Why Saying 'No' Shouldn't Make You the Villain

I once tried to explain to a guy I was hooking up with why I wasn't a fan of his repeatedly shoving his hand down my pants.

"Look, I'm tired of pushing you away every time," I told him, exasperated. "I'm not in the mood. Just quit it, okay?"

He still wasn't getting it, and by that point, I was annoyed enough to think that acting out the problem would help. Grabbing his hand and redirecting it towards his own crotch, I imitated what he had been doing. Shove, shove, shove -- it seemed obvious to me how obnoxious his advances were.

"Mmm... That feels great! Keep doing that!" he said delightedly. "What was the problem again?"

I felt like whacking my head against a wall.

One of the hardest things to explain about the culture of consent is that it's not just about preventing sexual assault. It's also about respect, and about changing the traditional dialogue in the bedroom.

Up until 50 years ago or so, it didn't matter if women enjoyed sex, or if they wanted to do it more or less frequently. The dynamic under the covers matched the one on the streets -- men demanded, women provided. Upsetting the balance only caused a fuss.

Even today, there are places where that dynamic persists. If you've ever been to one of those speaker-thumping, strobe-lit dance clubs filled with sweaty high schoolers, you'll see it played out right in front of you. Guys, stepping up to grind on whichever girl strikes their fancy. Girls, submitting. Avoiding eye contact with the boys they desire because it makes them as girls appear too bold, too human.

I've been there. I used to think it was empowering.

"If both genders are exploiting each other equally, how could it possibly be worse for girls? This is what my generation's dances look like, and there's nothing wrong with that!"

But it was always a line of guys leaning against the wall, sending each other knowing looks as they adjusted the girls bent over and squirming against their jeans. It was always the guys who cruised for girls, who had their pick of the room to dance with. The more attention I paid, the less "equal" it all seemed.

Of course, it would be simple to do away with that type of sexism if it were merely a matter of shutting down a few dances. But the bigger problem is in the bedroom.

I've been in too many situations like the one I first described, when staying within my comfort zone felt like staging my own private morality play. "Begone! I must defend my virtue!" Except, as with any question of consent, it's more complicated than that.

Because women were once supposed to view sex as a chore, we still gain a reputation as killjoys every time we say "no" or slow down the pace. If we were living in the 1950s, we could blame our every human nuance on that age-old female duty -- "Stop! Good girls don't do that, and I have to be a good girl" -- but we're not.

Creating a culture of consent for both genders means acknowledging that "no" means all kinds of things. It might mean, "Sorry, not feeling it tonight," or, "I've never done that before, and I'm not ready yet." But, if you're hearing it from someone who identifies as female, it should never be taken as "Yes, I'm a prude, and my goal here is to ruin your fun."

Women deserve to have their yes's and nos receive the same weight, to not straddle the Madonna/whore dichotomy with every decision in bed. So let's stop pretending that women are the sexual referees and men are entitled to "score" sexual satisfaction. Instead, let's allow both genders to enjoy themselves at their own pace -- I promise the sex will be better for everyone.