Help a girl say no.
March 5, 2012 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Late-twenties female in need of new strategies for handling intimate encounters and avoiding disassociation during sex and shame afterwards.

I've had a string of one night stands or periods of casual sex in the past few years, and I'm beginning to realize that they haven't been all that great for my feelings of self-worth. I enjoy sex, but I think it's mostly because I feel validated by the other person's attention and the sensual experience of human touch, which is, yay, awesome. However, I am not good at dealing with the casual nature of these encounters, and I've been disappointed to find the other party disinterested in either a more substantive relationship or in further intimacy. This has happened a lot.

I was reading on Ask Metafilter about a person's suggestion that great sex with the right person at the right time is one of those amazing experiences, and it made me realize just how uncomfortable I've felt in many of my sexual encounters. Even though I am a fully consenting adult, I guess I've felt passive, used, and disconnected from my body during many or most of my sexual encounters. For whatever reason, this often leads to me to pursue similar situations in the future, if only to find someone who will treat me better and be the one. Obviously, this hasn't worked out for me.

I've been frustrated/angry/scared with at least a couple sexual partners, and I really think that sex is something I'd like to keep off the table until I know someone a bit better. Honestly, it's probably around the clothes off / penetration stage that I start to get weirded out and go someplace different. I love cuddling, playing footsie, stroking, and it's hard for me to imagine cutting those things out - but once I start on that path it's really hard to back off or set boundaries. At the moment, I am working on cutting down on drinking during dates. I'm also trying to remind myself how much more comfortable I feel with people when I can communicate with them openly. But I still have trouble slowing thing down when they start to go too fast and spend a lot of time convincing myself that what happened was okay when I feel kind of gross and ashamed. However, I also feel validated by human contact, even if it's intermittent and I tend to look at one-night stands or whatever as proof that I am desirable. And I love that romantic flirty period of kissing and feeling aroused.

So, for people who've had similar difficulties, how did you manage your desire for intimacy with a knowledge of your limits? How did you avoid fixating on intimate attention as a sign of a person's interest? Or how did you manage to hold your own in romantic encounters and learn the language for sex, whether it's stopping, initiating, or asking for what you want? I'd like to be one of those independent take-charge women in sexual situations - it seems like the mature modern way to be - but maybe it'd be easier to wait for a situation where I felt more comfortable and I'd find it much easier to communicate? Specifically, if there some kind of script I could use when I have hard time saying no - just something in my own head to boost my confidence enough to be okay with declining sex? For example, when I find myself on a person's couch at 2am making out and they're like, "hey, want to go to my bedroom?" Because in my head I'm like - "well, isn't this what I wanted and how can I say no now?"

*Possibly relevant details: Most of my sexual fantasies are ones of submission and humiliation. This confuses things for me. In my fantasy world, I like rough and submissive sex and humiliation. But uhm, I don't really like the way those things really feel.
**I've had one boyfriend of a few months and I did feel way more comfortable with being sexual with him.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

The college friend of a college friend once told us she had a rule that she didn't sleep with anyone before she'd known them for two weeks. She fooled around a hell of a lot, but she didn't go the full monty with someone if she hadn't known them for at least two weeks. That seemed to work really well for her (because as a matter of fact, she was the for-a-while girlfriend of one of my own college guy friends, who was really interested in still being around in two weeks to finally sleep with her).

It's hard, but if you make this your "rule," it sort of...take the willpower off your shoulders in a weird way, you know? "Sure, I'd love to, but there's this RULE, so I can't, darn heck shoot..."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:22 AM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

This seems like the kind of situation where therapy could be really, really helpful. You've got a good start on asking yourself some good questions, which a therapist could also help with.

But the line about "cutting down on drinking during dates" also jumps out at me. From what you've written here, it seems like you may have some things in your life that are leading you away from feeling fully in control, or wanting to feel fully in control, during interactions with other people. A therapist could help you suss some of those feelings out, whether they're because of certain things or causing you to do certain thinks because of those behaviors.
posted by Madamina at 10:24 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by Madamina at 10:25 AM on March 5, 2012

If what you want is sex in the context of a romantic relationship with some established intimacy, the best way to find that is to wait until you're in a romantic relationship with some established intimacy with someone before you have sex with them.

I am sorry if that seems reductive, but sometimes things like this are simple. Which is not to say they're easy to accomplish. Your idea of cutting way back on drinking during dates is a really sound one, and I applaud you on that. And I think that reminding yourself that, as Flight of the Conchords put it in song, "A Kiss Is Not a Contract", and that you don't have to fuck everyone you kiss just because you've enjoyed kissing them, is great.

Something to think about is working on improving your sex life with yourself. For many people, this helps them be more picky and choosy about whether or not to embark on sex with other people; if they know they've got a great solo experience waiting for them at home, it's easier to wait until they've built up more trust with someone else before getting it on with them.

