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“No” Means “No.” So Why Do Some Women Teach Men It Means “Maybe?”

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The more the sex positive community talks about the importance of respecting boundaries, the more alarming it becomes when, in mainstream dating, some women have been encouraging men to do the opposite for decades.


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Contributor: Charlie Glickman
Charlie Glickman  

You raise some good points, although I think you could tease out the interconnections between slut-shaming, last minute resistance, and consent a bit more. For example, does her perception of his attitudes around slut-shaming have anything to do with how this might play out? Are there ways that a man can check in with a female partner when she says no, to find out what she means and what she wants? And what can men do to make it easier for women to state their desires, without worrying about being slut-shamed?

Just some questions to consider.

Contributor: scorponic

Without being witness to the encounter you describe, the reasons that particular woman said no may or may not be chalked up to LMR. She might have wanted sex and felt she had to speak an initial "no" to save herself from slutdom, or she might have disliked the way you kissed or smelled or tasted or what not and decided to go seek sex elsewhere, or any of a thousand other things might explain her behavior. Let's assume that LMR is a real thing, however. As someone with a lot of sexual experience with women, most of whom had no problem saying yes and a few who played a cat-and-mouse game with their desire (which I hate), I'm wondering why the solution to this problem isn't the same solution for nearly every other sexual miscommunication: more communication. If a woman's body and actions seem to be saying yes, but she vocalizes no, a man has three choices, it seems: (1) push ahead on the assumption that she really means yes or at least will stop saying no (unacceptable); (2) stop and play tiddlywinks; or (3) talk to her about your confusion and try to get her to speak her desire (or lack thereof) clearly and unequivocally. The last option seems to be the true "sex positive" alternative. If she's not mature enough emotionally to say "I want to fuck you, here and now" after a patient (perhaps playful) conversation about what she means when she says no even while her actions say yes, then she's not emotionally mature enough to be having sex ... at least not with you, or me or any other guy who wants to have sex with reasonably well-formed adult females. Who knows? Guys might even contribute positively to at least a few women's sexual growth and empowerment by taking the time to talk in such situations, rather than pushing on (which leads to the ever-present female complaint, "men are pigs," if not accusations of outright rape) or being frustrated at women's "mixed messages."

Contributor: Jeff Schult

"No" doesn't necessarily mean "Stop Entirely" or "Let's Have a Lengthy Buzz-killing Discussion."

Though it's always better to err on the safe side ... there can be some nuance.

Contributor: MeliPixie

I can't help but wonder if this is what happened to me... When I was fourteen, I had a sixteen-year-old boyfriend who had obviously had sex with previous girlfriends. So when he decided he wanted to deflower me and I wasn't ready, my "no" was met with force, pain, and fear, and he almost succeeded in having sex with my unwilling body, to the point that I felt his erection against my as-yet-untouched vulva. Had his past girlfriends, out of fear of being called a "slut," told him no, and then allowed sexual encounters to continue anyway? I think if society wouldn't persecute women for having sex, it's possible he would have taken my "no" at face-value and honored my innocence and virginity. One of those was lost that night, and I'm thankful it wasn't both. I was always irrationally afraid of men, this just solidified it for me, and it lasted almost ten years before I finally was able to move on and mature sexually.

Contributor: Jenn (aka kissmykitty)

Back in high school I remember some of my friends and acquaintances talking about the token resistance that they really didn't mean. Back then, even with next to no sexual experience of my own, it just didn't make sense. And it still doesn't. It's either yes or no.

Contributor: KikiChrome

You always have such interesting topics in this column. Bravo!

Okay, as someone who actually DID this whole "faux resistance" thing with a couple boyfriends when I was younger, here's my two cents:

In me, the last minute resistance had absolutely NOTHING to do with any fear that I might get called a slut. It honestly never even occurred to me that anyone would think I was a slut (at least not until I was older, and someone finally called me a slut). The reason why I did the playful "no" when I really meant "yes" was actually in part because I had pretty poor self-esteem... and in part because society tends to tell us that men are sex-obsessed. What I was doing was testing my partner's desire for me.

Consider, for instance, that you might not believe your male partner could possibly care about you more than the next girl. You don't take his sexual interest as any sign that he sees you as "special", because you've grown up thinking that men will pretty much want to have sex with anything or anyone (you, your friends, the cleaning lady, a block of wood...). So you make it slightly more difficult for him to have sex with you. He then has a choice as to whether he should proceed, or just move on to someone easier. And then if he tries to overcome your resistance, you can take that as a sign that he REALLY desires you.

I'm not saying that it's a particularly logical or sensible game to play, but all I can tell you is that that's why I did it. Not out of fear of being a "slut" specifically, but out of fear of being unwanted.

For what it's worth though, I think you made the right decision ten years ago. No sexual encounter is worth the possibility of raping someone. I don't think you should ever feel like you lost. You got to walk away with a clear conscience, so: you won.

I also don't condone women playing this game, because it really does confuse the matter of consent (especially for young men) and it doesn't gain a young lady anything good in the long run anyway. Him pushing past the "no" doesn't make you better, it just makes him a douchebag. And we all have an obligation to the next girl he encounters, whether we like it or not.

Good post though. Certainly a topic that needs some more exploration.

Contributor: Randy Rascal

Great post and discussion. Good communication is essential for clarity and satisfaction.

Contributor: Selective Sensualist

This is an excellent topic that was certainly worthy of an article!

Sometimes a "no" can mean to just slow things down a tiny bit and try something else, not to stop the game completely. You definitely did the right thing by stopping the action she said no to, but you didn't need to stop making out at that point. It would be okay to tentatively make a move again after touching over the clothes. The key is to continue to be sensitive to her reactions.

Contributor: Kush

I love this article.

Contributor: giaregency

You (the writer) did the right thing by abiding by the "no." It may seem bizarre or just crazy, but unless you had some kind of prior understanding about some sort of fantasy role play scenario, most likely "no' means "no." She may not have liked the way you touched her, or maybe she had planned the entire time to sleep with your roommate as some sort of psychodrama. You just don't know. The last thing you need is to have rape allegations levied against you for some sort of "misunderstanding."

Contributor: Mysterics

I do not see how women like this are 'teaching that no means maybe' or even why this is a problem at all, and this is definitely no grey area, if she said no, having sex with her is rape, no matter how much she wanted sex, she did not and possibly was not mentally fit to give consent.

People who can not communicate about sex clearly should not be having sex.

Contributor: Badass

I definitely get this as plausible. In my younger years, I was kind of like that..
She wanted it, but was scared.
No does mean no though, so if I were a fellow I probably would have acted as you did.