No one has a right to put their hands on you without your permission.
What Everyone Needs to Understand About Sexual Refusal and Sexual Assault
by Michael Ra Bouchard, M.A., Ph.D.
February 29, 2020
1762 words (5-6 minute read)
Author's Note: In view of all the current media attention on sexual assault, I wrote the following article to throw some light on the matter in hopes of expanding everyone's awareness of this troublesome problem.
Research studies over the last decade have determined that approximately one in three women and one in six men will experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Given these unacceptably high rates, it is essential that each and every one of us develop a sexual refusal communication skill set so as to reduce the occurrence of sexual assault incidents.
Sexual refusal communication requires us to recognize and respect how people communicate sexual non-consent—specifically the verbal and non-verbal behavioral cues people use to say “no” when declining sexual activity—towards best ensuring understanding and cooperation when sexual activity is unwanted and non-consensual.
What is vital for everyone to understand is that unless sexual consent is freely given any unwanted and forced upon sexual contact against a person’s will is a sexual assault.
As an enlightened and civilized society it is the collective concern, moral duty, and social responsibility for each of us to learn, recognize and respect times when someone we have sexual interest in does not want or give us their consent to engage in sexual activity. To avoid any misunderstanding, especially in light of today’s hook-up culture and online dating culture, it's essential that we pay close attention to our partner’s cues—whether subtle or overt, verbal or non-verbal, implicit or explicit—and respond accordingly by stopping our pursuit when it is unwanted.
We must make it our policy to receive any and all sexual refusals as sincere and legitimate and therefore needing to be taken seriously and with full compliance by stopping our unwanted behavior right away. The necessity of so doing is underscored by the fact that numerous studies have shown most teens and many adults still primarily communicate sexual consent non-verbally by a myriad of means, thus increasing the likelihood of unintentional sexual miscommunication. Accordingly, each of us needs to become skilled in identifying and respecting the many types of sexual refusal cues, and upon recognition of their delivery, immediately cease our pursuit without additional persistence or sexual coercion of any kind.
If we are to lessen occurrences of sexual assault and violence—whether unintentional or not—it requires that everyone have access to a basic sex education and corresponding moral training. Each of us must learn to morally respect the inalienable right of sexual self-determination by striving to honor the free will choices of others. Additionally, sexual assault prevention training must teach and empower everyone to stand up to and level vigorous protest against others whenever required in order to protect our personal boundaries and sexual rights from being violated by anyone.
In like manner, each of us must also be taught and empowered to stand down to any and all protests when leveled against us—no matter how falteringly or feebly delivered those protests may be—in order to protect the personal boundaries and sexual rights of others when it is we ourselves doing the violating.
Specifically saying “no” as a mechanism of explicit sexual refusal assumes that “no” sufficiently conveys that sexual activity is unwanted and non-consensual. Simply put: Sexual refusal communication is a process in which one party either initiates or increases the level of sexual activity, whereupon the other person rejects it, and the first party complies with that rejection by ceasing the offending behavior. Circumstances in which a person does not comply with a rejection and continues to pursue sex post-refusal qualify as attempted or completed sexual assault. No exceptions.
Consequently—when in doubt, check it out!
Respect for an individual’s sexual self-sovereignty insists that we never ignore or selfishly pretend not to notice when our partner pulls back, freezes, or otherwise verbally or non-verbally cues their disinterest or unwillingness to engage sexually with us. Better still, before getting too carried away, it is generally the best policy for both parties to be explicit in sexual consent communication. Ideally, the “gold standard” consent cue you each want to give and receive is an explicit verbal “yes” giving the green light to proceed.
Therefore, when unsure about your partner's receptivity, boldly speak out and ask for affirmative sexual consent, especially when the two of you are sexually inexperienced together. Correspondingly, when you are on the receiving end of uninvited or otherwise unwanted sexual contact, speak out and firmly demand that it be stopped immediately.
It is important to understand that consent can be communicated both verbally (by saying yes) and non-verbally so long as it is being given voluntarily and when conscious. Actually talking about sex before things get too hot and heavy—if only to say what you want or don’t want to happen—can usually help to assess if you and the other party are both on the same wavelength, and when not, go a long way in preventing unintended sexual missteps from occurring. Once again, when in doubt, ask!