I'm a little confused by what you say about submission and humiliation. Are you saying that you dig those fantasies, but when you have explored them as "scenes" with partners you didn't enjoy them? If that's what you're saying, you have a lot of company and it's nothing to feel odd about at all.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:25 AM on March 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

not drinking on dates will help a lot with this, you can also set other parameters in your head like no going to your apartment or theirs together until you've known them for a few weeks and have been on several dates first. perhaps going on a few group dates with other friends present (or other couples) can also slow down the physical in a natural way. or just wait till you're in a relationship to have sex, which is totally fine.

the best way to make sure the situation will be comfortable enough for you to communicate, i think, is to set up boundaries clearly when dating first starts. "my style is to get to know someone well before i get physical with them. i really enjoy the anticipation and build up too, so i take my time. i don't rush into sex." this is 1) assertive and confident and 2) will weed out people who are interested in a quick hookup and leave you with people who actually want to date you more seriously.

anyone who ignores boundaries sexually is someone you don't want to date. this includes people who whine and beg that you fuck them just because you were willing to kiss, or cuddle, or whatever else. if they do it through force, guilt, or pleading, it's not any more defensible. you can always say when you want things to slow down or stop, anytime, and if they don't respect that, you should leave!

go to a therapist to help with self esteem.
posted by zdravo at 10:29 AM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is not a comprehensive solution, but I found cuddle parties to be a fun and relaxed but structured way to explore physical intimacy and boundary setting. I really enjoyed having physical contact that would in NO WAY lead to sexual contact - it was really freeing to know that sex was off the table and just wasn't happening. The parties are also structured to enforce practicing saying no and setting boundaries, and it was really liberating to be able to say no to someone with no fear of reprisal or hurting their feelings. It's not for everyone, but I personally found it very helpful with the issues you're talking about.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 10:31 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If what you want is sex in the context of a romantic relationship with some established intimacy, the best way to find that is to wait until you're in a romantic relationship with some established intimacy with someone before you have sex with them.

What sidhedevil said. Creating a rule for yourself, drinking less, making plans to be home alone by X-thirty, these may all help you wait, but in the end it's about waiting until you are sure you want to be with that person. (You may end up sleeping with a person who's not right for you romantically, but that won't mean you've let yourself down.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:36 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Or how did you manage to hold your own in romantic encounters and learn the language for sex, whether it's stopping, initiating, or asking for what you want?

So, is this the only area of your life where you feel uncomfortable saying "no" or asserting what you want, when you think it goes against what someone else wants?

Can you think of any lower-stakes areas of your life where you could practice this? Saying "no" to something because you very simply just don't feel like it. Without any excuses, apologies, explanations that you just can't do it bc of something or someone else. Regardless of whatever you think the other person wants.

Maybe if there's someone you're interested in, you could practice asserting yourself with him in minor ways that lead up to bigger ones. For example if you're at a party with a guy and he says "want to go back to my place" you could say "nah I'm having a good time here." Hey, even before you get to the party, if he asks what you want to do that night you could just say what you would most prefer to do rather than being like "I dunno, what do YOU want to do?"

I'd like to be one of those independent take-charge women in sexual situations - it seems like the mature modern way to be - but maybe it'd be easier to wait for a situation where I felt more comfortable and I'd find it much easier to communicate?

I'm not sure what you mean by "independent take-charge women in sexual situations" -- do you mean women who just have 1 night stands all the time and aren't bothered by it at all? I feel like society is telling young hetero women they're not "mature" unless they have a stereotypically male-style sexuality and are just up for sex whenever, are totally pliant, have no feelings, make no demands on the guy, etc. It's such a load of BS. Most women and many men would not be happy at all with the situation you describe. And the people who would be happy with it are equally normal, just with different preferences. Not "more mature."

If you want to wait until you're comfortable with someone to have sex with them that is a GREAT idea. Listen to yourself and what you really want and don't feel as if you need to live up to weird false images of how you "should" feel about things.

Most of my sexual fantasies are ones of submission and humiliation. This confuses things for me. In my fantasy world, I like rough and submissive sex and humiliation. But uhm, I don't really like the way those things really feel.

This is the most common thing ever, for the fantasy of something not to live up to the reality. Probably way more common than the reverse.
posted by cairdeas at 10:36 AM on March 5, 2012 [13 favorites]

Honestly, it's probably around the clothes off / penetration stage that I start to get weirded out and go someplace different.

The seems like your brain and body telling you pretty strongly that you don't want to be there doing that. If you need to have more of a relationship to have intercourse, that's totally fine and there is no reason you need to do that before you really want to. Which, clearly, you don't.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:37 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest making sure that your dates are dates - that they're not pick-ups or hook-ups, that is. When you meet a new person at a bar/party/etc, set another time to meet - don't just trail along with him. If you're using OkCupid or similar, make clear statements in your profile about how you want to date a bit first.

