A couple of years ago, I was asked how I could be 20 years old and still be a virgin. The girl asking me this had found me through a mutual friend, and had been asking me questions of this sort for a couple of days. She was a beautiful girl, and to say that I was not interested in her would be a colossal lie. But at the same time, I was hesitant to actually agree to sleep with her because I hadn’t actually met her in person yet.
And I felt ashamed of this hesitation. Not just ashamed, I felt humiliated, emasculated and worthless. I admit, it was completely irrational; there’s no reason for me to have felt this way. Whether or not I have had sex or will have sex with someone is my business and I had no obligation to sleep with this girl.
But it still felt horrible making the decision to say no.
That’s the sort of thing they don’t really prepare you for when they teach you about consent and, for that matter, sexual assault. It’s one thing to understand the statistics, how you are much more likely to be assaulted by someone you know rather than a stranger. It’s one thing to say “no” in a safe, almost clinical, environment of a seminar, but quite another to say “no” in the moment.
Part of that problem is that a lot of the conversation appears to be centered on how a woman is supposed to say no. I feel like that’s due to the particular societal expectations that are placed on men; expectations that we generally don’t think about.
The saying goes something like “If a man sleeps with ten women, he’s a conqueror. If a woman sleeps with ten men, she’s a slut.” Ignoring for the moment how misogynistic that statement is with regards to women, it doesn’t exactly do that much for men either.
Men are expected to be having sex or else want to have sex. If a man says that he’s been raped, the first reaction is usually ridicule or the inevitable question of “What are you complaining about?”
The idea of a man being raped, particularly by a woman, sounds ridiculous. The statistics about sexual assault make it sound that much more ridiculous. Survivors of sexual assault and rape are overwhelmingly women, and the perpetrators are overwhelmingly men.
However, given that rape and sexual assault are the two most underreported crimes, we don’t know the true scope of how those crimes affect both genders. We can chalk that up to the fact that we happen to live in a society that shames the survivors of those crimes. It’s a blame-game that actually does translate across the gender gap, with women getting the insulting “You were asking for it” garbage and men getting the equally demeaning “What’s the problem?” reaction.
The reason for that reaction to men is, I think, because of the presupposition that men have to be the dominant player with regards to sex. Men who do not want to have sex are seen as effeminate, emasculated, submissive or somehow defective. It’s (usually) not something that is explicitly said, but it’s something that is constantly subconsciously pounded into our heads.
And that’s what’s going through your head when you’re making the decision to turn down a sexual advance. The feeling that you should just be going for it because, why not? If a woman’s already hell-bent on sleeping with you, what’s the problem? You’ve already cleared the “consent” objection, at least from her end, so why not go for it?
And if you say no? What does that say about you? Does it make you, somehow, a lesser man? Does it make you a prude in people’s eyes? Is there something wrong with you? What, exactly, do you say to your friends when they ask you “So did you tap that?” and you answer “No.”
This is all rhetorical supposition, obviously. The answers to those questions are: Nothing, not at all, no, no and who cares what they think. But those are the sorts of things that go through your head when you’re going through that situation.
And that’s not something that a seminar can prepare you for. That’s not something that a lesson to men on what “consent” means can teach you. Unfortunately, it’s one of those things that you have to experience first-hand to understand.
So when you do experience it, and you start doubting yourself for turning down sex, don’t. There is nothing wrong with just saying no.
Editorial Editor Caleb Hendrich is a senior journalism and political science major. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org