.

5.  “If you have had a particular level of sexual intimacy before with someone, you must still ask each and every time.”  So even if you’ve had sex with the other person and you’re expecting some sexual relationship, you must still verbally obtain consent from numbers 1-4.  This may also apply to married people as well but I didn’t have time to look into that, but I’m sure it still counts.

6.  “If someone has initially consented but then stops consenting during a seuxal interaction, she/he should communicate withdrawal verbally and/or through physical resistance.  The other individual(s) must stop immediately.”  If someone wants to stop, everyone stops because communication has stopped.  If it continues, there has been no consent which means it counts as rape.

7.  “Don’t ever make any assumptions about consent.”  A drunk girl passed out isn’t consenting.  Pressuring someone isn’t consenting.  And even if they’re “into it” during the sexual encounter, you must still ask verbal consent if you want to increase sexual intimacy.  Passive acquiescense does not count as consent (whereas in the contract model, it does).

This policy has been put in place since 1996 and it’s still in place.  So against what I thought, it actually is working.

I’m more interested in the differences between the two models and not much about the feminist applications (although that is interesting as well, I’m more interested in the models themselves).   Can the communicative model be applied elsewhere?  It’s indeed a paradigm shift in thinking of sexuality.

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Paper Topic, Sexuality. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Contract vs. Communicative Sexuality

  1. Killer J says:

    Man, that simply isn’t enough. Verbal agreement is too difficult to rely upon for sufficient documentation.

    I propose that in order to move from kissing to fondling over clothes, fondling over clothes to under clothes and so on will require:
    1) Written release of information signed by both parties.
    2) Consent to suggested activity signed by both parties.
    3) Two witnesses for signing of both the release and consent forms.
    4) A psychosexual assessment dictating clinical approval of suggested activity.
    5) $100,000 collateral

  2. To borrow from the Mac commercial, it’d be like sex with Windows Vista. Removing Bra: allow or deny? “Allow”. Removing pants: allow or deny? “Allow”.


  3. shaunmiller says:

    It reminds me of a Dave Chappelle skit on the Chappelle’s Show where a love contract was happening.

  4. shaunmiller says:

    Seriously though, any philosophical flaws with the communicative model?

  5. Killer J says:

    Are you telling me you don’t see any flaws? You don’t think it’s unrealistic or unfair to men in some cases?

  6. shaunmiller says:

    I’m trying to find the flaws, but I can’t articulate them.

    You also say that it’s unrealistic, well that’s not true. As shown above, it’s implemented at Antioch College for over 10 years, so it does have some practical applications.

    Is it unfair to men in some cases? Well that’s the question isn’t? I can see it work both ways. At the same time, I can see the contract model being unfair to women in most cases. What I’m trying to figure out why the contract model has more of an advantage over the communicative (besides it gives males the upper hand, because that won’t do), or why our culture (or perhaps the male gender) have a hard time giving up the contract model?

  7. Beyondthehorizon says:

    I found this via google… very interesting. I think you can see the problem if you rename them. Naming the first one “contract model” and the second one “communicative model” is slightly ideological I suppose. Let’s instead call the second one the contractarian model, because it requires conscious deliberation and communication just as the signing of a contract does, and let us call the first one the implicit signaling model because it does not require such conscious deliberation and communication. Of course you have to eliminate the idea of a “contract” from the implicit signaling model, which is exactly the ideological element used to discredit it. Now ask youself the follow questions:

    1) Do you believe that sexual arousal in yourself is a cognitive process linked to conscious conceptual deliberation or do you think that arousal is more likely to be counteracted by cognitive processes of deliberation?

    2) Do you believe that sexual seduction is anywhere close to the act of deliberating and entering a contractual agreement just like the so-renamed contractarian communicative model proposes or do you rather think that seduction is a process of implicit signaling?

    Having asked yourself these questions, I believe you should then, from a consciously male perspective of course, inquire to the nature and difference of male and female sexual desire – a topic on which there is a highly interesting body of psychological literature out there. And I am not just talking about evolutionary psychology here. As a popular science introduction, take a look at “A Billion Wicked Thoughts” by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam for instance. Of course you may also conduct your own field studies in the meantime.