I'd also be inclined to explore these things:
1. What in particular makes you feel dirty/disassociated during sex? What are you afraid of happening? Are you afraid that having sex early on means that you're a bad person? Are you afraid of being judged? What makes you believe that you can't set boundaries - do you assume that dudes can't go without sex? Do you assume that you're rude if you set any kind of boundary with anyone regardless of gender?

2. Does this fit a pattern with the rest of your life? Can you set boundaries elsewhere but can't in sex? Do you have trouble with boundaries generally?

3. Sexual fantasies - there is this very facile, silly assumption that sexual fantasies are neutral, that they don't count and mean nothing. (This derives, I assume, from the reasonable idea that people shouldn't have to morally justify their fantasies...but there's a big difference between "I have [this kind of weird/disturbing fantasy] but that doesn't mean I'm a bad person" and "I have [this kind of weird disturbing fantasy] but it has nothing to do with anything else about my character, interests or personal history". Think through what draws you to your fantasies of pain and humiliation. How does fantasy-you feel? How does this compare to how real-you feels in the same situation? When did you start having these fantasies? Do they remind you of anything in your daily life, sexual or non-? What is your real-life experience of pain and humiliation? How do you handle pain and humiliation in the real world?

You might also think about your relationships with men more generally - what are your relatives like? What about men who were important to you growing up? What models for heterosexual relationships did you grow up with? How did women act when you were growing up? How were women talked about?

Also, just out of curiousity - what kinds of guys are these? Are you effectively concealing your dismay and disassociation from basically nice guys who would want to make sure you had a good time if they knew? Or are these kind of entitled douchebags who don't even notice how you're feeling? Think about the kind of guys you end up with and how you meet them.

Where is your self-worth at in general? I know that same destructive need to get your sense of worth from being certainly kills a lot of sexual possibilities and can blind you to a lot of things. Do you feel valuable and competent in other parts of life? If you don't, one way to tackle the sexual problem is perhaps to build up your sense of worth and autonomy in other areas so that you don't need as much from sex. This is so tricky because of how women are socialized.

I'm very sorry that you feel this way! It's dismaying to see how often greater sexual "openness" really just conceals a more subtle regime of power over women and a subtler set of "rules" for us to internalize.
posted by Frowner at 10:53 AM on March 5, 2012 [9 favorites]

I set a rule for myself of no sex until the 3rd date. It was a struggle when I was pressured, but I just kept saying it wasn't happening. If you say that, and a guy doesn't respect it, that is rape. Also, if a guy doesn't respect it when you say no, he's not boyfriend material.

I think it would help you to make a list of what you want your ideal relationship to look like. Then list out how first date sex helps and harms that ideal. I think having a concrete idea of why it is harmful for you will help your willpower.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:54 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

For example, when I find myself on a person's couch at 2am making out and they're like, "hey, want to go to my bedroom?" Because in my head I'm like - "well, isn't this what I wanted and how can I say no now?"

My go-tos for this situation: "I'm not ready to do that tonight." and "I'm not comfortable with that yet."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:58 AM on March 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

My guess is that the disconnection and not standing up for yourself starts earlier in the evening, long before you get to the kissing stage. A lot of choices have been made before you end up on that couch at two am, you know? So I really like the suggestions above about setting rules for yourself that might put the entire evening on a different footing. Things like no sex until you have known them for X weeks, no going back to the apartment with then until date Y, no making out unless they have demonstrated kindness and affection first, etc.

And definitely practice scripts for common situations. Knowing what to say really helps.
posted by Forktine at 11:01 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

In addition to advice given above about waiting until you know someone better before you get physically intimate here are a couple of other things to consider: if you're feeling a strong need for touch, get a massage every week; if you're feeling a strong need for sex, masturbate. It's kinda like that rule about not going shopping when you're hungry because if you do you'll end up impulsively buying junk food.
posted by mareli at 11:13 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

-This is long and I should warn you that I have no idea how to actually have a good relationship, but I relate deeply to your sentiments and offer you my thoughts and experiences with the subject in hopes they might help--

You know, I have realized that almost (with a few selected exceptions) all of my sexual experiences just happened because the guy was pushing for it. If I'm left to what "I" actually want I would like to make out like crazy with clothes on, then maybe run around naked and take a shower together, have a nudy picnic, dare each other to put ice cubes on our genitals and then let the dude run around chasing me trying to get jizz on my face and failing. You know, fun stuff.

Nakedness, particularly when it means feeling powerless to stop penetration is just awful. I think a lot of people on metafilter are well out of twenties and either don't remember how much pressure there is on women to let guys do their deeds, or the dynamic is different now. I don't know which. Among my female friends, even the college educated, it's expected you go to bars and put out and are capable of having sex and detaching from your emotions or there is something wrong with you.

