(TW: discussion of rape aftermath/consent)
Hello, Tyra and all! Almost exactly a year ago, I survived sexual assault. I’m currently working on rebuilding my sex life. I’ve been very vocal with my partners about making sure we’re communicating, asking permission, and being prepared to stop if they need to. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have partners that either want exactly what I want (yay!) or are good enough at reading my body language that they stop without me telling them to. I’ve found that I’m really good at saying “yes!”… but I also found out the other night that I’m not good at saying “no.” My partner wanted to move into some more intimate activities, and I didn’t, but the word “no” just got stuck in my throat. I felt an immense amount of anxiety, and almost as if I was choking on the words. After maybe a minute of me just laying there frozen, they stopped—but even then it took me a while to explain that no, I didn’t want to have sex right then. Nobody is telepathic, and I know it is my responsibility to tell my partners when something isn’t OK. But I don’t always want to explain the whole backstory to people I’m hooking up with. Sorry, one night stand hottie, it’s none of your business. When I was having a lot of trouble saying “no” in general, I was able to practice in my day-to-day life, and that helped a lot. I don’t think that’s practical for sex stuff, though—if I want to say no, I can’t, and if I want to say yes, then I don’t want to stop! Do you have any advice on how to be able to say no in the moment? I believe that every one of my partners would listen if I said it, it just… won’t come out.
This is a super question, and I know it’s something a lot of survivors deal with. I know I certainly did.
It sounds like you have some stellar partners, and I think that can be one of the most helpful things in relearning to navigate ex.
If you’ve already got good lines of communication with your partners, I found it helpful (in comparison to verbally saying the word ‘no’) to come up with an agreement with my partners. Kind of like a safeword, but a physical one. I found making a physical motion, almost like a tap-out in wrestling, to be much easier than saying ‘no’.
Another thing I found helpful was, in the spur of the moment, to just say the most ridiculous thing I could think of. This caused my partners to be completely confused, and because they knew about my history of trauma, they put two and two together and got four. I literally said some long elaborate sentence about bananas and turnstiles once. It worked like a charm, and we were able to laugh about whatever I said afterwards.
If you’re finding it pretty easy to say ‘yes’, a slightly less sure-fire way to voice non-consent is to turn ‘yes’ into a question. “Yes!” and “Yes?” sound very, very different and your anxiety will likely show through to your partner if you make it a question.
Human beings are nifty. We have ways of beating around the bush, and that can be awesome or it can be shitty. It can be awesome when we’re trying to find a different way to say something we find triggering, but shitty when someone’s trying to tell us they lost something we gave to them for safekeeping. Luckily, we’re only trying to do the former. A neat little way I’ve found to express non-consent without saying ‘no’ is to suggest doing something else that I do want to do. If you’ve lost the mood, that’s okay too. Try suggesting something not related to sex - your partner should get the message.
Those are the most sure-fire ways I’ve found to be helpful, and the things I usually suggest to people in-person, but it’s entirely possible none of them will work for you (everyone’s different, yada yada). If that’s the case, just send off another ask and I’ll ask some of my old consent-workshop-speaker-friends for suggestions (or, y’know, it’s also COMPLETELY possible other mods have ideas and they can answer).
Hope this helps!