How to Say No to Sex

There are lots of good reasons to say no to sex. Maybe it’s not right for this person or this relationship, maybe it goes against your religious beliefs, or perhaps you’re not at a sexual stage in the relationship.

Consent is about freedom and capacity, so being pressured, bullied, manipulated or tricked to say ‘yes’ takes away our choice and our power to choose. Here’s how to say no.

Know Your Boundaries

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to sexual boundaries, but the most important thing is to know what your own limits are. You may not be able to articulate them well, but you can learn how to recognize the signals your body is giving you—maybe you’re clenching your fists or feeling a tightness in your chest or throat. This is your body’s way of signaling that you aren’t ready for sex.

It’s normal to be on different pages than your partner when it comes to sex, so have an honest discussion about your expectations and desires. Ask your partner to respect your boundaries and if they aren’t, talk about it in a respectful way. Try introducing a safe word (a verbal stop sign) that you both can use in the moment to reaffirm your consent.

You don’t need to explain why your boundary is what it is, but you should be able to tell your partner why you’re making this choice. Be clear and direct, look them in the eye, and speak with a serious tone of voice. You can even play a game called “Good Touch/Bad Touch” with your partner to practice getting comfortable saying no.

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Know Your Partner’s Boundaries

Having a healthy sexual relationship requires an open communication with your partner. This means regularly checking in with each other about your comfort level in regards to sex. This could be as simple as asking if you are comfortable with a specific activity or as complex as discussing sex and intimacy needs on a regular basis.

For example, some people may find it uncomfortable to touch over clothes or want to take sex slowly, while others might not be able to perform at the level they’d like because of illness or pain. These are all valid reasons for saying no.

Knowing your partner’s boundaries can also help you be a supportive partner, so it is important to respect their wishes when it comes to sex. For instance, if your partner is blindfolded and you feel comfortable touching them, you should respect their decision to continue or stop. If you aren’t sure about your partner’s boundaries, try taking an interactive sex-related test. Collect a few household items (comb, feather, ice cube, back scratcher, Velcro, etc.) and then have your partner gently touch different parts of your body, varying up the speed and pressure. Pay attention to their verbal and non-verbal responses, and be willing to apologize if they make you feel uncomfortable or ashamed.

Learning how to communicate your needs and boundaries effectively is a great skill for any relationship. It is often helpful to talk about these things outside of the bedroom, so your partner knows that your refusal to engage in sexual activities is a reflection of your mutual respect and not hostility.

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Know Yourself

Even in the most loving and caring relationships, there will be times when one or both partners are not up for sex. And it’s important to be on the same page about this.

This can be challenging to communicate with your partner, especially in the heat of the moment when they might be asking for sex and you’re not feeling it. In this case, it’s best to give your partner some advance notice so they can plan accordingly.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons you’re not feeling sex, such as fatigue or pain from chronic illness, pregnancy, or just a general lack of energy. But other times you may simply want to take a rain check for now, and that’s okay. Delayed gratification is fine, and in some cases, it can actually be quite romantic!

Knowing yourself means learning what you prefer in terms of sexual contact and partners, but also understanding that this is a very personal choice. And if you know yourself well, it will be easier for you to say no without sending your partner into a tailspin of insecurity over your rejection of them.

Know Your Rights

Whether you’re in the midst of a relationship or just casually dating, it’s important to know your rights when it comes to sexual consent. You have the right to say no to sex at any time, with any person, even if you’ve had sex before. You don’t have to explain your reason for saying no, but you should be willing to listen if your partner has one.

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Good reasons to say no to sex include not feeling ready or wanting to take things slow, being uncomfortable, and/or wanting to maintain a healthy relationship. Some people may choose to be abstinent until they’re married, or may decide to identify as asexual for the rest of their lives. These are all valid decisions, and they don’t change the fact that it’s your right to decline sex.

Practicing healthy boundaries in your personal relationships can be difficult, but it’s essential to learn how to say no when you need to. The more comfortable you feel with your own boundaries, the easier it will be for others to respect them. Remember to be mindful of non-verbal cues, too, and to keep in mind that a simple “No” is all you need to communicate your boundaries. If you need help with this, seek counseling. The ACLU’s Know Your Rights sheet can also be useful in these situations.

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Augustyn

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