No means no is a concept that should be very simple. Except that it isn’t. Human beings make an awful lot of decisions based on individual perceptions, and we all perceive other people’s reactions differently.
It’s all very well to say if you don’t have a clear ‘yes’, then it’s a no. But we all know that most human beings are awkward and uncomfortable when it comes to expressing sexual desires. Seldom does someone flat out ask ‘would you like to have sex?’ even though it’s a sensible question. Nine times out of ten we all feel it might ruin the mood to bring it up so blatantly. **Many women feel like it would be non-feminine to ask. Many men feel they are putting too much pressure on their partner by bringing it up so forcefully. Insert any number of other rationalisations for not asking flat out. We all know that not saying yes is NOT the same as saying no. In most cases. You have to put together the whole package, how are the reacting to your advances? Do they seem to be ‘into’ whatever you’re already doing? Asking flat out also won’t kill you… and it might just save you a whole lot of pissing about trying to work out what your partner is thinking. I’m a hypocrite, I never flat out ask either :P
Let me call on my own experiences as examples: remembering here that I have a dreadful relationship history which has caused me to be very sensitive to the reactions of the person I’m with. Oversensitive in many ways.
So I was at a party, we’d all had a few… as you do… I was a bit tipsy, and there was a guy there that I’m very attracted too. We sort of edged around each other for a while, with nothing very amazing going on. We talked for a long while, we have things in common. A munted sense of humour for example. In fact by the time we stop talking, the number of people at the party has thinned dramatically. We’ve been holding hands while we were talking, its obvious there’s something there it’s just not really obvious what. Now being super gun-shy, I’m not about to push the matter very hard. But I’m not going to entirely let go of it either. The dance floor has cleared so we dance for a bit. For me, its nice being close to someone, I don’t let my guard down very much and being comfortably in someone’s arms is pleasant. It’s getting very late (we really did talk quite a lot of the night away) so I decide the time has come for me to leave. But unusually for me – I don’t want to leave without some kind of obvious mark of affection and attraction. So when we go outside I kiss him. You can tell a lot from a kiss. The first touch of lips is light and I pull back after just a moment. Because I can sense that he’s a little uncomfortable. But he doesn’t pull away, there’s no obvious negative reaction so I kiss him again and this time I don’t pull back and neither does he. I could have hung around and explored more, but I really was getting an ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here’ vibe – so I left. A little melancholy maybe. Also oddly positive, because this is the first guy I’ve really gotten close to since, well I’m sure some of you remember. The first guy I’ve even looked at seriously. And I know there’s a problem. Because I KNOW he has a girlfriend. And I have all kinds of opinions about this.
Don’t abandon me as a hopeless wanton quite yet. The circle I hang in has an interesting set of morals sometimes, in many case a little kissing while tipsy (or high on life, party’s can be intoxicating on their own) is pretty much ignorable and means nothing. Well you know not NOTHING, it’s a fair indication of attraction usually, but it’s not an indication that these people are going to jump each other. Because people have limits.
I am celibate. I have been for (mumble mumble) years. Voluntarily, because as I say: not the most awesome track record relationship wise. So I made an active decision to shut up shop for now. And so far nothing has happened that was significant enough to change that. So for me a little mild fooling around, mostly at parties is all that’s going to happen. Because of my limits. In the past my limits were somewhat different, that’s another story.
The point is that I chose to walk away, because the situation was awkward enough as it was. And my ‘whoop, whoop you’re going to get hurt’ alarms were going totally fucking crazy. They go off at the slightest thing of course, but they had a point this time.
There’s another point here – at one time or another most people end up attracted to or gaining attention from someone who’s already in a relationship. I’ve made all the dumb mistakes: don’t be a dick – sort it out. Immediately. Before you end up being a total cocknozzle. I hear all kinds of excuses all the time – fuck, I’ve made some of those lame ass justifications. They justify nothing. ‘They were the one in the relationship, they should have controlled themselves’ - true - but BALLS, if you knew they were in a relationship then you should have controlled yourself too. It’s not like we can’t imagine being the cuckolded partner. Apply the golden rule.
Here’s one I caught myself out with over that guy up there ^ ‘he kissed me back’. People are stupid. S T U P I D. Kissing you back is hardly an indication of much at all in my experience. Oh sure if someone actually turns me off, or I dislike them for some reason or I have a genuine reason to avoid physical contact with them (you know, like not wanting to completely ass up a friendship) THEN I won’t kiss them back. But generally if the person is at least somewhat interesting I’ll respond at least somewhat. They might not get an awesome kiss full of all the awesome, but they won’t get rejected either. (THIS IS NOT AN INVITATION – C E L I B A T E!). People often kiss back even when they’re actually not very interested at all. When they’re drunk they’re even more likely to kiss back, because there’s all the normal response mechanism AND a bunch of stupid juice. I tried to justify kissing a man I knew had a girlfriend because ‘he kissed me back’. *FACEPALM*. I even knew he had been drinking. Though to be entirely fair he hadn’t had much to drink in the previous couple of hours. Still not ok. We all know that being in a relationship does not negate the possibility of finding someone else interesting – hell its ok to find someone else interesting, it’s what you do about it that matters.
Anyway. No more about this particular debacle. I was made into a more confused person by it. That is all. The point I was trying to make is that it’s important to gauge the responses of the other person. We didn’t speak about it at the time, because talking about it then would totally have made it weird. We talked about it later. It was still totally weird and awkward but it wasn’t full of sexually charged atmosphere. Aren’t I a big meany making him talk about it later? Tough. It’s good to straighten things out.