Historically in the past, “No Means No” sexual assault prevention campaigns have emphasized refusal communication. However, more recent “Yes Means Yes” sexual assault prevention education emphasizes affirmative consent via increased explicit communication. Therefore, acquiring proficiency in both refusal communication and affirmative consent appears to be the best approach for creating a sex-affirming setting where people feel comfortable in plainly communicating either their interest or disinterest for engaging together in sexual activity.
An added bonus of opening a dialogue to discuss and negotiate personal sexual limits, interests, and desires with a potential sexual partner is that it can actually be a very sexy process leading to increased closeness, enjoyment, satisfaction and more with one another. Likewise, clear and direct sexual communication is the surest way for creating an intimate and sex-positive mood that is based upon mutual respect and sexual self-determination. Such an “above board” approach is best for helping both parties feel comfortable in plainly stating and honestly communicating their sexual wants, limits, likes, dislikes, etc. with one another.
Something to keep in mind when you find sex too embarrassing to discuss with a potential partner is that you are probably not really emotionally ready to have sex with them anyway. When that is the case, you are far better off finding alternative, less sexually involved yet nonetheless still affectionate, fun, and rewarding activities to share together instead until such time that you each feel ready to have that conversation.
In summary, should anyone ever presume, coerce, or otherwise try to force you to engage in sexual contact that you don’t want or without your permission, demand that they stop immediately. If their pestering persists, take whatever evasive actions are necessary to extricate yourself and escape the situation. With someone so controlling you must exercise additional caution when the two of you are in, or are considering pursuing, a romantic relationship together.
Should this person profess to care for you while repeatedly disrespecting your personal boundaries you are better off without them. The fact is when you can’t reason with someone they leave you no healthy alternative but to separate yourself from a fraught situation by moving on alone without looking back. You will set yourself up for the win by seeking a relationship with someone else more highly evolved and less controlling that actually respects rather than violates your wishes and personal boundaries.
When it comes to taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical health and wellbeing, the importance of firmly speaking up and advocating for yourself when you are on the receiving end of any unwanted sexual contact cannot be overemphasized. People who love someone show it by respecting their feelings. Someone who truly cares about you will never apply pressure or force you to do anything against your will or that otherwise could land you in serious trouble, including risking your health and pregnancy by having unsafe and unprotected sex.
And while the following judgment may sound harsh it is simply the unvarnished truth about anyone in possession of an unrepentant molesting mindset: Anybody who continues to violate your sexual limits by refusing your repeated demands to stop is behaving in an abusive and controlling manner that is categorically inexcusable.
Developing the faculty to identify individuals expressing sexual interest in us is paramount to avoid making the mistake of misperceiving friendliness cues for sexual intent from someone where there is none, leading to mutual embarrassment for both parties. This skill set is also imperative for preventing any unpleasant repercussions that could follow from making unwanted sexual advances that might be interpreted as sexual harassment or sexual coercion, or worse yet, could lead to unintentional rape.
And sex without consent is always rape.
Rape is an ugly word for an even uglier act. If you don’t give consent and sex is forced on you, or you force sex upon someone without his or her consent, it’s rape. And that includes having sex with someone who has passed out. Thus for everyone's well-being, each of us must learn to subjectively assess a potential sex partner’s intent by focusing on cues and behaviors that convey possible interest and/or disinterest when pursuing any kind of sexual activity together, and put a stop to it immediately when it is unwanted.
Bear in mind the following to help you strongly speak out against anyone ever sexually violating you—
No one has a right to put their hands on you without your permission.
It is a matter of practicing self-respect—not to mention self-preservation—to speak out without hesitation whenever someone trespasses your sexual boundaries. You practice self-respect by staying true to your values, sexual and otherwise. For each of us, the development and safeguarding of self-respect for one’s self, character, dignity, integrity, and conduct is an essential lifelong process requiring vigorous ongoing effort. Not only will you personally benefit from this practice, but so will others, as we can only give to others that which we first can give to ourselves.
Think of self-love as being beneficial to everybody. In the final analysis, when it comes to personal development and continuing evolution of the indispensable qualities involved in the expression of love and caring through mutually desired sexual activity, it all begins with the vigorous development, exercise and protection of self-respect. You could rightly think of practicing self-respect as the ultimate expression of self-love; the greater our capacity to love ourselves, the greater our capacity to love others. Who knew?
When you come right down to it, it's really very simple: Respect for others through self-respect. You can do it! For your own personal betterment and the greater good of all humankind, I hope you do.
Copyright © 2020 by Michael Ra Bouchard, Ph.D. & Aloha Sexual Health & Happiness, LLC. All Rights Reserved.