Open Letter to Aziz Ansari

Dear Aziz,

You don’t know me, but I’ve been a fan of your work for a while now. As a couples therapist and sex and relationship educator, I’ve taught your book and used your stand up clips in my classroom for years. I’ve long had the sense that you’re a seeker– curious as I am about the mysteries of love, sex, and marriage. Like many people, the article posted on shocked and saddened me. I struggle to reconcile my sense of your self-awareness and vulnerability with this story of a man whose behavior was unkind, impatient, and unempathic.

If you and I were working together in a therapy setting, we would sit with questions like: What happened that night? How similar to or different from your other sexual experiences was it? How have your years of celebrity changed you? How do your identity variables (your race, gender, and socioeconomic status) shape your sexual identity, expectations, and feelings of entitlement?

I’m full of hypotheses. Perhaps you have a long-standing internal split– the “you” that you show to the world is split off and dis-integrated from the “you” that comes forward in a sexually intimate space. Perhaps you’ve changed—your inability to integrate the power that accompanies celebrity compromises your ability to tune in to a sexual partner. Perhaps you’re moving through the world with an untreated mental health concern—sexually compulsive behavior, substance abuse, or an emotional disorder like anxiety or depression.

I would never pretend to know the interior of your experience that night or of your experiences in general.

But here’s what I know for sure. What happened between you and “Grace” is not rare and it is not isolated. You and “Grace” are the products of a broken sexual culture. I have sat with countless women whose experiences echo Grace’s experience with you that night. Women who feel crushing pressure to be “chill” and “no drama” when it comes to sex. Women whose fear of being labeled “prudish” is as unrelenting as their fear of being labeled “slutty.” Women who enter into sexual encounters chock full of awareness of what their partner wants and what they believe they themselves should want but lacking a deep and connected sense of what would feel safe and pleasurable to them and how they would go about asking for that even if they did! Hookup sex renders them disillusioned, disappointed, and cynical.

Labeling you a predator who must therefore be silenced and ostracized will not help women feel empowered to advocate for their safety and pleasure, and it will not help men work together toward a collective sexual ethic of integrity and care. To marginalize you is to perpetuate the cycle of shame and blame and silence around sex—a cycle that leaves people feeling devalued and hurt and alone.

In my therapy and teaching, I sometimes use the term FGO—Fucking Growth Opportunity. It may be relevant here. I imagine that you’re in a shitty place right now. I imagine that you move between shame and anger and sadness and fear. I am reaching out to challenge you to begin to view this as an FGO.

I am reaching out to challenge you to use your pain.

Use your pain as energy that can help us elevate the conversation about sex. Yes, we must end sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual abuse of children that is perpetuated within systems that enable it. But your crisis is a different shade of the important #metoo movement.

Your crisis is a shade of gray that desperately needs to be brought into the light so that we can talk about the fact that today’s dating culture is unlike that of any generation before. Sex education in our country is largely a joke (the CDC found that ½ of high schools and 1/5 of middle schools cover the 16 recommended topics). Relationship education is basically nonexistent. We are about 10 years into a world where high speed 24/7 accessible and unregulated porn that is a-relational at best and anti-relational at worst (one study found that 90% of randomly selected scenes on porn hub showed violence against women and 50% showed verbal degradation of women).

It is time for curious dialog about hookup culture and patriarchy and power and privilege and consent and empathy and integrity, and you can use your platform to help those conversations happen.

I hope that you will.


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