Obtaining informed, enthusiastic consent before any sexual act is not just essential - it’s sexy. But what happens when consent is not forthcoming? How do we move forward without getting caught up in our feelings and overlooking the other person?
In bed and out, the word “no'' can hit like a tonne of bricks. It’s true what they say, we really can’t always get what we want. So how can we navigate rejection respectfully, graciously, and in a way that doesn’t leave us, or our sexual partners feeling worse off?
Let’s break it down into two parts, first understanding, then responding to it appropriately.
Taking “no” for an answer
An integral part of consent is creating a safe, comfortable space to say “no”. After all, consent is all about respecting others’ needs and boundaries. It means not just hearing “no”, but taking and accepting it for an answer, never pressuring someone to change their mind, and never reacting in a way that makes them feel unsafe or admonished. Consent is meaningless if it is not given freely.
What does “no” sound like?
In order to graciously receive a “no”, we need to recognise it. While some people are comfortable delivering an unambiguous verbal rejection, others will be less direct. If someone changes the subject, makes an excuse, or bargains down by suggesting different sexual acts, they could be trying to let you down gently. Or, if their words say “yes” but their tone of voice is unsure, hesitant, or distracted, they might be feeling conflicted. It’s okay to check in if you’re not sure, or gently remind your partner that “no” is not a dirty word.
What does “no” look like?
People communicate using more than just words. It’s called “body language” for a reason. How do you act when you’re not sexually interested in someone? If someone is facing or pulling away from you, fidgeting, crossing their arms or legs, feels tense, or isn’t responding in kind, consider what their body is telling you.
Responding to rejection
So you’ve been rejected. Hey, it happens to the best of us. In fact it happens to all of us, and although it may hurt, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. If you’re feeling a little downtrodden, you may benefit from a little cognitive reframing. Here are a few ways to go about it.
Consider the last time you sought consent. Were you genuinely curious about how the other person was feeling, or were you expecting a certain answer? If so, had you already become attached to that expected outcome? By shifting your focus from consummation to communication, you can avoid disappointment.
Have the confidence to seek consent without expectation, and in the knowledge that you are equipped to deal with the answer, whatever that may be.
This too shall pass
Rejection is painful. That’s ok. As humans we have an intrinsic need to belong. Rejection can make us feel insecure and unwanted. It doesn’t help that society teaches us to over-value our perceived sexual desirability when calculating our self worth.
Remember that like all emotions, the pain of rejection is only temporary. Often, resisting difficult emotions only makes them come back stronger. Instead of fighting the hurt, acknowledge it, sit with it, and don’t judge it. It will pass faster, and you will minimise the other difficult emotions such as guilt and disappointment that can tag along with it.
Put yourself in their shoes
For most of us, letting people down doesn’t come easily. Think about the last time you rejected someone’s sexual advances. Did you take pleasure in it? When you’re on the receiving end of the rejection, try to empathise with the other person and be grateful for their honesty. You’re in this together, so let the experience unite you rather than divide you.
Sure, sex can be amazing, but you are more than your sex life. If mainstream popular culture is to be believed, the worth of a human adult can be calculated predominantly on the basis of their sexual prowess. But when you think about the people in your life who matter to you most, you’ll probably find that what you value in them has nothing to do with sex. The same goes for you.
Learn to let go
It’s easier said than done, but learning to accept the things you cannot control will help you in all facets of life. You cannot change how someone else is feeling. Nor should you take it personally.
Chances are the rejection is based on feelings and boundaries that are totally unrelated to you and your actions.
Take it as a compliment
No, really! Congratulate yourself on creating a safe environment for someone to express themselves honestly. Be proud that you made yourself vulnerable and responded graciously, and bring that positivity to your next interaction.