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“I can’t say no even when I want to, I can’t say it loud enough or firmly enough. It is just a lack of courage. I lack the backbone to say no. My no gets stuck in my throat, how can I reject him like that?”

I once heard someone say this at a lecture when she was talking about the feelings of paralysis that she often felt when she really wanted to say no to engaging in sexual activity with a man. It made me think a lot about consent, and about what meaning is attached to sex. A lot of times, consent is talked about only as men’s issue, we think that men are the only ones who need to understand what consent means, but I believe that there is another direction the lesson on consent should take. I know that a lot of women, young women in particular, have at some point experienced a form of paralysis which made it difficult to articulate what they really want. Therefore, in the space between what women want and what they’re doing is the sense of self, how formed and unformed it is, and the courage to own their wanting or the lack there of, but most of all, the courage to speak up. “You’ve got to tell the world how to treat you. If the world tells you how you are going to be treated, you are in trouble” James Baldwin said.

So i tried to gain some understanding on the reason some women find it difficult to articulate their stand during a sexual encounter, and i found that many sexually active young women, and even adolescents, perceive that they do not have the right to communicate about or control aspects of their sexual behavior. This lack of sexual assertiveness often leads to poor sexual health, promotes sexual risk-taking and violence.

Sexual assertiveness is defined as one’s capability in refusing unwanted sexual relationship and having sexual interaction that brings sexual pleasure. What this means is that, it employs verbal and non-verbal strategies to express preferences.

Sexually assertive beliefs, behaviors and practices—including acquiring knowledge about preventing pregnancy and STDs; adopting health-promoting values, attitudes and norms; and building proficiency in risk-reduction skills—are important components in the development of sexual health during adolescence and in adulthood. There are factors that could contribute to lack of sexual assertiveness, they include; academic performance, sexual inexperience, a woman’s physical and sexual victimization history, etc. But the question still remains, how can a woman who wants to protect her emotional vulnerability find the words to explain that? Following are nine habits of sexual assertiveness from  Elizabeth Powell:

  1. Understand that you have sexual rights: first of which is to refuse any type of sexual contact, regardless of how aroused the partners might be.
  2. Take charge of your thoughts: identify the beliefs that keep you from speaking up – for example, “he [or she] will think i’m a spontaneity-killer if i insist on a condom”. Once you are aware of this thought, replace it with one like, “if she [or he] rejects me, I can cope with it; I’ll find someone who will respect me more”.
  3. Understand the difference between assertiveness, aggressiveness, and non-assertiveness: Assertive actions are direct, honest, and appropriate ways of verbally expressing your beliefs and rights without disrespecting the other person.
  4. Say what you want: I statements are the gold standard of assertive communication. Speak up however you can, using your own words. A simple No works just fine!
  5. Give yourself an inner compliment when you can speak up: Tell yourself, “I handled that well”. Remember that imperfect talk deserves an inner compliment, too.
  6. Recognize pressure lines: there are different categories: lines that stress the beautiful experience being missed; lines that attempt to gain sympathy; lines that attempt to insult the person who is refusing, etc.
  7. Create a sexual policy statement: What are your sexual values? Do you favor abstinence? Do you see sex as a recreational activity? Do you desire it only when you’ve gotten to know someone? As the CEO of your sex life, create a policy statement that you would be comfortable sharing with a prospective partner.
  8. As much as possible, discuss your sexual values ahead of time, in non-sexual situations: “In that film, I felt upset when she cheated on him.” Then listen for your prospective partner’s response. Does he or she sound like the kind of person you want to get to know better?
  9. Know your own risk triggers: If you know you don’t want to have sex, avoid situations that could put you in danger. For example, alcohol is a risk trigger for many.

“Everyone wants to have sex for different reasons, some honest, some dishonest. You have no control over another person’s honesty, at any given point in time you must accept their level of maturity, decide whether engaging them or not fits your values and take responsibility for the consequences. The power and potential of sex to inspire and rejuvenate is lost on anyone who has not earned your love and whose love you have not earned no matter how beautiful his body, and if you give your body without making sure it is earned you devalue it. Make sure it is properly traded for real virtue and character values.” – Nzinga Job


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