When it Comes to Grinding, Just Ask

If you’ve been to a major party at the Claremont Colleges, you’ve seen
it.  Most likely, you’ve done
it.  It’s how a lot of sexual
encounters get started—often in the form of hook-ups with people we may not
know very well. We talk
about sexuality abstractly in class, host events on the hook-up culture and
discuss sex with our friends, yet most of us rarely talk about the actual act
of grinding. The prevalence of
grinding in campus party culture almost makes it seem a non-noteworthy

But we think that grinding is noteworthy. Grinding is one of the few times when it is socially acceptable—and
almost expected—to be physically sexual in public places. There is a heteronormative social
code to grinding at most 5C parties that presents one model of how consent may
or may not function. Men are expected to be the ones to
initiate, and often approach women from behind. For women, it’s not uncommon to be unaware of the identity
of the person they are dancing with, and rely on friends’ judgments about
whether or not they should continue dancing. Consent is implied for men and a
lack of negative response (moving away or saying no) signals consent for women.

Consent should be a choice before physical contact is made. Publicly constructing consent as something that does
not need to be asked for or as something that is communicated by a lack of a
clear “no” has impacts beyond grinding. It makes it harder to ask questions about what somebody wants or doesn’t
want. It makes it harder to communicate desire openly. And worse, it makes it
easier to choose to interpret a partner’s silence as consent. 

Consent in all sexual encounters should be an active yes,
not just the lack of a no. In the instance of other, perhaps less public,
sexual activities, it might make sense for active consent to be communicated in
a previously agreed-upon way. But in this instance, given that the woman may
not know who is approaching her, consent should be requested in a verbal or
nonverbal way before initiating physical contact to avoid an unpleasant or even
violating experience for either party.

For many, asking someone for anything sexual, including
grinding, can feel awkward or vulnerable. Expressing desire creates an opportunity for rejection, and in this
instance, that rejection is public. But changing how we see grinding, an act of
sexual engagement that exists in the public eye, can be an important source of
social change in terms of how we view consent. Within the framework of heteronormative party interactions,
this means that men need to feel free to ask women to dance, and women should
in turn be able to express what they want in respectful ways. These are seemingly small actions, but
they move us toward a safer culture that condones expressing desire and seeking

If you’d like to talk
more about this and related issues, the Advocates for Survivors of Sexual
Assault are having a talk on grinding next Wednesday, February 15 at 10 p.m. in SCC 235. All are welcome!




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