Saying “no” to sex doesn’t mean never. It might mean, “not right now”, “I’m not there yet”, “I’m tired”, “I don’t think I trust you yet”, and so on. Saying “no” can come with a wave of emotions and unpleasant responses, but there is no reason to keep having unwanted sex!
Waiting until you’re naked, sweating, and aroused to say no, can leave a partner feeling confused and hurt. However, saying “no” at any time is a right, not a privilege.
Deciding How to Say “No” to Sex Can Be Hard
In the age of consent, the rule is consent. The moment you feel pressured, unsafe, uncomfortable, or just plain over it, you have the explicit right to stop.
It can be challenging to access your no in sticky situations, particularly if you have loose boundaries. If this is your first time with someone if you’re feeling sick because you had too much to drink at dinner, or maybe your anxiety is spiking through the roof and you can’t relax.
Learn to listen to the internal cues of your body. Interoception or the ability to understand and evaluate your internal states is a wonderful practice for creating mindfulness in your sexual activities. If your body is speaking to you, honor it.
Anxiety is a warning sign from your body of a threat, don’t deny your instincts. If you find your anxiety is keeping you from enjoying sexual activities that you want to say yes to, seek help. Sexual complaints are highly common amongst those with anxiety.
Don’t feel ashamed for your no’s. Worries about coming off as hostile or disinterested can be a product of built-in societal expectations of being agreeable and likable. They can also be a learned fawn response. Try rehearsing boundary statements and overtime it will feel more natural.
If you are willing to have an open and honest conversation, these ideas can be dispelled. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay too. No one needs a reason to say no, and those who don’t respect the no, probably aren’t worth your time.
How to Say “No” Nicely, At Any Time
Rejection burns no matter which way it’s cooked, but that doesn’t mean you have to press on the wound. Saying no to sex takes courage because sex is inherently vulnerable. Learning to acknowledge this vulnerability is a great place to start. You might try out some of these phrases or create your own:
If You’re Not Ready to Go All the Way
- “I really like you, but I’m not ready to have sex yet. I hope you can respect that.”
- “This feels so amazing, I could lay here with you all night. Can we just do that, I don’t want to have sex yet.”
- “Not tonight, but I feel super wanted, that’s hot.”
If You’re Not Aroused
- “I’m not turned on yet, maybe we could try something else first.”
- “Wow you are super horny, let’s slow it down a little.”
If You’re Uncomfortable
- “Okay I need to stop, something doesn’t feel right.”
- “I don’t want to do anything else, thanks for respecting me.”
What to Talk About First
It would be a great idea to talk about sexual boundaries before taking your clothes off. What is a go and what is a stop? Talking about STI’s and birth control might not feel super sexy, so talk about it when you’re not hot and heavy.
If someone isn’t interested in discussing sexual health get curious. It will be easier to say no at the moment when you’ve put all your cards out on the table. If you need help, check out these worksheets to get started.
What Makes You Feel Emotionally + Physically Safe?
Arousal states (not those kinds) determine whether to approach or engage. If you’re with someone that allows you to feel seen, heard, and respected, it makes it much easier to feel safe.
Safety breeds connection and exploration. How are you evaluating your safety in sexual situations? Consider what would be meaningful before, during, and after sex.
- Do you want your partner to initiate or would you like to?
- Is there a safety word for when things get too intense, or do you feel strong enough to speak up when boundaries have been crossed?
- If sex is with a new partner, what are you hoping for or do you have rigid beliefs about what should happen?
- When you’re done, how do you know? How do you communicate that to your partner?
- What do you need for the next hour, day, week? Would you like your sexual partner to contact you? Is asking, “what you need”, enough to feel respected?
If someone has experienced sexual trauma safety and communication must be a priority. Trauma can lead to a host of unwanted reactions and specific triggers may lead to dissociation from sexual experiences.
No matter what, take care to ask a partner what they need to feel safe. If you are healing from trauma consider joining Modern Intimacy’s Revive & Thrive program.
Saying “No” Can Be a Good Thing
Saying no to sex doesn’t mean you’re a prude or that you don’t like sex. In fact, it may mean that you know more about what you want and don’t want. Saying no to unwanted sexual advances allows you to practice advocating for yourself. If you are with a long-term partner, saying no shows responsibility with discernment.
Male-centric sex is so over, so regardless of your sexual preferences, know that your sexuality matters and is valuable.
Ever tried to have sex and all you were thinking about was the sheets? The more you begin to tap into your sexuality, discovering what you like and don’t like, the greater satisfaction you can achieve when you are ready to have sex.
Ideas For What To Do Instead
What else can you do? Sex doesn’t need to be the goal so why not explore without feeling obligated to take it further. Talking about sex and fantasizing together can create anticipation which is a great way to increase responsive desire.
- Make a yes no maybe checklist of sexual activities
- Give naked massages
- Draw each other naked
- Give each other private dances
- Touch each other’s bodies and find what feels good inch by inch, no genitals, focus on sensations
- Gaze into each other’s eyes, this activity can help increase novelty which increases desire
Sex is great, just make sure you’re all in mentally before you’re all in physically. Remember, you can say no to sex anytime; your body, your rules.