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Ask Bish – I feel guilty about saying no

Some advice about how to deal with feeling guilty about saying no. Remember guilt is just a feeling and we don’t have to act on feelings. Keep saying no, regardless.

I find that consent wise I often feel really guilty if it comes to saying no in the middle of sex especially if I know the person. Any idea how I can work on overcoming this?

Saying no when you don’t want sex is very important and is very important to do even if you are feeling guilty. So my first point is to keep saying no (either verbally or with your body). Give yourself big ups for saying no even if you know you’re going to feel guilty afterwards.

If after you have said no you are feeling guilty remember that guilt is just a feeling. I think we’re taught that we should act on feelings and that we can make ourselves feel better. I’m not sure that’s true. You don’t have to act on feelings. Sometimes it’s better not to, like in this case. Instead, act on your values, what is important to you, what kind of person you are or aspire to be.

Feelings come and feelings go, it’s important to accept this. When guilty feelings pop into your head, instead of trying to fight them or reason with them maybe just accept that they will go away. Notice and observe that you are having the guilty feelings. Greet them: literally, ‘oh hello guilt’. Allow them to sit somewhere. Whilst you do this also try to make room for other feelings, other feelings which you may feel are more valuable to you.

When you are saying no to something you don’t want, you are saying yes to you. That’s a big amount of self-care, affection, tenderness, niceness and love right there. Allowing for these feelings to sit with you too may make the guilt seem smaller.

The guilt might be around for lots of reasons, maybe you’ve explored some of these yourself. Maybe it’s to do with you not feeling entitled to ask for what you want, or even to entitled to have any wants or needs at all. Many people feel that they aren’t allowed to do this or that their power has been taken away from them. This can be for many complex reasons. It could be because of your political identity (gender, sexuality, race, ability, etc) and how much power you have. It could be how you see yourself. It could be stuff from back in your early childhood.

Do you feel guilty about asking for what you want in other situations? If not why not? What triggers it? Do you always feel guilty saying no in sex? Why is it only with people you know? Do you prefer other people to have what they want at the expense of you having what you want? Thinking hard about these questions may give you some clues as to where it’s coming from, which may help you.

It may be worth discussing this with someone. Perhaps with someone you have sex with that you can trust and feel safe with. If you are in a position of safety and comfort say how you are feeling, and how difficult you find that feeling. If it’s not something you can say in person perhaps put it in an email or have an IM chat about it. This person may be able to give you a different perspective. Some re-assurance. They may like to tell you how glad they are that you do say no despite your feelings. If, however, you feel this person is contributing to your guilt then you may want to think about DTMFA (dumping them).

Whilst I’m on the subject of talking, perhaps some kind of conversation about what kind of sex you want is in order. There is a script for many people (especially for people having sex with penises) about what kind of sex people ‘should’ have. For instance entry sex is not compulsory. Many people find that entry sex is ‘real sex’ but not necessarily the sex that they enjoy the most. This is true for both people doing the entering and being entered. So rip up the scripts and try to find some way of communicating what sex you want. Telling each other erotic stories about what you like. Watching some alternative porn (if you’re over 18) or reading some erotic stories together. For non-verbal communication try a game of follow, wherever you put your fingers on your body your partner can touch or kiss (if they want), this could indicate where you like being touched and how.


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