I also realized this--- the reason I feel wierd about affirmative consent is that I DON'T WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH SOMEONE WHO IS NOT IN LOVE WITH ME. Seriously I don't want to. I get that might mean I never have sex again but I don't want to do it. In the past I've gone along with it because it's what the guys expected but if I ask myself if I really want to have the sex, the answer is NO. Get the fuck way from me, you don't love me, you don't care about me, you don't want to be there for me, you don't care that I want in a long term relationship, you don't care that I want to fall in love and get married, you just want sex. And in our age group among the kind of drinkers it sounds like you, anonymous, are hanging out with, it's often seen as normal and healthy to want to use people fore sex without caring about them, but terrible and evil to want a lifelong relationship or marriage or serious commitment.

A lot of the same people you know who are saying this stuff--- will likely get married. So I'm just telling you, anonymous, a lot of these people don't even believe their own drunken ramblings about how marriage or long term or lifelong intimacy is meaningless and it's evil and selfish to want it. And many are still processing their own issues about their parents divorce (or their own divorces). Do you want to fall in love? Do you want to have real meaningful intimacy with someone you can trust int he long term who actually cares about you and how you feel and what your dreams are and what life means to you? Do you want to be there for someone else and know how they feel and what their dreams are and share being part of life with each other?

In general, most guys I know are just interested in sex especially in the twenties or early thirties. Their sort of like, "well if you cared about me you would want me to have casual sex because that's what I want. So you let me do that and I'll care about you. Sort of. Anyways, let's just have sex, just be in the moment, we only have right now" I think there is a lot of pressure on people who want long term love and affection and real intimacy that builds and shared life experiences--- to accept that what they want is a greater burden on a potential partner than casual sex is a burdern. And therefore some sort of "compromise" should be reached, in which basically the person who wants casual sex gets to have it and the person who wants long term love and intimacy and commitment accepts they need to taper their desires to a more open or short term arrangement.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO THIS. Your needs are every bit as valid and meaningful as someone elses desire for short term sex that goes nowhere. You don't have to give these people sex. You do not have to compromise what you hope and dream of in order to give someone else what they want.

Know what it is you dream of. And if you're hoping to have sex and that after the sex maybe the other person will want to participate in that or maybe they'll blow you off, you don't have to play it like that. You can seek a partner who will get to know you a while and like you for things other than sex.

If a serious relationship sounds like the plague to a guy unless dream girls turns up, you're not likely to turn him, and he's probably not worth it even if you could. Being someones ball and chain is not appealing to me nor to many people. Let him have fun sowing his wild oats and let him do it with girls who are as enthusiastic about non-commital sex as he is. And I promise you, even among the people who say they are great at non-committal sex, (at least among many of my friends) a lot of them feel like you do, used and unsatisfied and not sure what they're really getting out of it but certain that they should just try harder to be better at it. If you let go of participating in this dynamic, you're not missing out on much. You're unlikely to suddenly be more happy about compramising what you really want to have intimacy that that is fleeting and leaves you feeling crappy.

So in essence, unless a guy shows you he is really trustworthy, over a period of time of your choosing-- and unless you ACTUALLY want to let your emotions intot he picture and have meaningful sex the way you want with a guy? Just don't bother. And try not to play footsie too much with a guy before you get to know him either... those footsie games lead to penetration in no time.
posted by xarnop at 11:38 AM on March 5, 2012 [35 favorites]

I sympathize. Completely.

In addition to the staying more sober tactic, I think the script building takes deciding what you feel comfortable committing to before you go out on the prowl or out on dates. That is, decide what range of what activities sound great, what you'd rather save for later, and what you are absolutely not going to do on that occasion. Make these decisions before you get wrapped up in the thick of it, each specific time you might get all tangled up. Winging it can be a little problematic for me, because I'm tempted to go into passive mode. Or oops I drank a lot and now everything sounds fine mode. Those two things usually do not make me feel like it was me getting what I wanted out of whatever encounter, even if it was something I completely consented to.

It also helps me to tell my close friends what I've decided each time so that they can be supportive. This helps a ton.
posted by skrozidile at 11:50 AM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Most of my sexual fantasies are ones of submission and humiliation. This confuses things for me. In my fantasy world, I like rough and submissive sex and humiliation. But uhm, I don't really like the way those things really feel.

Acting out fantasies with random one-night-stands and with somebody you are in a loving relationship with are just not comparable.
posted by marais at 11:51 AM on March 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

I recommend this book often in these situations: Staci Haines' Healing Sex. Worth reading whether you have a history of trauma or not, with tools for saying no and saying yes, and figuring out what you want.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:53 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a "rule" that I don't go below the waist with someone until we are in an exclusive, committed, monogamous relationship. I have "broken the rule" a few times since deciding this was the right guideline for me. Twice with old friends who I had known for years and always had chemistry with and felt very very comfortable around (because I knew they cared about me), and once with a guy who I met when he was visiting my city for a short period of time and I just had an instant, warm, affectionate connection with him so I wanted to.

