To be good at consent, you have to be able to take a 'no' without external displays of hurt or offense or upset. Because the fact that you'd never do an act that someone said no to means NOTHING if they are too afraid to tell you no because your reaction is worse than enduring things they don't want.
What good is saying no when it has worse consequences than the inner turmoil of not stating your desires? If I don't say no, I can at least tell myself that my suffering is my own fault, and I can retain my faith in humanity. Whereas if I say no and the person reacts badly, I have to face the fact that they care more about using my body to get off than they care about how I feel.
Reactions that I or someone I know have endured unwanted touch rather than facing include:
- withdrawing emotionally
- expressing self-loathing
- apologizing profusely as if they did something wrong
- sulking or pouting
- acting resentful or angry or insulted
- getting irritated at them over other things that are usually not a problem
- ceasing to initiate
- ceasing to play
- ceasing to cuddle
- ceasing to express romantic or sexual interest
- expressing a wish to be dead or not exist
- depreciation of self
- acting afraid to touch the person who said no
- making snarky comments at future similar moments like 'oh NOW you want me'
- disbelieving in the continued romantic/sexual interest of the other person.
To summarize, negative reactions include self-directed negativity, emotional and sexual withdrawal, and emotional punishment. The first two things aren't necessarily damaging to others in general, but as a reaction to a no they very often create a dynamic where the other person can't say no, and that can be very damaging.
If someone can't say no to you without fear of fall-out, they can't say no freely. And if they can't say no freely, it's not full consent. It's the responsibility of each person to make it as easy as possible for the other person to say no. Which is difficult, because it is disappointing when people say no and if you're feeling fragile it can spark a lot of negative feelings about yourself. I'm not saying don't feel those feelings: I'm saying don't make them the other person's problem.
Do whatever you need to do to manage your reaction without forcing the other person to comfort or placate you. Maybe have a list of things to read that remind you that you are loved and wanted and worthy. Maybe do something distracting like playing a game or watching a show to get past the initial overwhelm. Maybe have a set of things your person can do for you (that are easy for them! Low-energy-cost things) that will reassure you; or a set of things you can do for them, even. Maybe have a mantra you can repeat in your head to block out the negative reaction until it is small enough to handle internally. Maybe figure out the best way for them to express a 'no' that doesn't spark your insecurities so hard. Maybe give them a sentence they can say to reassure you when they say no -- and then trust in them and believe it.
I won't pretend like it's easy: it can be VERY difficult. But the alternative is that your person will sometimes be merely enduring your touch and wishing you would stop. Sometimes they will experience that as merely frustrating or annoying but other times they may experience it as sexual assault or even rape. So it is simply necessary to be able to handle being told no, without your reaction causing distress to the one who said no.
Nobody is automatically good at this; it is a skill that everyone has to develop. At points in my past I have done several of these and I've had several done to me. I am certain that most people who have had significant sexual experience have reacted to a 'no' in at least one of these ways.
A really good support skill for this is focusing on noticing non-verbal 'no's and asking if they actually want to continue when there is a strong change in tone, breathing, facial expression, body tension, body position, noises, etc. It is a lot easier for the person to say no when you opened the door for it, and it feels better to get a no when you opened the door for it, too. Instead of it feeling like rejection, it feels more mutual.
However, even the most observant person in the world won't notice every non-verbal signal, so this is not enough on its own: it's just a good support skill. Even if you're great at noticing non-verbals (or think you are) you still need to create a dynamic where your lovers feel not just able to say 'no' or 'stop' in a dire situation, but comfortable enough to say 'nah, I don't feel like it' or 'okay I'm done now' at any time.
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