I know it’s often been the source of much amusement (yes Polly, I’m looking at you), but I’m actually quite stunned by Pamela Stephenson Connolly’s Sexual Healing column in this week’s Guardian:

The reader’s problem is described in the headline as “My boyfriend can climax only by initiating sex while I’m asleep“, and here’s how she describes it:

“When we first started sleeping together, my boyfriend was unable to climax, despite our best efforts. However he initiated sex again while I was sleeping and through this he was able to climax. This has become a regular problem – not able to climax, and then waking me up later in the night. It’s not particularly a turn-on for me. After sex, or attempts at sex, he’s quite cold and impassive, and doesn’t want to talk about it. I don’t understand this behaviour and it’s building up a lot of frustration in me. What should I do?”

Now I’m assuming that like me, a lot of people reading that are thinking “Run, run the fuck away now! And fast!”

Stephenson Connolly on the other hand, has this to say:

“There are several reasons why a man might have difficulty reaching orgasm. It’s possible that he may not be sufficiently aroused by vaginal intercourse. Sometimes this problem occurs in men whose masturbation style is a rough one; they can’t easily make the transition. Sometimes intrusive images enter a person’s head and distract him, and sometimes anxiety gets in the way. Perhaps he requires his partner to be more passive, for some reason. Sometimes medication is the culprit.

Try to talk to him when he is relaxed (not during or immediately after sex). First reassure him with something positive you enjoy about his love- making style, then ask him: “How might I help you climax?” You might also inquire: “What occurs between your first attempt and when you wake me up that makes all the difference?” A little detective work may earn you a better night’s sleep.”

Seriously? The man is “initiating sex” while his partner is sleeping, and all Pamela Stephenson Connolly can suggest is to “try talking to him about it”?

Still, I’m glad to see that some of the commenters under the piece have picked up on what’s going on here, even if Stephenson Connolly is oblivious to it.

Here’s the relevant clause from the Sexual Offences Act 2003:

75. Evidential presumptions about consent

(1) If in proceedings for an offence to which this section applies it is proved—

(a) that the defendant did the relevant act,

(b)that any of the circumstances specified in subsection (2) existed, and

(c)  that the defendant knew that those circumstances existed,

the complainant is to be taken not to have consented to the relevant act unless sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue as to whether he consented, and the defendant is to be taken not to have reasonably believed that the complainant consented unless sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue as to whether he reasonably believed it.

(2) The circumstances are that—

(a) any person was, at the time of the relevant act or immediately before it began, using violence against the complainant or causing the complainant to fear that immediate violence would be used against him;

(b) any person was, at the time of the relevant act or immediately before it began, causing the complainant to fear that violence was being used, or that immediate violence would be used, against another person;

(c) the complainant was, and the defendant was not, unlawfully detained at the time of the relevant act;

(d) the complainant was asleep or otherwise unconscious at the time of the relevant act;

(e) because of the complainant’s physical disability, the complainant would not have been able at the time of the relevant act to communicate to the defendant whether the complainant consented;

(f) any person had administered to or caused to be taken by the complainant, without the complainant’s consent, a substance which, having regard to when it was administered or taken, was capable of causing or enabling the complainant to be stupefied or overpowered at the time of the relevant act.

(3) In subsection (2)(a) and (b), the reference to the time immediately before the relevant act began is, in the case of an act which is one of a continuous series of sexual activities, a reference to the time immediately before the first sexual activity began.

I don’t know about you, but personally I think the Guardian has a responsibility here to point out that what’s going on in this relationship is actually unlawful. Or if they have evidence that it’s not, for example if there’s more in the reader’s letter that explains the situation better, to include some of that explanation in the published piece. Otherwise it looks as though both Pamela Stephenson Connolly, and the Guardian as her publisher, are condoning rape and encouraging a woman to remain in an abusive and damaging relationship. And I’m pretty sure that that’s not really the kind of message they want to be giving out.

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