When I am in the moment and we are making out on his couch after the third date or whatever, I usually say some version of "I like to take it slow" and/or "I take sex pretty seriously so I like to wait until we are in a relationship." Padded with lots of "I think you are great and I'm really attracted to you and I really like you and this is so hot, BUT...."

Most guys respect this, and if they like you it is absolutely not a dealbreaker for them. I feel like it makes them treat me seriously - it forces them to consider me as a potential girlfriend and not just as a potential sex partner.

This works for me because I've had real one night stand casual sex before (usually with an acquaintance, not someone I picked up in a bar) and felt awful and used afterward. I need emotional intimacy to enjoy physical intimacy. I also won't orgasm and won't enjoy the sex nearly as much if I am not feeling comfortable, trusting, and affectionate toward my partner.
posted by amaire at 12:02 PM on March 5, 2012 [8 favorites]

The thing is that if a man you've dated a few times dumps you because he's impatient with the sexual schedule you feel is healthiest for you? You've dodged a bullet there, not missed an opportunity.

If what you want is a relationship, you have to work on getting a relationship. Having casual sex in the hopes that it will turn into a relationship isn't the practical way to get where you want to go.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:04 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the things that I wish I'd asked more as a nice guy during my 20-something slutting-around (in the sex-positive way) period was "what are you comfortable with doing?" I think that probably would have avoided several awkward scenarios.

That said, you could volunteer that information early on, and kick those out who didn't respect your boundaries. They're lucky to get to play with you at all, regardless of whether their P gets to be in your M or your V or your A or whatev.

However, my recommendation for when you're with a guy and it just feels like you're totally not into him but somehow feel obigated because you set up the date with some expectation that sexin would happen is to just stop. Especially if its just a random dude. These things happen with casual stuff, especially in this era of building up a whole lot of sexual tension online and feeling pressured to have the real-life experience match up to what you've talked about doing to each other.

If it feels bad, don't do it. That doesn't make you a bad person or him a bad person for being disappointed. Someitmes it just doesn't click in a way that's fun.

And sex (even casual sex) should be fun!

Everything else I couldve said (casual sex != relationship sex, dont expect huge amounts of intimacy with a one-night-stand, etc) has been covered upthread.
posted by softlord at 12:07 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, this comes from a cheesy tv show, but I think it's a really good idea for many/most? Women . Patti Stranger of the million matchmaker has a rule for clients "no sex before monogamy" and sex is defined as PIV/oral/anal. So I would say just adopt that rule. Be upfront and tell your partner you have that rule. It's probably better to tell him before he tries to get nekkid and while your both reasonably sober. Reasonable men will totally understand and respect you.
posted by bananafish at 12:12 PM on March 5, 2012

If you make a rule of say, two weeks, for heavens sake don't tell the guy that. Douches will lay on the charm for two weeks waiting for the sex. Nice guys will wait, too, so telling a guy the rule doesn't really help you suss out the jerks.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:42 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I could've written almost all of this, especially the "weirded out / start to go someplace different" part. (That exact experience has happened - you know, like you start to go someplace mentally?) Or the part about drinking on dates, or the validation part, or the romantic flirty period part - are you me??

Honestly, the best solution I've found is kind of a hack, but it accomplishes what needs accomplishing: have shit to do in the morning. Early morning, like before-work morning. Whether it's a deadline, a chore, an errand, anything that you absolutely must do first thing. This can mean scheduling dates on weekdays; it can mean going places where the commute back home is doable enough that inertia works for, not against you; it can mean wrangling your friends into a breakfast/brunch date.

Oh, and try dating feminists. Easier said than done, I know, and it by no means cuts down 100% on the douche factor, but it helps.
posted by dekathelon at 12:48 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Drink less, remove yourself early from situations where you know that's all the other person wants and you don't want it (this is more than achievable).

For example, when I find myself on a person's couch at 2am making out and they're like, "hey, want to go to my bedroom?" Because in my head I'm like - "well, isn't this what I wanted and how can I say no now?"

Yeah, I think you have to work out what you actually want - do you want to be there, in that situation, do you want to have sex in that situation, what do you want and do you feel you shouldn't want it because to want it would be bad?

Or do you not want to say no because that might upset the other person and you want to avoid that? If that's the case, why would you rather hurt yourself to make the other person happy?

Casual sex is not a bad thing if you want it, rough sex is not a bad thing if you want it, submissive sex is not a bad thing if you want it. Likewise - only wanting to have sex in a committed relationship is not a bad thing if you want it.

And if this is what you really want then you really need to move a lot slower from the start.

But you seem very unclear to me about what you really want.

but once I start on that path it's really hard to back off or set boundaries.

Always remember that only you can do that - the other person will not set them for you. That means you have to be in control of yourself and take responsibility for your own actions.

