I know consent is awesome, but rejection is not!
CJ replies:I know guys should ask for consent, but can you say some stuff about handling rejection? What about the times when she says no? This would be really helpful - because it's really hard not to take it personally - and that's probably the biggest reason guys don't ask, because they fear rejection.
Consent is an active process and agreement, and it cannot be coerced. The absence of no does not mean yes. No matter how well you think that you know your partner, you should never assume that you know her thoughts in that instant about sex and what she may want or not want to do. She should also never assume she knows what you want or don’t want. Consent and respect are not the domain of any gender in particular—they are concepts and practices to be executed and negotiated between all members of a relationship.
I’m of the mindset that consent is sexy. Asking for consent and respecting the answer shows that you respect your partner AND yourself and it helps create a more egalitarian relationship. Consent is a huge part of relationship communication, and good communication skills are absolutely essential in order to be a good partner.
This is all well and good, but, as you said, rejection never feels so awesome. But let’s break it down a little more here….
Your self-worth does not need to be rooted in whether someone wants to have sex with you. I know it can be really hard not to take “no” personally, but the reality of dating and relating to other people is that the process inherently opens you up to the possibility of someone declining. It’s hard to be that vulnerable and it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there like that. Every person—regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation—is going to be rejected (more than a few times!) at some point in their lives. We need to take the biggest risks in order to get the biggest gains, but sometimes those risks can land you with some awkwardness, a hurting heart, or just feeling kind of crappy afterwards. We can’t change or control every situation, but what we can control is the way we respond to the “no” or perceived rejection.
First and perhaps most importantly in changing how you feel if someone should decline your offer for sex is to remember that this is not necessarily all about you. There are a ton of reasons why someone might not want to have sex, and they are often not even related to the person who is offering—maybe they are tired or just not feeling it. Maybe they have too much else going on. Maybe they know that they have to wake up early the next morning and need to go home or go to sleep. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe they do not want to participate in the particular activity you are proposing. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, a rejection of an offer for sex is not the same as rejecting you as a person.
Instead of feeling really rattled by hearing the “no”, take a moment and realize that your partner is respecting you enough to let you know how she feels and that she is trusting you to respect that. This speaks to the quality of your relationship and is nothing to laugh at! Know that by respecting her “no” that you’re avoiding a sexual situation that would be unwanted, unsexy, and not cool in the least. I believe that men show their strength when respecting a partner’s feelings and limits around sex and sexuality.
When you’re proposing to have sex with your partner, what needs are you trying to get met? Do you have the need for orgasm? Do you have the need for closeness? Are there other motivations or drives behind the proposition? Instead of focusing on what feels like a rejection, perhaps there is another way to get the needs met. So she doesn’t want to have sex, but maybe you really want to have an orgasm. Maybe she’d be into watching you masturbate, or maybe you could go elsewhere and masturbate. If it’s closeness you’re after, perhaps you could be close to her without having sex. Maybe you could hold hands or cuddle on the couch or give a massage or some other choice activity that is intimate but is not sex. Maybe you can talk about what you both do like or what sorts of things you both do want to do. Just because she is not into sex, it does not necessarily mean that you can’t feel close to her if that’s what you’re looking for…and if you’re just looking to get off, remember that we don’t always need to rely on someone else for that!
Equally as important as what you want and what your needs are, there’s the issue of your partner’s wants and needs. Maybe she will be into an alternative activity, or maybe she won’t be. Either way is ok, and remember, still, that if she says no to something it does not mean you’re a bad person, a bad partner, not good enough, or any other negative thing that can sometimes creep its way into our heads when we hear someone say no.
When I suggest offering other activities or thinking about what’s behind the proposition for sex, I do not imply that you should pester your partner after she’s said no just in the hopes that you’ll get a yes. With confidence and self-respect I hope that you can hear and respect her no, respect yourself and have confidence in your ability to move through the discomfort of the moment.
I can neither confirm nor deny that fear of rejection is a reason why guys don’t ask for consent, but that is a paradigm that needs to be changed. While we are evolving and changing as a society there are still many double standards about gender and sexual scripts that we tend to uphold. No matter how uncomfortable it might be to hear “no” every now and again, communication and consent are the responsibility of each partner. Plus, when someone is really free to say no (meaning there is no coercion, no negative consequences for disagreeing, and their partner respects their answer), you can be sure that when they are saying yes, then it's an enthusiastic yes. That ability to accept no makes that yes, when you get it, a lot more meaningful: you won't have to then wonder if someone was really saying yes when they meant "maybe," or were just trying to avoid conflict rather than earnestly wanting to have sex with you.
Rejection is something that may never get easier, but it can be hard to avoid if you’re putting yourself out there. Remember, so long as you’re respecting what you’re hearing and thinking not only of your needs and desires but also the needs and desires of your partner, you’re on the right track.
Some more food for thought: