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How can I keep from getting upset when he ignores my no?

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Elizabeth1 asks:

I'm 15 and my bf told me about a week ago that he thought I should be loosing my virginity and a few days ago I did. I was ok with this and only said once that if it was ok with him I'd like to stop (the way he was looking at me was creeping me out), but it wasn't ok with him so he kept going. Afterwards I really creeped out and for some reason I started crying all over the place, which I can't explain. He doesn't get this either and got really upset about it. I wanna make things back up with him so I've said that we can try again and that I wont react so badly. Is there anyway I can calm down enough so that I don't upset him again by freakin out? Hope you can help xxx

Heather Corinna replies:

I would not, and cannot, give you advice on how to feel differently than you do, or on how to hide your feelings. Instead, I would only -- and could only, in good conscience -- advise you NOT continue to be intimate with this person again and ideally not to stay in a relationship with this person at all.

Let me explain why.

You say he said you should be "loosing your virginity." The thing is, he's not the one who should be saying that or deciding that. He also shouldn't be voicing what he wants like that, since it's going to influence your ability to make up your own mind for yourself and feel supported in your own decisions and feelings about when the right time is for you.

It's certainly okay for him -- or anyone who's a potential or current partner -- to voice what he wants sexually for himself, including when it includes you. But it's important that when we voice that to someone else, we do so in a way which makes clear we know and accept that what we want may not be what they do, and makes clear that if they don't want what we want, that's 100% okay, and we will not try and convince them otherwise to want or do what we want them to.

If we want to do something sexual with someone else, we should be inviting them to do that with us, asking them if they want to, not telling them. Someone who wanted sex from you told you that you "should" have sex with them. That's a directive, not a question or an invitation.

You told him you wanted him to stop. He intentionally ignored that request. You told him you wanted to stop, and he heard you, but made a choice to deny you the right to make that choice about your own body. He continued having sex with you against your will because it is what he wanted, for himself, knowing it's not what you did anymore.

What you are describing in that scenario does not sound at all like consensual sex. It sounds like sexual coercion and assault, or rape. If he behaves like this in other parts of your relationship, it may also be that other kinds of abuse have been or are happening, too.

Not everyone understands the range of what rape can be, including people who have been raped/assaulted. Most get that someone physically holding someone down or forcing someone to have sex at gunpoint is rape. Many get that it's rape when, like you, someone says no, but someone keeps on having sex with them, ignoring and denying their nonconsent. Some understand that because someone says yes to one thing doesn't mean they're saying yes to everything, or to that one thing more than that one time. Some understand that just because someone says yes to sex at 5:30 doesn't mean they can't say no to it at 5:31 and that whenever that no happens, even if there was a yes before, everything needs to stop or else it's rape. Less people get that rape doesn't just happen with strangers, but with boyfriends (or girlfriends), spouses, family members, community leaders, landlords, bosses, visiting guests or neighbors, even though, in fact, it happens more often with those kinds of people than with strangers. Less people get that rape isn't just about one kind of sex only, that men can also be raped, that there are a lot of ways to say no besides with words, that certain situations make it impossible for consent to exist, and that people can and do rape people with different kinds of force than their hands or a gun.

While everyone's rape experiences can vary, what's at the core of what all rape is that someone did something sexual to, on or inside of someone that person did not truly consent to, did not want, and may have even made very clear was not okay with them, or just plain not okay at all, at some point in some clear way. Consensual sex is about everyone involved giving and seeking full consent throughout all of sex and only continuing when consenting is happening. Healthy sex with a partner tends to be about everyone involved aiming to do things that are of mutual benefit and pleasure to everyone involved, physically and emotionally. Sexual abuses, like rape, are not either of those things.

What happened to you -- you didn't have total room to make your choice in the first place, but even when you did, you then said no and this person refused to accept that and did something sexual to you anyway -- is the heart of what a sexual assault is.

That is probably why you were crying and felt upset and creeped out: having someone sexually abuse and/or assault you is a serious crime. It's a big deal. It tends to feel terrible. Not everyone reacts the same ways to it -- some people don't cry, some do -- but however someone does or doesn't react, being sexually assaulted is a traumatic event, a crime, and a very serious abuse, and it's safe to say that feeling upset and crying are certainly very common reactions. While I wish this hadn't happened to you and would prefer you were not hurting, I am also glad you're feeling upset: shutting down those feelings is not as healthy as having them and letting ourselves have them.

