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Taking “No” Like a Champ

“Good sex is an act of mutual aid. Every person, regardless of gender, is responsible for contributing to the well-being and pleasure of their partners and themselves. We must explore and know our own desires and learn to speak them. We must hear and respond to the desires of our partners (even if that means accepting refusal gracefully). “From the “Will You Go Down on Me? appendix section of the 2011 Slingshot day planner.

Hearing “no is rarely easy, and when the no is in regards to sex, it can be even trickier. It’s something I was theoretically prepared for, but the last time I found myself in this situation, I realized that accepting it good-naturedly, and developing the kind of relationship where “yes and “no are not just equally valid, but equally easy to say (because you know your partner won’t hold it against you, and there’s a balance of give and take) can require some real effort.

I’ll get more specific. Not so long ago, I told my (now ex) boyfriend that I’d love to spend the afternoon together in bed. Our schedules had been hectic and mutually exclusive lately, and I was looking forward to some of the fun, gratification, and sexual connection that I’d been missing. Speaking up made me feel a little vulnerable, but I figured, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I extended this invitation by email, which can be both the safest and riskiest way to go (safe because you avoid face-to-face awkwardness and risky because the person might not write back promptly, or you might not be able to discern their tone when they do). But I’ve come to believe in speaking up for what I want, sexually, even when it’s challenging, so I asked in a friendly way if he was interested.

He wasn’t. He wrote back, nicely, that he’d feel more connected to me if we just talked instead of having a romp in bed that afternoon.

My reaction wasn’t completely what I wanted it to be. I said OK, that was fine with me. But he could sense my disappointment, and I think we both felt a bit uncomfortable. I only wanted the afternoon delight if he wanted it, too, of course. But it’s still hard to hear a “no, and I want to learn to respond with grace and good humor.

Hearing no, no I am not interested in having that sexual experience with you, no that sort of activity doesn’t interest me, no I’m not in the mood, can be hard on the ego. On one hand, part of a sex-positive life, for me, involves asking for what I want. And consent (I like the idea of enthusiastic consent) is also essential for everyone’s happiness and wellbeing. Sometimes, though, what I want isn’t going to be what my partner wants, and I believe I must be OK with that.

I’ve found little advice out there about how to deal with the no, which can feel so embarrassing and disheartening. And yet, if I’m going to have a happy sex life, I understand that this sort of thing is going to happen and I have to develop the confidence and resilience to take it well.

It’s all in how you interpret the event. So, I could say to myself that because he doesn’t want to play with me this afternoon, it means he doesn’t want me, and taking it a step further, maybe this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t asked for sex, and maybe I should avoid this sort of situation in the future by not speaking up. Demoralizing, right? But an easy trap to fall into. Believing that is not going to help me joyfully laid in the future.

But, alternatively, I could remind myself that he’s allowed to have his preferences, and that doesn’t make my desires invalid. I believe that everyone is entitled to a happy and thriving sex life, and one of the best ways to achieve that is by communicating. So I will continue to communicate. I will do my utmost to be kind, responsible, and considerate about it. Even when it’s awkward. Because the pay-off, even when it’s just in terms of the self-respect I feel from knowing that I’m behaving like the sort of partner I’d want for myself, gives me the courage to keep going.

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