My advice about feeling guilty for not sending nudes. It’s about how we ask and also about the FOMO should story.
“Is it normal to feel guilty for not sending nudes to a partner? Even if they tell you it’s okay if you don’t want to.”
I think it is totally normal to feel guilty about not sending nudes, sadly. I’ll explain why that is but also what we might learn to do about it in the future.
What your partner has said
It’s normal to feel like we want to please our partner, but our partner should also want to please us. That means that if you say no, your partner should be okay with that because they want to please you too. Pleasing people is about doing things but also about allowing people not to do things. It’s all to do with consent.
Whether they are making you feel guilty depends how they’ve worded it. If they’ve said “would you send me a nude, all my other partners have done this, and everyone else does it, but it’s fine if you don’t” then that’s not great. But if they’ve said “how would you feel about sending some kind of sexy pictures, or stories, to each other by text? I’d be up for it but only if you were obvs” that would be better. Giving each other the maximum opportunity for someone to not do something, as well as to do something, is really important.
Read more about how to ask
More options to ‘please’
It’s also really important to expand and give as many options of doing or not doing something as possible. To be consensual is to understand that we are all on a spectrum of things that we really don’t want to do -10 to things we really want to do 10+ with quite a lot of meh, or not sure, or maybe if we did it in a different way in between.
There can always be more consent. If your partner asks you a yes or no question and you say no, that’s not much of a choice. It can then feel like we are really letting the other person down because it’s this ‘all or nothing’ thing. That’s when we might feel guilty.
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But if we are asked how we might feel about something, given lots of choice about what the thing is, and ways that we might do it, then it’s more expansive. It opens up a conversation about lots of different possible options. So we can still not do things we don’t want to but also be curious about what things we might want. I think there might be less chance of feeling guilty because you are both trying to figure out what you both might want. It’s not one person letting someone else down, you are both co-creating your sex lives. Double thumbs up emoji.
The FOMO should story
Of course the reason why we feel guilty for not doing something is our old friend the ‘Should Story’. For those new to the website (and if you haven’t done the free Sex Ed course yet), a ‘should story’ is a very powerful story told to us by everyone in society at all times about what we should and shouldn’t do.
One of the most powerful ‘should stories’ is the FOMO should story – the fear of missing out. That it’s always better to do something and regret it than not do it and not find out whether you would regret it or not. Or that we should always be confident and up for it. We must always please our partners by saying yes to things and not no to things. Or the idea that we are on an escalator and that we should always go up. Things should get more intense, or closer, or sexier, or wilder, or more committed. All of these are just one big ‘should story’. In my book about consent I have a chapter about this called ‘Meh, let’s not.’
Guilt is related to shame and shame is the feeling that we have done something that is wrong. Or that we have harmed someone, or that we have broken some kind of rule. ‘Should stories’ feel like rules about how we should be living our lives and if we don’t follow them then we aren’t doing it ‘right’. Should stories aren’t rules, they are just stories. Stories don’t have to be true and we don’t have to believe them, no matter how powerful they are.
Why should stories are bad
The single hardest thing about having sex and relationships are all the should stories. They are everywhere: TV, film, blogs, tweets, tik toks, instagram, friends, celebrities, sex advice, sex education, government, and also in our heads. We subconsciously tell ourselves these stories and we criticise ourselves if we don’t live up to them. Sadly this means that we might pay more attention to the ‘should story’ than our partners or ourselves. It’s incredibly hard to hear what we actually want and need with all of the constant noise of ‘should stories’ telling us what we ‘should’ want and need.
There are even should stories about choosing a bar of chocolate
What we sometimes might end up doing is to start to tell ourselves our own ‘should stories’ as a way of trying to please ourselves. For example instead of having FOMO, we might tell ourselves about JOMO, the joy of missing out. That might be helpful but it’s also maybe just another way of doing a should story that doesn’t help us to be curious about what we might actually want.
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How doing and redoing is important
The way to counter all of this is to have the kinds of more expansive and consensual conversations about what we might want. Being able to ask in a way that makes it easy for people to figure out what might work for them is a skill we can all learn and practice. It helps us to please ourselves, the other person and (crucially) our co-created relationships.
Doing this kind of work also just helps us to learn what our selves are. When we do or don’t do something our self changes. It constantly shifts. Asking really good questions is a way of trying to find out who we are as well as what we might want and need. This is how the process of discovering our sexual selves works and it’s something we draw and redraw.
If you’re an adult and want to listen to a complex conversation about some of this stuff listen to this episode of my podcast called Her Sexual Self, which is all about sexual subjectivities, discourse, Foucault, and technologies of the self.
© Justin Hancock, 2021.
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. Find out more about Justin here