When it comes to reasons people give for why they had sex early in a relationship even though they did not want to, I’ve heard things like the following way too many times:
> “I didn’t want him to stop liking me.”
> “I figured she’d think something was wrong with me.”
> “I thought we were supposed to.”
> “But he really wanted to, so….”
It is heart-breaking to me that so many people, of all ages, do not realize that it is their right to say no to sex—at any stage of a relationship. In new relationships, people’s attitudes about having sex… or not having sex… are all wrapped up in fear, insecurity, societal programming, short-term thinking, and much more.
First let’s look at the reality of no—why men and women decline sexual advances early in a relationship. There are many reasons, among them:
♦ Being emotionally and/or physically unprepared. If you are not there yet, either physically or emotionally, and need more time… enough said.
♦ Feeling unconnected. If you have not known each other long or feel that you need to experience one another without sex first, that is a very normal and sound reason to decline sex. For most people (women especially) an emotional connection is a vital precursor to physical intimacy.
♦ Lack of physical attraction. The toughest nut to crack. We all take this personally but really physical attraction is all about the attractee, not the attractor. In our culture that fact has been lost, with our media blasting us daily with messages about how to become more attractive to others. Now that being said, physical attraction that does not exist at first can and often does grow… over time, as intimacy of other sorts increases.
♦ Situational factors. For example, if there is a lot of alcohol involved, or the situation is uncomfortable, or if there is no protection available…these are times when people say no, whether or not they are interested, in theory, in sex with someone.
No-to-sex has always been a heated and emotionally fraught topic. Why? Because people take it personally. No-to-sex is equated with personal rejection. Some people hesitate to even suggest sex because they assume that if they are turned down, it will mean the end of the relationship. Why? How does “I am not ready to have sex” or “I do not want to go to bed with you” become “I am breaking up with you” or “You are unworthy?”
There are two participants in this conundrum, the no-sayer and the no-hearer. For this blog, I am focusing on those who wish to say no, and do not feel empowered to do so. The person who hears “no” has two tasks: 1. Do not take it personally 2. Respect the no.
How to trust yourself enough to be able to say no?
Know thyself. The trust comes after. This means understanding what your personal goals are for a relationship, and what your boundaries are—both physical and emotional. I’ve written about this many times in different ways, but the gist of this idea is that keeping your boundaries ensures healthy self-esteem because you are living in alignment with your core values. Not just that, but you will get what you want and need in a relationship. If you step out of alignment and ignore your boundaries, that’s when you find yourself in a relationship wondering, “How did it get like this?” One step off your path and the next thing you know you are bushwhacking through someone else’s jungle wondering what happened.
Change your thinking and the language you use with yourself. (As we know, changing thoughts and words results in changed action and reality.) Instead of asking yourself:
◊ “Will he/she like me more if I say yes? [Or like me less if I say no?]”
◊ “Will he/she end it if I don’t agree to sex?”
Think instead about:
◊ “How do I feel in his/her presence?”
◊ “What do I want?”
◊ “Who am I having sex for, myself or him/her?”
◊ “What am I looking to have happen in this relationship?”
Guidelines to live by:
√ Know what you want and don’t settle for less.
√ Never agree to something you are uncomfortable with.
√ It’s never okay to step outside your comfort zone to accommodate someone else’s wishes.
√ Sex has to be all about you first.
√ You are not responsible for the feelings and reactions of others.
√ You have the right to set boundaries that keep you secure and comfortable.
√ Your sense of well-being trumps any fear of disappointing someone else.
√ No is not a rejection—of you or anyone. It is simply a clarification of boundaries, and relates to a given situation.
Now that you know you can say no… how do you do it? Politely and firmly. What are you feeling? What are your goals? What needs to be clarified?
√ “I need to know you even better before we have sex.”
√ “I am dating to find my ideal partner not casual sex.”
√ “I am not ready to move to the next step.”
If you need to physically step away and disengage from the heat of a moment in order to say no, do so. If someone persists after you have said no, leave immediately. Your words were heard, but not respected. Go.
Learning how to say no to what you don’t want is a life-changer. Not only will you feel more comfortable and secure, you will be truly empowered.