Please note that knowing what you want doesn't necessarily mean you'll never feel bad in a sexual situation ever again but it makes things a hell of a lot clearer.
posted by mleigh at 1:07 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having sex for the sheer pleasure of it is perfectly fine, and although it sounds simple, many people have a really difficult time embracing that spirit from beginning to end.

When you tell me that you disassociate during sex, that tells me that you basically give up, you abandon your stake in whatever happens. The truth is that you have can have total control over what happens to your body and how, if you just articulate what you want in a way that makes the other person feel sexy and desirable (I'm assuming they are, since you are having sex with them). Most people will be really grateful to you for doing this, as not many of us enjoy just groping about trying to figure out how to really turn someone on, and it's not that difficult to tell when someone has just surrendered and is merely sort of enduring the experience.

Also, if you're imagining that people are just taking pleasure in your body, then that sort of excuses you from putting any effort into giving pleasure in any sort of fun or meaningful way, and that's no good. Excusing yourself from having a good time during sex often amounts to excusing your partners from having a good time as well, and I bet you have left some people feeling confused or insecure. "She seemed to be having such a good time beforehand, she seemed to really want to have sex... did I do something wrong? Am I inadequate as a lover?" etc. etc. If you can't participate in casual sex in good faith (ie: show up, pay attention, have a good time, give a good time) then you shouldn't be having it at all. Occasionally you'll end up with someone who A) doesn't notice the difference or B) doesn't care, and they won't mind the status quo at all. It's all the other people I'm thinking of, the ones who you (presumably) liked enough to want to hop into bed with them in the first place.

I really believe in being really loving and passionate during sex, even if I am not necessarily in love with the person I'm doing it with. For me, those encounters are a way of celebrating the power of an erotic connection between two humans, and getting to know someone in a more intimate way than you ever could by just talking to them or observing them. Everyone has encounters where you just didn't have as much fun as you hoped, or you felt sort of ridiculous or uncomfortable, but those experiences shouldn't drag you down afterward -- that's what being an explorer is all about, sometimes you discover something great, and sometimes you just feel a little silly. The important thing is being healthy and secure enough in your own life that you don't take the disappointment personally. You just move on to the next thing... whatever that may be.

If you really love cuddling and foreplay but aren't interested in going further right away, then by all means just articulate that. Some guys will be a little disappointed, others will just be excited and accept the challenge and look forward to the possibility of future encounters. Stop turning yourself over to the experience as if it's just a sacrifice you're making in order to get the bits that you actually ARE interested in. You deserve better than that, and so do your partners (probably).
posted by hermitosis at 1:46 PM on March 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Don't go home with anyone if you've had anything, *ANYTHING*, to drink. Took me a while to figure out, but sex basically is completely dissatisfying under the influence of alcohol. All the fun of sex with someone you aren't in a relationship with yet (especially the first time) comes from the tension of unspoken and unrealized attraction. Drinking tends to remove all of the hesitation and build-up.

Personally, I don't get very aroused and just get caught up in the moment if I've been drinking. Its almost as though the only part of my brain that is present is the part that says "OH, this person LIKES YOU! Good for you! YOU ARE WINNING!" That part of my brain is pretty useless and does not mean much later when I'm sober. That part of my brain doesn't distinguish between exciting sex with a potential partner and so-so sex with a so-so person. The rest of my brain wakes up when I realize my [TMI] vagina is dry as a desert and I'm miles away from climax. Bad feelings follow!
posted by supernaturelle at 2:40 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Specifically, if there some kind of script I could use when I have hard time saying no - just something in my own head to boost my confidence enough to be okay with declining sex? For example, when I find myself on a person's couch at 2am making out and they're like, "hey, want to go to my bedroom?" Because in my head I'm like - "well, isn't this what I wanted and how can I say no now?"

How about assuming that the guy you're with doesn't want to have sex with you if you're not 100% into it, and wants to know if you're uncomfortable, so he can avoid being party to an experience that leaves you feeling bad?

Also, situations like this, where people negotiate conflicting desires, increase genuine intimacy, because you're giving each other the chance to show that what's going on is about partnership and respect rather than control.

This, I think, is what a healthy dynamic looks like, and if a dude starts trying to guilt you, he's showing that he doesn't respect the most essential boundary that exists between men and women.

It's leave immediately, red flag, terminate with extreme prejudice, block by phone, email, facebook, burn to the ground and salt the earth so that nothing can ever grow there again territory.

In your head:

"well, isn't this what I wanted and how can I say no now?"

You're allowed to change your mind at any time, and the fact that you're even contemplating this question is proof, that it isn't, in fact, what you want. Situations arise all the time where new information emerges that shows you were wrong about a prediction you made earlier.

Your feelings are important information! They're the most important thing when it comes to sex!

It sounds like you sense the mismatch between your prediction and reality, and you're punishing yourself for having been "wrong" about how much you'd want to have sex, as though you made a commitment and, being an honorable person, you're following through.

