Open Letter to Users of the English Language,
CC: Users of Mandarin (every point in this letter applies to Mandarin, and I suspect it also applies to other Chinese languages)
Dear Users of the English Language,
I know that I can’t seriously ask over a billion people to change the way they use English just to please me, but I still wish to make a little request.
How about we say ‘sleep with’, ‘get in bed with’, etc. … when we LITERALLY mean it.
As it, let’s stop using it mainly as a pseudo-euphemism for sex.
I have never had sex with anybody. I have, however, slept with people. Those are two distinctly different actions.
I have to be careful about how I talk about sleeping with people so that people don’t assume that I mean that I did something sexual with them. By itself, that wouldn’t be a big deal, and if that was all that was going on, I wouldn’t bother writing this letter.
However, this idea that ‘sleep with’ almost always means ‘have sex with’ ties into sexual supremacy, and as an asexual, I am not on the priveleged end of this specific hierarchy. It erases and discounts non-sexual interation, such as sleeping next to somebody else.
In addition to being asexophobic, ‘sleep with’ as a pseudo-euphemism is also, ironically, sex-negative. It supports the idea that sex is so shameful that you can’t actually say ‘have sex with’. This cocktail of sexual supremacy AND sexual shame is precisely why ‘sleep with’ is assumed to mean ‘have sex with’ – if either the sexual supremacy OR the sexual shame were absent, most people would assume that ‘sleep with’ is meant literally unless otherwise indicated.
The fact that the default meaning of ‘sleep with’ is ‘have sex with’ also ties into rape culture. Part of rape culture is that, if men and women sleep together, there must be sex, and that by consenting to sleep with a man, a woman is automatically consenting to sex. As a woman who has slept with men, will probably sleep with men in the future for convenience, but has no intention of having sex with them, this particular wrinkle is very disturbing.
From now on, aside from potential poetic metaphors, I will only use ‘sleep with’, ‘get in bed with’ etc. in the literal sense. When I mean ‘have sex with’, I will say ‘have sex with’. I request that you do the same.
The Notes Which Do Not Fit