When sex is discussed these days there’s a lot of talk about consent (very important), as well as everyone’s questions about desire (also important).
But in between these two, there’s another topic that’s rarely discussed: even if consent, opportunity, and desire all seem present, when is saying “no” to sex still a good idea?
Many men have soaked up the traditional cultural idea that sex is scarce, and that pursuing it is an important expression of manhood—whether they want a given sexual experience or not. I’ve heard men say that there’s no such thing as bad sex (which is as ridiculous as saying there’s no such thing as a bad meal). Too many men still learn that unwittingly passing up an opportunity for sex is worse than asking and being turned down, even ridiculed.
As Zorba the Greek (Nikos Kazantzakis) said, “God has a very big heart, but there is one sin He will not forgive: If a woman calls a man to her bed and he will not go.”
So men need support to say no. That’s what I want to provide today. Ladies, feel free to say “Amen!” right to your guy’s face.
Here are some situations in which sex might be an option—and a smart (or caring) guy might want to say no.
* One or both of you is drunk
Legally, a drunk person can’t consent to sex. But she can definitely want sex, request sex, demand sex. What’s a man to do?
Say no, of course.
That’s not so easy when the woman is belligerent. But you have to say no. And yes, you may even damage the relationship. But honestly, has there ever been sex with a drunk woman that was worth the effort? It’s like wrestling a large sack of cats. It’s not only illegal, it’s just a dumb idea. It only seems smart if a guy thinks “yeah, but this may be my last chance ever to get laid.” Of course, that’s never accurate, either.
It gets even trickier if the man is drunk, too—a really common occurrence among single people, especially college students. Somehow, if both people are drunk, the man is responsible for preventing sex. If a drunk man has sex with a drunk woman, and she complains sometime afterwards, he has absolutely no defense.
Now why a man would want to have sex if he’s drunk—other than because he’s not thinking clearly—is a mystery. Trying to control your arms, legs, mouth, and pelvis when you’re drunk is an enormous hassle—like trying to shave on a rowboat in a storm. Getting and keeping erect is a matter of chance, and the more a man drinks, the less of a chance there is.
How do you have enjoyable sex when you’re drunk?
Note: I am NOT saying that all, or even most, drunk women demand sex. There is no possible way to infer that from what I just wrote. Anyone complaining that the above paragraphs are disrespectful to women is simply wrong, and needs to read them again.
* You’re not in the mood
It’s bizarre that in 2017 we actually have to say out loud that sometimes a woman’s in the mood for sex and a man isn’t.
When that’s the case, sex is not a good idea—just like it isn’t a good idea when the genders are reversed.
Neither male nor female bodies are wired to respond sexually when we’re not in the mood. A lot of so-called erection problems are simply penises functioning reasonably when a man pushes himself to have sex he doesn’t really want.
Why might you not be in the mood? It might have nothing to do with her. It might have everything to do with her. It might be about sex—performance anxiety, unsettled issues about contraception, disagreements or confusion left over from previous sex. It might have nothing to do with sex—an upcoming tax audit, an upsetting day at work, a recent unwanted weight gain, the humiliation of Jeff Sessions.
Men ask me all the time, “How do I respond when I know she wants sex and I’m not in the mood?” My brilliant answer is, “You tell her you’re not in the mood. And if you know why, tell her that, too.” When women ask “What does he mean when he says he’s not in the mood?” my brilliant answer is, “Maybe he’s not in the mood. If you wonder why, ask.”
* Intercourse is physically uncomfortable for her
Obviously, if a woman says “that hurts, please stop,” any reasonable man would stop immediately.
But I’ve seen hundreds of couples in which the woman says “Go slowly; it’s uncomfortable, but I can manage.” What’s a man to do then? I say, don’t have intercourse. If you both want sex, have sex, just no intercourse.
No matter how much she says she can manage the pain, don’t do it. It’s hard to enjoy anything—NASCAR racing, a Jay-Z concert, sex—when we know our partner isn’t enjoying it, too. And every time you have intercourse that’s uncomfortable for her, you’re reinforcing the expectation that sex will always hurt a little.
Sex should never hurt. When it does, the problem is almost never the size of the penis or the size of the vagina. A doctor, nurse, or PA should look and diagnose—which won’t hurt. If you’re in a couple, you should both go together.
* You don’t really trust this person
Modern life requires a lot of trust. We trust strangers with deadly machinery every time we drive on the freeway. We trust building inspectors every time we ride an elevator. And we trust the people with whom we have sex—to care about our health, our safety, our pleasure, our reputation, and our future.
We trust our sex partners to be discreet, to be honest about the fertility-contraceptive situation, to be careful about controlling their limbs during the throes of passion (people can and do get hurt!), and to let us know if they are hurt or bored or scared.
Kinky sex, especially BDSM, is all about trust. Will you honor our safe word? Will you pay careful attention to both of our bodies—the subtle cues as well as the blatant ones? Will you say yes if you mean yes, and say no instead of “yuck” when you mean no? And will you not use BDSM to act out some angry thing you have going on, whether with me or someone else?
This adds up to a lot of questions. Because sex involves a lot of trust. Mostly we don’t think about it; like tying our shoelaces every day, if we think too much about it we get self-conscious and paralyzed.
All that said, if you don’t trust someone—because you’re in the middle of conflict, or because they’re giving off odd vibes, or because you don’t even know their name—saying “no” to sex might be the best choice possible.
Although as long-time reader Bob Providence suggested to me recently, “Do you trust her to be discreet about your saying no?”