I know how hard it is to hear all of that, especially when it's happened with someone you probably trusted and may still care for. I am always so sorry when I have to explain this to someone, because it is the last thing I ever want to say: I know it can hurt like hell, be awful to hear, be horrid to know. While I suspect that at least some part of you knew before I told you what I just did, having someone else say it or validate it can hurt, even if in another way it can feel like a big relief, and I'm sorry if what I have said causes you any pain.

But not telling you, or pretending like what went on was consensual and was not an abuse would be even worse, because it not only would be me acting way outside my ethics, it could put or keep you in danger: it could set you up to hurt even worse and to keep getting hurt. Giving you what you asked for here, ways to try not to be upset when someone is doing you harm, ways to hide feelings of upset at something truly upsetting would be a way I myself would be putting you in harm's way. That's why I also can only advise you to avoid being in an intimate or sexual setting with this person again and, ideally, to get away from him full-stop.

Promising not to "react badly" when someone is abusing you is a promise I'd implore you to never, ever make. Trying to be relaxed and calm when someone is assaulting you, unless you get the sense that doing so will save your life and your sense of self when there is no way out of that situation, isn't sound. What's sound, and safe, is trying to do all we can, when we can, to avoid people who we know have assaulted us, or who we think might. Plus, we also can't ever promise, for real, not to have any kind of emotional feeling or reaction, even with consensual sex or when we're being treated well in other contexts. All we can honestly promise to do is to be honest about our feelings and to try and express them to others in ways that aren't mean or manipulative. But I seriously hope that if and when anyone is going to do you harm, is doing you harm, or has done you harm that you're always able to feel upset about it and not hide those feelings.

I can never know, when someone does something like your boyfriend did, if he knew he was crossing lines or not. Most people who do what he did do know, even when they deny it. But some people don't. Without talking to him, it's impossible for me to say. But what I feel like I can know is that it sounds clearly like it would not be sound for either of you to pursue partnered sex right now, certainly not with each other, and maybe not with anyone just yet. Let me explain why I'm saying that, too.

With this guy, he either does not care about you and what you want or need with sex, only himself, or he does not understand that he needs to care. So, either he's just really far from ready to have sex with someone else or he's an abusive person. You say he got upset, but it doesn't sound like he was upset with himself about how he behaved, but about you crying, since you say he didn't understand why you were crying. That's another thing that can show you clearly that this person isn't safe to be intimate with: either he doesn't understand that he assaulted you or he expects you to be assaulted and not be upset about it. Either way, that's big-time bad news.

Someone who does not understand that someone's no ALWAYS needs to be okay with them -- not something THEY decide is okay or not -- and always needs to be something they respect and follow, isn't safe to be close to. For people to be safe for us, in any context, one of the things they need to have is a clear and strong respect for our limits and boundaries. Maybe he needs to learn that and maybe he will, but he doesn't know it now, probably won't for a long time, and so he isn't safe now and probably won't be anytime soon.

If he did understand, he's even less safe. If I know that robbing someone's home isn't okay, but I've shown that I'm going to go on ahead and do it anyway, then folks would have to figure that they could never trust me not to rob their homes, and that since I did it, clearly knowing but not caring it's wrong, they could probably be pretty darn sure I would them if I had the opportunity to do so.

You even being able to have sex with someone who assaulted you is also unlikely to be something you'll be able to do without feeling upset. One reason why is that again, your feelings will try and protect you, basically: you'd probably feel even more upset in trying to do that because you'd feel even more how unsafe it is than you did the last time. In the case you could go ahead and shut those feelings down and try, you'd risk being assaulted again. As well, staying enmeshed and getting more enmeshed with someone who harms us is deeply psychologically damaging.

In terms of your readiness for sex at this point in your life, I am wondering if you know, both in your head and your guts, that sex is a choice that not only do you always get to make, but that you should always be making, for yourself and freely for yourself. Do you know that just because someone who wants to have sex with you says you should have sex with them doesn't mean you have to or should? Do you know that whatever you want or don't want matters just as much as what someone else does, and when it comes to your own body, matters more than what someone else wants of it? Do you know that even though it happens a lot that someone like you says no and someone else like your boyfriend chooses to ignore it that that isn't at all okay, how things should be, or how things have to be?

