As the words tumbled out of my mouth a rush of panic washed over my body:
“Would it be okay, if we didn’t have sex tonight?”
What was I asking? Of course it would be okay.
It wasn’t a question, it was a god damn statement.
Why had I just asked a freaking question?
My head spun, I felt fear and frustration all at once.
I felt myself reverting back to a young teenager, afraid to disappoint, as if my consent was expected, and if I didn’t give it I would be punished, or worse, thrown away.
Why had my voice disappeared?
Was the assertion and agency I’d worked so hard to cultivate gone forever?
And then the soft response came, “Annalise, it really isn’t my decision. But I do think we should hold off for tonight.”
It. Really. Isn’t. My. Decision.
He was exactly right.
And I knew it.
I knew it the second the question left my lips.
It wasn’t his decision, it was my decision and my decision alone to give consent to touch, enter, or gaze upon, my body.
But some part of me, a young girl who learned that it was always her job to please a man, that her pleasure didn’t matter, and if she led a man down a path of expecting sex, she best deliver, needed reassurance.
And thank god she got it.
Because the response very easily could have looked liked so many I’ve received before:
“Oh baby, let’s just see what happens.”
“But you look so sexy, and you’ve got me so turned on.”
“Don’t do this to me!”
“Are you serious?! Why are we even here then?”
“If we keep going, I’m sure you’ll want it.”
I had put myself in a dangerous position by placing consent in a sexual partner’s hands, rather than in my own. I say this without blame or shame, I say this simply because it’s what happened. By asking a question, rather than asserting my needs, wants and lack of consent to proceed any further, I had buried my voice under the voice of another.
It was a wild moment for me, one I hadn’t experienced in years.
I’ve gone over it in my head a number of times, and over it verbally with the other party in this story who felt concerned when I asked rather than asserted my need to stop. And ya’ll, it is not until right now that I fully understand why I reverted so deeply back to some whack patterns.
After some back to back rejection and a span of feeling pretty lonely, I really wanted connection and care, and the part of me that learned that my worth was measured by the pleasure I could provide a partner felt great fear that I would be worthless, thrown away and ridiculed if I couldn’t deliver.
It’s outlandish right?
Well the haunting part for me is, it’s really not. It’s what I was taught, it’s what my friends and classmates were taught. Through the messages in videos, songs of our childhood and the lack of focus on female pleasure, consent and empowerment in our sexual education classes in school.
It’s all too common for women to put consent in a partners hands, it’s all too common for it to be ripped away from them.
It’s hard to advocate for yourself when for so many years you have been taught not to. For so many years you have been shamed for speaking out. And apparently, sometimes it’s hard even after years of learning new lessons and forming new, healthy and empowering patterns.
I feel grateful that I was in a safe situation, that I was met with support, love and a space to take back my agency. And I feel all too aware, that so many times before I was not, and I did things I didn’t want to do, unable to say no or speak up.
But as I reflect here’s what I know: the more we say no, the more we practice consent and reclaim our power, the more we realize our pleasure is absolutely essential and so is our comfort and safety. The more we step into ourselves and our voices and support one another in doing so, the easier making our voices heard becomes.
And when it’s hard, when we revert to the lessons a whole lifetime, a whole jacked up society and loads of traumatic experiences have drilled into us, if we can talk about that too, if we can take the shame away and come together to share and care for one another, then it all gets easier, it becomes a reflex to assert our wants and needs, rather than ask and hope we get the answer we’re looking for.
Our bodies are not question marks, they are exclamations all our own, and we choose what sentences they punctuate.
May you be easy with yourself, may you assert you wants and needs and take up space, may you know you are held and loved from afar no matter what!
With tender love,