No means no. That one is ‘easy’ or at least it should be. Sadly enough we know there are people who do not respect or accept a ‘no’, but for most people a clear ‘no, I don’t want you to touch me‘ or a ‘no, I don’t want to have sex with you‘ is not difficult to misinterpret. That is not the part of sexual consent I want to talk about, though. The consent toughie that is cracking my mind, is more difficult to read and even more difficult to act on: it’s the ‘yes’ that somewhere alone the way turns into ‘no’.
Some time ago I got myself into a situation where I thought I wanted to have sex and ended up changing my mind completely. Without going into the why’s and how’s too much, I am happy that in the end nothing had happened, but not because I had said ‘no’. And that is exactly the point: I did not say ‘no’, even though I wanted to and should have. Why not?
After I had come home I felt horrible. I put all my clothes in the washing machine, I showered long, scrubbed my skin and brushed my teeth for 15 minutes to get the taste of his kisses out of my mouth. He had not done anything wrong, though. There was no forcing involved, I had made the impression that I wanted to have sex. There was no way he could have know I was having doubts and had started to wish I could just go home – because I did not say no. Once I realised I wanted to stop I a) felt it would not be okay to do so after being so far into the game already and b) was not able to assess if he would accept my unexpected no. In other words, I feared a possible bad reaction that could make things worse.
The second thought, being scared of the possibility of the situation turning bad because you just can’t know, makes sense to me. That my brain took over and told me to just keep on going because that would not be half as bad as what otherwise might happen, too. It is the first thought – it is not nice of me to stop now, I can’t do that to him – that surprises the living hell out of me. How could I possible think like this?! I did, though, and to me this emphasises the necessity of talking to people about all aspects of consent, including the yes that turns into a no.
Yes, it sucks if one is having fun and the other one for whatever reason suddenly is not having so much fun any more. Even if the other person is close to reaching an orgasm, the sex can still stop. It may feel shitty, but it is not the end of the world. No one dies from not climaxing. If it’s really a close call, one can always finish the job by him or herself. No one should feel obliged to continue against their will because it is not nice or okay or polite to stop. It is a self-inflicted psychological pain to do so and you can take it from me: it is absolutely nothing compared to sexual assault, but it is still a bad enough experience that literally made me feel sick for days. Why? Because I had done it to myself. The only one to blame here, is me. Trust me, that sucks.
I am not sure what to advice here. One thing I have learned about this event is to never do anything I am not 100% convinced of ever again. I had forced myself to be open for a new man in my life, but my heart wanted and still wants someone unreachable. It seemed like a good solution to try to create some emotional distance from him with this new and really quite sympathetic guy, but it wasn’t. It was completely and utterly wrong. In my heart I knew it, but I went ahead with it anyway. If you ever read these lines, dear sympathetic guy, I am really sorry and don’t take it personal!
Another thing I have learned is that the brain is amazingly apt of taking over and numbing the heart out. It was somehow able to turn down the volume of my feelings into a very soft background noise so that I could convince myself ‘I could do this’ and get through it. I don’t find it that great actually, because I should feel able to stop and leave as I please. But I suppose that in a really dangerous situation this might help one give a sense of being mentally in control, although… this is not really true now, is it? It is damage control. The damage may be less, but it is still there.
You may know the following video about consent. It is great, but it doesn’t say how to help you say no, or say no after you’ve said yes and how to deal with whatever may follow. There lies the real challenge of talking and teaching people about consent – to make each other feel so secure that no matter how advanced the sexual situation is, people can say no at any given time and know it will stop.