So many women I interviewed when writing my book reported saying yes to sex just to get the sex over with and have the person go away. Others reported saying yes to sex to have the person like them. Others reported gaining weight so they wouldn’t have to say no to dating and sex. Many reported losing weight, feeling attractive, and wanting to put the weight back on so they wouldn’t have to deal with the dating and sex game. Others reported being raped because when they said no, it wasn’t respected. Many reported drinking too much, knowing they had been taken advantage sexually and not remembering the specifics.
The stories go on and on and, except for being raped, they all have one thing in common: the inability to say no when you mean no.
Although there are mixed messages during this time, we are supposed to be living in a country where no one can touch you without your permission. Not all countries have this law, so it is important for us to fight to keep this protection. Part of honoring this protection is learning to say a clear, concise, emphatic no if that is what you mean. As you can see from the above examples, many people do not believe they can say no. When perpetrators are allowed to take advantage of people, we all suffer. When they are called out on their behavior and made to suffer consequences, we begin to create a safer environment for all.
We all benefit when we collectively start to support one another by saying no to sexual bullies. The first step is to say no when we mean no. The second step is to report when our no is not honored. For some these tasks seem overwhelming.
Let’s see if we can make them easier.
Codependency involves some form of a lack of self-esteem. Another reason it is so important to do your codependent work is to develop strong self-esteem. When you are plagued by “like me, like me,” you are at risk in all areas of your life – especially and including the domain of sex.
Having good self-esteem means you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, if someone takes you to dinner, it doesn’t mean you owe him/her sex. How many times have I heard “but he/she paid for dinner; that means I owe him/her sex”? Wrong! Your company is your gift to the interaction. Having good self-esteem means being able to say to a request for a date or sex “No, thanks for asking” (you don’t need to gain weight to avoid the dating game.)
Having good self-esteem means having the confidence – without mind altering substances – to negotiate new situations with new people. If you were raised in a dysfunctional family where everyone was focused on the dysfunction, developing your self-esteem wasn’t the priority. As a young adult negotiating the world, healthy self-esteem is a necessity.
When young adults arrive at college with no self-esteem, wanting to be liked and with the alcohol and hormones flowing, “Houston we have a problem.” This is the time to hit the pause button. There is no rush. This is an excellent time to focus on yourself, your interests, your goals and the people you want to have on your journey with you. This is also a great place to practice finding your voice.
Finding your voice means saying no when you mean no. If you choose not to go to college, but are out in the world working again, take time for self- discovery and finding your voice. Practice saying no when you mean no. Self-esteem is built when you stop the “like me like me” game and get into the game of “I’ll decide if you can play in my world.” Self-esteem is also built when you begin to say no when you mean no.
People who were never allowed to say no are always amazed, when they first start to say no, how easy it is. Years of believing “you must say yes” can be erased when you say your first no and continue to build on the practice.
Sex and Boundaries
Boundaries are important for us all to develop in every area of our lives, including our sex lives. Letting people know what our boundaries are helps them to take care of us and weeds out the ones that don’t want to honor us.
Safe sex is paramount. Letting someone know you value your health and want to have responsible sex exudes confidence. Healthy people are attracted to people who have boundaries. People who have boundaries know what they like and dislike. They are defined and have clarity. Clear boundaries are a sign of a healthy person. Victims and martyrs do not have clear boundaries. They, on the contrary, are an invitation for perpetrators. Remember the examples we set forth at the beginning. Again, except for being raped, they all might have had different outcoes with a clear concise “no, thanks for asking.”
There are sexual predators everywhere: Internet, schools, colleges, neighborhoods, families, cities, rural areas. And we must come equipped to do our part in saying no to them and reporting them when they refuse to hear our no! Codependent/people-pleasing won’t help here.
This article was originally published on Recovery.org