Oct 172010

Saying no is such a complicated thing, especially when it comes to sex. I want to be nice, make sure that people like me, and bring happiness to the people I love. But I also want to be respected and listen to my inner voice. You know, that voice that tells me when things don’t feel right. I’m still learning how to say no when I hear that voice.

I haven’t always felt entitled to say no. Childhood sexual abuse does that. My first serious boyfriend compounded the issue by not stopping when I asked him to because he was always “almost there.” I was in my early 20’s before I realized that I didn’t have to go along with everyone who expressed interest. I slowly practiced saying no to my partners, learning through experience that they would respect me and stop immediately when requested. I discovered the sex-positive community in Seattle and learned about boundaries and negotiating for what I want. Joel and I attended an amazing workshop taught by Harold and Melanie (long before we were all a family) and several other wonderful people (who are now good friends) where we practiced saying no to some sexual things, while requesting others. For example: no, I don’t feel like having my shoulder touched right now, but I would love for you to blow me.

I’ve heard people talk about a policy of “enduring nothing,” which I think is very good in principle, but more complicated than it sounds. For me, it means being present, paying attention to what’s going on with myself, and not silently putting up with something that feels bad. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes me a while to figure out how I feel. When I have flashbacks or other abuse related issues come up during sex, I consciously acknowledge whatever is coming up, then set it aside to look at later. And I follow up when I’m done enjoying myself. When that doesn’t work, then I stop my partner and explain what’s going on because they tend to be sensitive to my moods anyway.  Physically, if someone is doing something that isn’t working for me, I try to subtly shift my body, or move their hand to where I want it, or suggest a different position. I don’t need to alienate my partner to enjoy myself. Everyone should enjoy sex – especially me.

People handle saying no in such different ways. Some people are willing to give up control to their partner, exchanging the need to think during sex for the comfort of someone else defending their boundaries. It is a way to feel safe, but don’t you want to take responsibility for your own sexuality? Some people approach every sexual encounter as a negotiation consisting of every thing they won’t allow. It’s good to have thought about your boundaries, but tell me what you are okay with. What do you want? I’ve gone in both directions and my path lies somewhere in the middle.

I’ve had opportunities to think about my boundaries in social situations lately. I’m used to being sparkly and flirty. I get a lot of attention for being sexual. I am a very sexual person and open and caring. I’m generally okay with a certain level of groping and making out with friends because it feels good. Recently, I’m less comfortable with interacting casually on a sexual level. I’m listening to that feeling, figuring it out, and deciding how I want to deal with that. I don’t have any issue with people thinking I’m hot or showing me love – I just want to make sure that it feels hot and loving or I stop it from happening.

The biggest thing is that I feel entitled to say no. Anytime I want. Any way that works for me. Do I have to have a reason?