Instead, interpret the mismatch as a sign that a threat has popped up from which you need to protect yourself, and I predict you'll be happier.

I find myself on a person's couch at 2am making out

All of this will be easier if you think about the chain of events that led to you getting onto that couch at 2am with someone you don't know that well, and if you think about the power you have to break that chain.

I'm not victim-blaming here... I'm saying that there are key decisions you make over the course of an evening that make it increasingly likely that you'll wind up in this position, and that an awareness of what those key decisions at the time that you are making them can only help you.
posted by alphanerd at 2:52 PM on March 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

Possibly relevant details: Most of my sexual fantasies are ones of submission and humiliation. This confuses things for me. In my fantasy world, I like rough and submissive sex and humiliation. But uhm, I don't really like the way those things really feel.

This is a whole different experience with someone you trust. But of course it takes time to build up trust. If you're sure this is something you're into (or even if you're not sure), you might look at getting involved in your local BDSM community. I find that people there are much less likely to pressure you into anything. Pushy assholes are drummed out of the community pretty quickly. You can - and are encouraged to - ask about a dominant's reputation before you play with him casually or seriously. There are explicit conversations before BDSM play so you know you're not going to be asked to do anything you haven't said you specifically want to do. And of course there are safewords.

Please come on over to the mefi group at FetLife if you have more questions. You don't have to use your mefi username over there either.
posted by desjardins at 5:38 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hm. Several problems here are all running into each other and reinforcing each other in a nasty pile-up.

Problem #1: Your need for physical contact.

Right now, you've struck a bargain whereby you flirt with a guy and he hugs you, kisses you, and makes you feel good for about, oh, ten minutes to an hour or two, and then you give him sex. That's not a good trade. I know it sometimes seems like there is NO CONTACT EVER IN THE WORLD except in the moments leading up to sex, but that is a fallacy. Many people have realized this problem and found solutions- cuddle parties are a GREAT thing for you to look into. Massage can also fill this need. Hugging your mom or your cousin or whatever. Hugging friends. Having more friends, period. If you need to a hug a man in particular, make more gay friends! The point is that you need SAFE, structured situations to get a fix of touch, and there are more options than you'd think- but yes, you'll have to put in a little more effort.

Problem # 2: Your need for validation.

This is more complicated but, basically the same thing applies. Find validation by finding a niche in a group activity that you do well. Make more friends, etc. Volunteer. The tricky part is if we're talking about sexual validation. I totally understand that the reality is, it's hard to get a good idea of your attractiveness and feel safe at the same time- there used to be more "gentlemanly" casual flirtation as part of the general social contract, and it's hard to discern when you can get that and when it's unsafe these days- but there are ways. I can't believe I'm recommending this, but if you're really, really feeling low- you can go on okcupid and just leave your pics up and walk away for a week. Come back and read the responses you get. It will probably make you feel better about yourself, even if you don't reply. (I know, I know, this advice feels icky, but I think in moderation it's harmless) But after that, shut your profile down if you aren't serious. If course, if you ever do get the chance to indulge in safe casual flirtation, take it- it' one of life's greatest joys. And in general, just know you're hot. You already have proof of that. You weren't imaging it every time someone flirted with you, or whatever. You aren't wrong. Over time, this should get easier to remember, no matter how long it's been.

Problem # 3: Your inability to say no.

Practice makes perfect. Remember that movie Yes-Man (I think it's called) where that guy says yes to everything? Say no to everything. Indulge in turning people down for a month. Smash their dreams, crush their hopes. I think you'll find that 9 times out of 10 it's not as big a deal as you think, and sometimes saying no can actually make people like you more. Also learn the art of partial or ongoing negotiation- say yes to one thing, and no to the next thing. If you're ever in a situation where saying no feels unsafe, do it anyway, and immediately get out and take steps to protect yourself. And avoid those situations in the future. Most of the time, even people who threaten subtly not to like you if you say no, or to take revenge on you if you say no, are just full of hot air- and in the case when they're not, you'll still feel better about yourself for having said no. You really will.

Problem # 4: Your interest in sex and your fantasy about being more in control during sex.

I think your interest in domination and submission could be fruitful for you, but turned the other way around, with you as the domme. I know, it may feel strange at first, but could potentially be both satisfying and useful psychologically to you. I don't know much about the "scene" but I'd seriously look into it if I were you. Another bonus is that the "scene" has worked out safety issues and rules over time, so casual sex is not the improvised free-fall it can be with Joe Bro off the street.
posted by stockpuppet at 9:01 PM on March 5, 2012

One thing to work on for yourself that will make saying no easier is to practice nurturing yourself and giving yourself validation. I'm not necessarily talking about personal sexy time (although being able to have a good time in that regard is important to), I'm talking about taking time to tune into what you want to do in any given situation and then doing that. It can be small things like splurging an extra few bucks on the gourmet ice cream, giving yourself permission to get a manicure, paying for rock climbing lessons etc. You deserve to be pampered and in my experience it is very empowering to pamper yourself.