    Hopefully what you will conclude is this: What is being done here, is the subjection of male desire to a one-sided gynocentric model of contractarian sexuality which allows for the use of sexuality as a social power technique. And this is done even with the explicit help of social institutions such as Antioch College in this case. If there ever was such a thing as the male contractarian model (which, I think, is rather a feminist fantasy), the communicative model is certainly the bad reversal of this. Whereas the one subjects women, this one subjects men. Which of course sounds less nice than “communicative sexuality”, but fits it better I think. What you have to get rid of is the ideological veil of equality. None of the two models presented by Pineau is egalitarian in nature. The reason is that what is envisioned here is a world in which women can send out signals without taking any responsibility on how these signals affect other people’s sexual desire. Basically the ideal type of social arrangement behind it is a world in which the woman has total freedom over her sexual expression combined with total control over but no responsibility towards the other. And the other of course is you. You of course are then being held responsible for the explicit communication that is placed upon you as a kind of moral burden. Ask yourself: Is there is any legitimacy for such a one-sided burden? This is not just a denial of your own desires? Given that this model is being more and more institutionalized through processes of legal reform (make an inquiry into the legal debates on the mens rea in rape laws in the UK and the US for instance), you should definitely consider the political consequences.

    Hopefully that helps as a clarification of the problems, even four years later.

    • shaunmiller says:

      Hello Beyondthehorizon, and welcome to my blog!

      I mainly used this language from an article by Lois Pineau entitled “Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis.” Your notion of naming both models is insightful in that they may give an ideological bias toward the communicative model. But I will try to answer your questions as best as I can.

      1. I think sexual arousal can be both a cognitive process and/or automatic. If one is in a situation where one knows sex will eventually happen, then one can cognitively become sexually aroused. On the other hand, one can also have (sexual) thoughts simply “pop” into one’s head without any reason why. But is it possible to lower arousal by any cognitive deliberation? I think it is possible, but difficult. If one is feeling a certain emotion that doesn’t “fit” with the circumstances, one can rationalize about the emotion and figure out if it’s appropriate to have that emotion. Eventually, one will no longer have that emotion. As I said, this is difficult to do an it requires a lot of patience and training to do so, but I believe it can be done.

      2. I think seduction can fit under both models, but since sexuality has been mainly done through a process of implicit signaling, we don’t think that any type of seduction is possible. Indeed, if one is under the paradigm of the implicit signaling model, then the seduction of the contractarian communicative model looks ridiculous. But I don’t see any a priori reasoning why seduction under the contractarian communicative model needs to be tossed out. Perhaps those who are under the contractarian communicative model may look at seduction under the implicit signaling model as either ridiculous, immature, or animalistic.

      I would love to read “A Billion Wicked Thoughts.” It has been under my wish list for sometime, but unfortunately, my school studies take priority right now. I will, however, get to it. Based on simply what I know about the book, it seems like a descriptive model. Pineau’s article is a normative push for what sexuality ought to be. Based on this, I don’t agree with your conclusion that you have given. You have said:

      Basically the ideal type of social arrangement behind it is a world in which the woman has total freedom over her sexual expression combined with total control over but no responsibility towards the other.

      I don’t think this is a fair assessment. Indeed, I’m not sure what you mean by a one-sided burden nor a denial of one’s desires either. If she is free to express herself sexually and wants no part with me, then I’m free to leave the relationship. If you say that she is simply confusing people because she makes one aroused but doesn’t fulfill any release of arousal, I would reply that this is also true of the implicit signaling model. Plus, if this is the case, then why be part of this relationship if this confuses one sexually?

      Perhaps I’m missing something, but I still don’t see what is wrong with these models a priori nor do I find anything wrong with the political consequences of the contractarian communicative model. Am I missing something? If so, could you clarify on what you mean?

  8. Pingback: Particular Interests of Mine | Shaun Miller's Ideas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s