If that sounds patronizing, please understand I don't ask out of any disrespect or thinking you daft. I ask those questions because some of what you're saying here makes me wonder if you know those things and because many people, especially very young women, either don't really know those things, or have heard them, but don't really believe they're true or possible. Some people don't know because they were taught differently, either by people telling them differently, or demonstrating something else, such as with any kind of abuse we might have grown up with or experienced in such a way that we grew to think abuse was normal, or not abuse at all. Some people don't know because they feel like they aren't really in control of their own lives, or don't feel like they have the right to have full control over their own bodies. Some people don't know because they don't think they deserve that kind of respect. Some people don't know because they got the idea that sex with a partner is supposed to look or feel like a violation or attack. Some people don't know because they don't want to.

Do you also know that your feelings and instincts are meaningful, and worth paying a lot of attention to? For instance, I suspect it's possible that you started to feel creeped out by the way your boyfriend was looking at you because something in the way he was looking gave you a clue he was being predatory: that he was acting in a way which involved abuse. You feeling upset about what happened here isn't a mystery, it's a very valuable and important message being sent to you by your emotions, because being abused IS upsetting. Trying not to feel certain things that we feel or hide those feelings isn't healthy. What is healthy and sage is paying attention to them and trying to look at WHY we are feeling or felt that way, and what that may tell us about what happened and what we need. In your case, I think feeling creeped out was you not feeling safe, a cue to try and stop what was happening, which you did try and do. I think you were so upset afterwards because you were abused.

I want to make sure you also know that you don't need to ask anyone, EVER, if it's "okay with them" for you to say no, or okay with them if you need to stop something sexual. You always, always have that right. Everyone does. Someone who is truly ready to have and be a sexual partner knows that: it's not a question, it's a given. I'm not sure why you asked if it was okay (and I'll talk about that more in a sec), but if you ever feel like you have to ask, that's another feeling to pay attention to, because it's another signal you may be unsafe with someone. When we truly feel safe and know we are, we tend to know that of course it's okay for us to say no to something, to anything at all, at any time.

Do you also know that we only need to say no once in order to have it respected, not more than once? If someone didn't hear you, that's one thing, but there's no question this guy didn't hear you: he responded to you. The only right answer to "Is it okay if we stop?" is "Yes, of course," followed by immediate stopping. "No, it's not okay," is an unacceptable answer, always.

I think you will need some time to process and heal from this experience before you pursue sex (or even want to) with anyone again. It sounds, too, like you might need more time to truly know and feel some of those things I just talked about, and gain confidence in your right to all of them. It sounds like you could use some time and space to really think about what you want, and what feels and is right for you, all by yourself. Ideally, before you walk into a potential sexual relationship with someone again, you'll have a better sense of that, right at the gate, one you can put to them before you get intimate -- rather then them telling you what you should want or do -- and be very sure they'll respect.

I want to make sure you also know that because what your boyfriend did was a crime, you have the option of reporting it and pressing charges. In your area, you can contact Rape Crisis Scotland, either by clicking here to see where an in-person service is near you, or you can call them in the evenings at: 08088 01 03 02. They can fill you in on your options with reporting if you want to consider that, but whether or not you want to report, they can also provide you support are care, including counseling. If any of what I said was confusing, or you're still not sure what to do, they can help. If you want to talk more to me, other staff here or other people who've been through something like this, we're also glad to talk with you at our forums.

I have a few different links I want to leave you with, that I think will be helpful to you. But I also want to leave by making clear that you know this was not your fault. What this guy did to you was something he chose to do, against your wishes and your will. Even if now or later, you find yourself recognizing signals of his being unsafe you feel you should have heeded earlier, that still does not make what he did your fault: it remains his doing and his responsibility. What you're responsible for in this is just doing the best that you can now, and moving forward, to take very good care of yourself, to be gentle with yourself, to seek out whatever care, help and support you need, and to keep doing the things you can to keep yourself safe. I'd say that very much includes trying to choose partners who you don't ever feel you have to hide your feelings from, who it's always okay to express upset around when you feel it, and who do not give you this kind of cause to be upset in the first place, and avoiding and getting away from any who don't fit that bill.

Unfortunately, we can't always control whether or not someone harms us, and we can't or don't always see danger coming until it's too late. But when we know someone is a danger to us, and know they have harmed us, we then have all we need to know that in order to do our best to keep ourselves safe, we need to do all we can to get away and stay away from that person.

written 21 Dec 2010 . updated 20 Jan 2014

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