Even that’s not perfect because people have different ideas about what they deem acceptable.
I have a friend who’s an absolutely lovely lady. She wouldn’t hurt a fly, she’s full of love and kindness. But her grasp of where people’s lines are is not very finely tuned. Her idea of what’s OK is quite wildly different from average. I float around with people who are very easy going, generally sexually forward, and whose lines are generally in a fairly unusual location. By which I mean, most of us don’t get very upset by a bit of petting. But she’s not so good at reading the subtler signals of ‘you’re going further than I want you to’. And she forgets that other people’s partners are not as open minded as hers. One of the problems with my open minded and polite group is that we tend to let people go further than we want to. Because we love them. (Yes, my people I did just speak for all of you: feel free to jump up and down and yell ‘I don’t love any of you cunts’ or whatever you feel the need to) We don’t want to push them away and make them feel rejected. So instead we end up making ourselves feel bad. And worst case, our partners too.
Sometimes I think it would be really nice to live in world where people would say what they mean, and not have to fear hurt feelings all the time.
Reality is not so simple. Feelings are hurt all the time.
So in this little situation one person is failing to catch the signposts of no, the other is failing to make those signs more clear. Both people will end up doing something they didn’t want to.
I’m going to dredge back into my past and pull up something I don’t like talking about, some of you know the story already, skip ahead if you like: but it’s very relevant to the no means no discussion. It illustrates my point with ghastly clarity.
I had just broken up with a long term boyfriend, it was all a remarkably weird situation: we were still good friends we had simply grown apart and as we both accepted that, no one had to feel like a heel and no one had to feel rejected. We were so OK with it that we continued living in the house we had shared for another six months. He had met a new girl and wanted to bring her over to meet me. (Yes I am perfectly well aware of how weird that must have seemed to her >.< ) Anyway, a mutual friend came over to join us for the evening – mostly so that I wouldn’t be in the third wheel position in this odd little meeting. He was being sort of a wanker to the new girl so I retreated to my room with him before he went too far. But then he got the idea that since we were in MY room listening to music, maybe it would be a good time to have a crack at me himself. (Yes in fact he is a total moron with girls, however did you guess?) We were in that slightly awkward he’s kissing me, and while I’m not into it I’m not anti enough to actually tell him to shove off. Also my brain is not at its best what with having my ex in the next room with his new girlfriend. He starts pushing for more, and I’m now more clearly not keen. But he’s not paying attention and persists. I’m stopping his hands from going places I don’t want them, I’m telling him to back off. Note: I still haven’t flat out said no. Because manners are sometimes so fucked up that you continue being all careful of the other person’s feelings even when it’s becoming obvious you should kick him in the ‘nads. This is a FRIEND. I don’t want to be mean to him. Try to understand that this is a confusing moment, your friend has started becoming a monster, but most of your head is still trying to treat him like a friend. Then the moment passes, he goes too far and I’ve grabbed him by the throat in the universal sign of ‘get the fuck off me or I’m going to hurt you’. And then he’s sitting on the end of my bed in shock. Because he came that close to hurting me without ever having realised how close he was getting. The sensible part of his brain had fucked off for the evening because the other bit was all over-excited that he might just get some. Oddly I have a small amount of sympathy with these young boys who find themselves accused of rape after a date that got a bit hot and heavy. Not because I think they’re innocent but because I understand how you can be carried away by the moment. How you can miss what might later seem like screamingly obvious signals. It’s a hell of a way to find out about it. It doesn’t forgive them their actions, because at some point it must have been beyond screamingly obvious that she just wasn’t that into it. And they should have stopped. At the very least paused to make sure. Or maybe it needs to be more carefully explained that if she’s just lying there like a piece of wood you’re doing something wrong.
We had an odd experience going on in our group last year. Someone who was pushing the boundaries of the no means no code, and appeared to have no idea she was doing it. I suspect if I pressed her she would be startled to hear the idea that a girl COULD cross that line. Men are just as vulnerable to sexual pressure as women, they’re just less likely to scream rape later. Because admitting you were date raped by a girl is a hard thing for the male ego to process. Hell it’s a hard thing for the female ego to process date rape too, but women don’t have the added pressure of wanting to appear ‘manly’. I bring this up because I think it’s important to realise that anyone at all could do it, anyone at all could have it happen to them. And everyone who has had it happen to them SHOULD have their voice heard. Forcing sex on someone in this kind of situation is an appalling violation of trust. If you think you might ever have forced your attentions on someone against their will then I hope you will listen to me and pay more attention to your partners responses in future. Whether it be a first date or your 50th anniversary, no means no.
No means no. Yes means probably. And anything in between is a grey area and you should pay attention. If you don’t want the awkwardness of actually just flat out asking, then you have to be prepared to remain observant to your partner’s mood. Because crossing that line is an awful thing to have done to someone.
**might as well bring up the obvious here – I’m not trying to be sexist or homophobic or whatever else I may have touched off by writing this from such a heterocentric perspective. To be clear, feel free to rearrange in your head to fit your own configuration. I happen to be a straight, white, female so I’m writing from that perspective. All the way through this I have addressed this from a heterosexual female perspective. It’s pretty much interchangeable to whatever is appropriate for you though.