Photo by Jamie Blak
I just finished brushing my teeth and begin to walk upstairs to the loft where we slept, carefully choosing my steps in the darkness. The kink in my neck had given me a tension headache that lingered throughout the day, and all I want to do is close my eyes and lay my head down on the side the throbbing is.
I find him waiting for me in bed in a way that most movie love scenes begin: shirtless, lying to one side and propped up on his elbow, a simpering smile on his face. I feel my insides clutch with an all too familiar anxiety.
Not tonight, please. Not tonight.
As I climb into bed, I wonder if it would be at all possible for me to aloofly overlook his shirtlessness and the flirtatious smile that plays upon his lips. But when I begin to snuggle into the blankets, I feel his position on the bed shift as he moves closer to me, his warm body now on the verge of pressing against mine from behind.
This was going to be complicated.
His mouth hovers over my left shoulder as he half-whispers: “Are you sleepy?” He begins stroking the outside of my arm and I feel his desire growing for me beneath the sheets. I pretend like I didn’t hear nor feel him.
Not tonight, please. Not tonight.
“Baby. . .” he starts again, still whispering, still stroking my shoulder.
“Hmm?” I murmur into my pillow.
“Did you hear me?”
“No,” I lie, yawning. “Did you say something, honey?”
“Yes,” he says, inching a bit closer, his hands now caressing the back of my leg. “I asked if you were sleepy. . .”
“I’m pretty tired,” I reply, making an effort to snuggle deeper into my pillow.
“We should get it on,” he whispers playfully, biting my ear. And in that moment, I wish that I could become suddenly stricken with a fatigue so fierce that it rendered me completely incapacitated until morning, if only to keep me from having to face this dilemma.
And this is a dilemma, because while I am tired and head-achey, while all I want to do is go straight to sleep without moving my body one inch, I know that heaviness will come from me turning down his advances. I remember how it’s been three days maybe since we last had sex, which makes my answer even more detrimental. Anxiety starts to get the best of me.
He might be offended that I am denying him. Or maybe he’ll think I’m not attracted to him anymore. We might even get on the subject again of how strange it is that I haven’t been as interested lately. And the headache, the one I’ve had since the afternoon, is such a clichéd excuse—would he even believe it?
Finally I turn over slightly, looking over my shoulder, ready to begin the gentle decline, and he’s right there, still with that playful smile on his face, still trying to seduce me with the gaze of his eyes. Guilt and obligation softens me.
I should say yes.
And so I do, and we begin that enjoyable, pleasureful process of getting frisky—except, I am not feeling any joy or pleasure. I’m not feeling any of it. I’m not even there. My mind is on other things, yet miraculously I manage to feign perfect enjoyment.
My body writhes with his, sighs with his, but really everything inside of me feels numbed out. This is a familiar feeling, this going with the motions, this faking it until I feel it, this counting down the moments ’til it’s over. . .
And then it’s over.
The light’s turned off and he’s snoring lightly beside me. I am on my back, looking up at the skylight above our bed, watching the moon. My head is still pounding and I cannot sleep.
I begin to feel quiet anger welling up inside of me—both at him for having his desires in the first place, but mostly at myself for once more going against by body’s desires.
I shouldn’t have said yes.
A few years ago, one of my clients came to me describing a “vicious cycle” that she and her partner kept revisiting over and over in their sexual relationship—one where she kept saying Yes to sex she really didn’t want to have.
As I coached her through it, I used the words “self-violation” to label what might’ve been going on for her, not really understanding or believing my own words, just kind of going with my first intuitive hits as I usually do in session.
But the moment I said those words—”self-violation”—something clicked inside of me, a pull from the deepest, darkest recesses of my awareness, a lightening flash of clarity.
It lasted for only a split second, and later that day, when I began to peel back the layers of what had surfaced, I sat with the fact that a lot of the sentiments she had expressed about this bad habit sounded really familiar.
That is what I had been doing to myself for all these years. I’d just never put it to words before.
All these thoughts and memories of the past came flooding to me as I began to relive one of the most recent incidences of my own experience of self-violation.
I started writing it down, letting my fingers fly. I wanted to speak my truth, to reveal a part of my sexual story that I felt, intuitively, rang true for others. I wanted to generate a discussion about the importance of having sex only when you and your body really wanted to.
What I wrote was what you read above, and it’s been sitting in my drafts box for more than three years.
The only reason I’m revisiting all of this now is because, once more, I was reminded (more like prompted) of this heavy topic when I was in session with a client recently.
She had begun to convey a story to me similar to the one above. And as I listened to her using the same language I had used to justify my reasonings for saying yes when I really wanted to say no, I could feel a familiar kind of quiet anger well up inside of me—except that it wasn’t really anger so much as it was fiery fierceness.
Before we go any further: What exactly do I mean when I say “self-violation”?
Self-violation, by my own definition, is deliberately going against your body’s desires and cues, and engaging in sexual activity anyway. It’s passively saying Yes to sex when you would really rather say No.
And I consider this a violation against not only to your self but to your body.
Self-violation is different from rape because by all intents and purposes you are giving consent—that is, you are giving consent physically. But if you were honest, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, you’d rather not.
And when you do end up going with it and having sex outside of your desires, you’re completely checked out from it. You find myself counting down the minutes until it’s over. You might even fake enjoyment, pretending that you’re having a good time, in order to continue on with the charade to get it over with.
All of this is made even more devastating, because (and speaking personally now) for someone who’s been sexually traumatized, these feelings of checking out, of waiting until it’s over, triggered within me the same emotions and responses I felt in my body during my rape. Which made me inherently view my partner as my violator.
One thing I want to make clear that what my partner did during those times—that is, initiated and carried out sex with me—was not wrong. He was only going along with what I had said, both with my body and words, which was a yes.
And it was devastating—for me and my partner, for our sexual relationship, and for the way I viewed myself as a sexual woman. Sex began to feel heavy again. I started to resent my partner’s sexual desires and see our sexual relationship as a means for his pleasure only. Shame began crippling me again.
If any of this sounds familiar, if you’ve ever found yourself saying Yes to sex when you really want to say No, I want you to make a pact with me right now.
From this day forward, you will not have sex when you don’t want to. You will not try to talk yourself into it. You will not try to fake it ’til you feel it.
This is what I challenged my client to do. I challenged her to make a pact, both to herself and to her body, that she would no longer have sex when she didn’t want to. She would regard her body as a temple and only let those who she has given permission and an enthusiastic yes to enter.
Most importantly, she would speak openly to her partner and tell him about what she’d been doing, how she’d been going against herself. And she would tell him of the pact she’s made with me and ask for his help in holding her to it.
Another part of her challenge: She was to say No more often, even if it made him mad, even if they hadn’t had sex in however many days, even if she felt like she should. Because as I told her, there should never be a “should” in sex, there should never be an obligation.
If it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a no. Period.
When we say yes to sex we don’t really want, we’re telling our body very directly that we don’t respect it. We’re telling our sexual energy that we don’t honor it. We’re giving our partners a false sense of intimacy and sexual connection.
And sexual liberation cannot live where you are not being true to yourself.
So, make the pact with me. Please don’t violate yourself or your body again.
No more saying Yes when you really want to say No.
If you end up making this pact, send me an email and I’ll hold you to it.
And if you’d like support in keeping this pact, or maybe if you want to get to the bottom of why it is you keep saying Yes to sex you don’t really want, let’s chat.
I’d love to coach you through this in the same way I’ve coached my other clients—with empathy, understanding, and fierce accountability.