If you can get to the point where you don't need someone else to give you comfort or validation and where you would rather be alone than having another meaningless mini-relationship with someone, it will not only be easier to say no when you don't want something to happen, but it will also be easier to avoid those situations altogether. You will be so busy doing something fun or meaningful to you that you don't have the time or patience to spend time with someone who is only interested in getting your pants.*

*I'm not digging on one night stands. I think there's definitely a time and place for them. If you are in a situation where you actually really want to have sex with someone you just met, then by all means go for it. I'm talking about the times you describe when you really don't want to do it.
posted by Kimberly at 8:09 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

This morning I came across this MeFi post that I had meant to read awhile back. Now that I've read it, parts of Knapp's essay reminded me of your question. I know alcohol is not as central to your question as it is to the author's experience, but there are some echos that might be worth mulling over.

If you both long for intimacy and fear it, if you feel unworthy of it and ill equipped to receive it and ashamed of yourself for wanting it, alcohol becomes a most useful tool, a way of literally drowning the conflict. It's a way of giving license to the part of you that wants to say yes. Yes to life and yes to deep connection and yes to touch and comfort and love. The sad thing is, whatever sense of affirmation you get from anonymous, drunken sex is usually metabolized away with the booze in your system.

posted by juliplease at 8:25 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't have answers for you because I would be wary of assuming something that may not be true. And, maybe you have read this here already but I thought you might find some insights in the links below.

1, 2
posted by xm at 9:46 AM on March 6, 2012

I feel like I could have written this. You're not alone; I feel the exact same way a lot of the time. I'll tell you what I think based on my personal experience, but I'm not going to pretend to know exactly what will help you here; I'm still trying to figure that one out for myself.

I find, for me, a HUGE part of it is the attention that I get from these guys that want to sleep with me. When I'm flirting, touching, cuddling, they are focused on ME and only me; they are completely and totally absorbed in me. And that feels really, really good, and makes me feel- I dunno, like I matter. But then the time comes to "pay the piper", and that's when the disconnect kicks in.

I've come to a place in my life where I've realised that a part of the reason that I need this attention is that I have some pretty intense intimacy issues, and I don't really know how to be intimate at all with people, but especially not with men in a non-sexual way. I would recommend that you start making male friends and learn how to become intimate with them in a way that's not sex- or even romance- oriented. This is the point that I'm at; learning how to communicate with men when sex is off the table. Like, maybe meet some gay guys or some happily married guys or whatever, and make a serious effort to become friends with them. I don't really know how that would work or what that would look like, because it's something I need to do myself.

Something else that I'm doing right now is complete abstinence. I'll let a guy hold my hand or kiss me, but that's about it. It sounds very childish and grade-3, but it seems like, if I have a rule where I will only sleep with a guy after 3 months or whatever, then most of my time with him is still sex-focused, and it's like I'm just waiting to get through all of this uncomfortable time where I don't really know what to do and how to cope, so that I can have sex with the guy and be back into a position that I understand, even though it's not a position I like.

Something that I've also come to realise is that, for me, flirting and sexytimes are actually a way of preventing intimacy- because the walls that I put up around myself for these activities (the flirting etc.), give me an opportunity to get what I want (attention) without risking what I am afraid of (my emotional well-being), thus putting me in a temporary position of power- especially if I can string the guy along without actually having sex. It's how I use them.

Of course, it doesn't work; that is, it doesn't actually protect my emotional well-being, and it certainly doesn't help me build real relationships. It's no different than a man lying to a girl to get her in bed. I don't know if this is the same for you, but you might want to consider it- is this a way that (up until the point where you feel obligated to put out) you gain control over men? Do you have any reason to want control over men?

Because your post reminded me so much of myself, I wonder if you have ever experienced or witnessed abuse. I know that's a large part of my intimacy issues, and if it's an issue for you, you might want to talk to someone about it.

A couple of books that I found really validating and empowering are Female Chauvinist Pigs

and A Return to Modesty

although neither of them offered concrete steps in dealing with this stuff, it was encouraging to read authors saying some of the stuff that I had been thinking and feeling, yet unable to articulate, about hookup culture and how it was hurting me. I don't think there's anything wrong with one-night stands if that's genuinely what you want- I just think that we usually want more than that.

Anyways, I wish you all the best in sorting this out, I really hope that you get to a place where you want to be.
posted by windykites at 1:58 PM on April 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Re humiliation: maybe what you need is the occasional BDSM scene where it's clear that the humiliation is within the context of a wider respect for your values?

That can be either within or outside a relationship, too. I know that I enjoy it, and I'm OK with playing a role of someone else to get that release. It doesn't mean that I'm worthless, because the people I've done it with don't treat me like that and would stop *instantly* if I said red.
posted by Space_Lady at 9:09 AM on August 3, 2012

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